USC Coach Lane Kiffin walks off the field after losing to Stanford earlier… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Lane Kiffin irked more than one Southeastern Conference coach during his short tenure at Tennessee.
And his exit from Knoxville to USC in 2010 still makes tempers boil in SEC country.
But with Alabama, Georgia and Florida still in the mix for the Bowl Championship Series title, coaches and fans across the South will be rooting for Kiffin and the Trojans on Saturday when they play top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame at the Coliseum.
A USC victory opens the door, perhaps, for another all-SEC title game.
Notre Dame is No. 1 in the BCS standings. A loss to the unranked Trojans could end the Fighting Irish's bid for their first national title since 1988.
Alabama is No. 2 in the BCS standings, Georgia No. 3 and Florida No. 4. All have 10-1 records, as do Oregon and Kansas State.
"I had an Alabama coach text me," Kiffin said Thursday.
Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban?
"Nick doesn't know how to text," Kiffin said. "I've texted him before."
The message from the Alabama assistant?
"Just win Saturday," Kiffin said. "Beat the Irish."
Kiffin said he also received a text message from Oregon Coach Chip Kelly, who has a stake in the BCS equation.
"He said we're going to win," Kiffin said.
Kiffin is nearly three years removed from his stint at Tennessee, but he cannot escape the aftermath of his exit.
He said someone recently joked that UCLA Coach Jim Mora was going to become coach at Tennessee, which fired Derek Dooley.
"I said, 'Jim just bought a house in Manhattan Beach; why would he go to Tennessee?'" Kiffin said. "They said, 'They'll do whatever it takes to hire him — because he beat you.'"
Max Wittek could etch his name into USC lore if the redshirt freshman quarterback leads the Trojans to victory against Notre Dame while starting in place of injured Matt Barkley, who entered practice about an hour after it started.
Barkley's arm was not in a sling, but he is not expected to recover from a shoulder sprain until possibly the bowl game.
Wittek's performance — good, bad or otherwise — won't affect the competition to replace Barkley in the spring, said Kiffin.
Redshirt freshman Cody Kessler will back up Wittek on Saturday.
"That competition, regardless of backup play in this game, will be completely open this spring," Kiffin said.
Wittek and Kessler will not rotate against the Fighting Irish.
"Whoever you go with," Kiffin said, "you've got to put confidence in them and not rattle them with rotations."
Max Browne, a highly regarded quarterback from Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., has orally committed to USC and is reportedly working to graduate early so he can enroll in January and participate in spring practice.
Asked whether starting a true freshman at quarterback was within the realm of possibility under Kiffin, the coach, speaking generally, said, "Things will always be open, regardless."
USC kicker Andre Heidari hopes to get back on track after missing field-goal and extra-point attempts and having a field-goal attempt blocked against UCLA.
Heidari, who had knee surgery in September, has made eight of 13 field-goal attempts.
"For a kicker to have surgery on your knee partway through your season has to affect you somewhat," Kiffin said. "I've got to imagine that's playing a part of it."
Kiffin said he remained confident in Heidari.
"We won't change the way we manage situations," he said, "just because the guy's had a rough couple weeks."
Defensive lineman Antwaun Woods left practice early with his right shoulder packed in ice.