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For USC football, hard times are going down pretty easy

Chris Dufresne's top-25 countdown: Trojans are No. 18, suggesting that major NCAA sanctions haven't crippled the program, so far. And Coach Lane Kiffin, whose hiring was questioned, has worked out OK.

August 13, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • USC Coach Lane Kiffin watches over football practice at Howard Jones Field on Friday.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin watches over football practice at Howard Jones Field… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Lane Kiffin seemed a ridiculous hire. What school facing severe sanctions hires a coach facing sanctions at Tennessee?

It smacked of being a desperate act of an imperiled athletic director, Mike Garrett, to hold together the vestiges of a bygone era before Garrett was gone.

Kiffin, a piece of Pete Carroll's glory years, was an obvious, selfish, short-term fix to keep a recruiting class from bailing.

Never mind that it worked.

USC has been able to forestall a calamity greater than the calamity of going 8-5. The Trojans proactively hoarded talent ahead of impending NCAA sanctions and are in such decent shape entering 2011 that they've been picked to win a Pac-12 South division they aren't, technically, allowed to win.

The real pain starts next year, when USC loses 10 scholarships a year for three seasons.

No coach with a reputation to protect would want the USC job in the depths of a depression. You'd want to catch things on the backside of probation, the way Nick Saban did at Alabama.

So, if the NCAA has benched you from playing for national titles any time soon, you could do worse than having Kiffin pulling the levers.

As long, of course, as he wins nine games and beats UCLA and Notre Dame.

Kiffin also needs to steer clear of the petty shenanigans that got him in trouble at Tennessee.

That seems a solid bet with Pat Haden now sitting in the athletic director's chair.

This tempered, aboveboard approach has to be the mind-set of Trojan Fan until the program gets back to full-throttle attack mode.

Traveler, get used to the hay at the "OK" corral.

Kiffin might drive you crazier than his dad's defense, but it seems reasonably possible he can baby-sit the football while Haden baby-sits the coach.

USC lacks the depth it had, and the defense needs to upgrade from last year's "horrid," but Pacific 12 Conference coaches would argue USC still has the best top-level talent in the conference.

Junior quarterback Matt Barkley, foolishly force-fed into the lineup as a freshman, when USC was still playing for big prizes, appears ready now. He improved his touchdown-interception ratio from 15-14 to last year's 26-12, and even his Twitter posts have matured.

Barkley might have to outscore his defense, sure, but it's possible he can do it. Robert Woods, last year's Pac-10 offensive freshman of the year, will be joined by former Gardena Serra High teammate George Farmer.

"I have quite an arsenal at my disposal this year with receivers," Barkley said at Pac-12 media day.

USC isn't eight-deep at tailback, like it was when Joe McKnight arrived, but the Trojans have enough with Dillon Baxter, Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan. Don't count too much on Marc Tyler, suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to his future.

USC can't win the national title this year and probably won't challenge to win it for years to come. Eight-and-five might not be acceptable, but 9-3 should be.

Keep watching the probation clock, USC fans, and embrace the "new" normal.

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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