USC running back Curtis McNeal pick up yards against Minnesota in the season… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Intrigue returned to USC's tailback situation Sunday with one prominent player sidelined because of injury, another absent from practice and a third proclaiming that he would be ready if called upon.
Senior Marc Tyler, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder in USC's 30-9 victory over California on Thursday, attended the afternoon workout with his arm in a sling. He appears doubtful for Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
Meantime, sophomore Dillon Baxter was absent.
"Dillon had a family issue," Coach Lane Kiffin said on his way to the locker room. "He communicated to us that he needed to take care of it and that he would be back later [Sunday]."
Baxter, who did not play against Cal or Arizona and whose family met earlier this season with Kiffin to discuss his limited role, could not be reached for comment.
With Tyler sidelined, junior Curtis McNeal could start for the first time.
"I'll be ready no matter what happens," said McNeal, a former Venice High star.
McNeal, generously listed at 5 feet 7 and 180 pounds, began the season as the No. 2 tailback behind D.J. Morgan because Tyler was serving a suspension.
McNeal's role decreased upon Tyler's return, but he broke off important gains against Syracuse and Arizona.
After Tyler was injured against Cal on the first play of the third quarter, McNeal stepped in and rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown in 17 carries.
"I knew I was going to stay in the game instead of going in one play and coming right back out," he said. "I was able to gain a groove and I was out there having fun."
Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu said he likes McNeal because "the kid runs with violence."
"The more opportunities you get, the better you feel," Polamalu said. "Now that Marc is banged up, he understood now it's his time."
Notre Dame's 20-16 victory last season at the Coliseum ended USC's eight-game winning streak against the Fighting Irish.
Kiffin said Sunday that it was "our worst loss that I've been a part of, ever probably, because of what was going with the streak."
Worse than USC's loss to Texas in the 2005 Bowl Championship Series title game, which denied the Trojans a third consecutive national title?
"As head coach," Kiffin quipped.
Saturday's evening kickoff marks the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium since 1990, when the Fighting Irish played Michigan.
"They've made it, I'm sure, their Super Bowl by putting a bye before it, putting it at night," Kiffin said. "We're glad to be a part of their history."
Rank and file
Neither USC (5-1) nor Notre Dame (4-2) is ranked.
This is the first time since the official Associated Press poll began in 1936 that a 5-1 USC team has not been ranked in the top 25, a USC athletic department spokesman said.
Offensive lineman Marcus Martin, cornerback Torin Harris and safety Demetrius Wright did not practice because of injuries. Cornerback Anthony Brown, who suffered a broken ankle against Cal, is expected to return for spring practice…. The Trojans are off Monday and will resume practice Tuesday.