USC quarterback Matt Barkley says the Trojans are looking to prove they… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Bowl-eligible for the first time in three seasons, and with a quarterback regarded as a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, USC has been the talk of college football this winter.
Perhaps that's why Trojans players were greeted with a message Tuesday when they walked through the gate of their practice facility for the first day of spring workouts.
Painted in white on the turf: PREP NOT HYPE.
The Trojans are accustomed to stenciled slogans. Last fall, the message read NO DISTRACTIONS — and USC went on to finish 10-2 in the final season of a two-year bowl ban.
The 2012 season opener is six months away, a bowl game at least nine.
But players are not immune to media chatter about the Trojans' possible return to postseason glory in Coach Lane Kiffin's third season.
"We have the same mentality that we did last year — of wanting to prove something," said quarterback Matt Barkley, who bypassed the chance to turn pro so he could lead the Trojans in his senior season. "We have something to look forward to, but we can't get caught up looking forward to that right now."
Just as he did on the first day of practice last fall, Kiffin spent much of Tuesday's workout assessing individual and team speed. And, once again, he noted the difference from when he took over in 2010.
"We've come a long way as you look around at our players," he said, "the way they look, how they run."
None looked better, or faster, than George Farmer.
The sophomore is back at receiver after a midseason move to running back last fall.
With All-American Robert Woods limited while recovering from ankle surgery, Farmer worked with the first unit opposite sophomore Marqise Lee and made several outstanding catches. Kiffin described him as the "MVP" of the workout.
"His confidence is very different than the last time we were with him," Kiffin said.
Said Barkley: "George looked like he didn't miss a step at receiver."
Meantime, Woods will be brought along slowly.
"My goal is to be ready for the first game," he said.
But Woods apparently saw enough Tuesday to make a judgment about the Trojans.
"It seems like on the first day of spring ball," he said, "the team is better than last year."
Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek split repetitions as Barkley's backup. Sophomore Jesse Scroggins did not practice because of a hip injury, Kiffin said…. Cornerback Torin Harris, tight end Christian Thomas, punter Kyle Negrete, defensive linemen Christian Heyward and DeVante Wilson, and offensive lineman Chad Wheeler could sit out most or all of spring practice while recovering from injuries, Kiffin said…. USC will hold its annual pro day workout Wednesday. The event is closed to the public….. Simione Vehikite, a reserve linebacker, was arrested last month and faces felony charges related to an incident that occurred in July 2011, law enforcement records show. A court date to schedule a preliminary hearing is set for March 19. According to the felony complaint, on or about July 16, 2011, Vehikite was allegedly the driver of a vehicle involved in an incident that resulted in his facing four counts: leaving the scene of an accident; driving under the influence and causing injury; driving with a .08% blood-alcohol level and causing injury; and identity theft. Vehikite is not on the spring roster. "Immediately after [USC officials became] aware of the situation, he was removed from all team activities and has not been involved since then," Kiffin said. Vehikite could not be reached for comment.