LOS ANGELES (AP) — The seats in Memorial Stadium were all but empty, the handful of observers dwarfed by the massive bowl. Clanging and ratcheting sounds from workers behind the east end zone echoed off the expanse of the stadium, at times drowning out the shouts of Southern Cal’s coaches and players below.
The rhythm stayed the same for about a half hour before Memorial Stadium exploded with sound: Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” blaring through the loudspeakers.
It didn’t play long, maybe a minute or so, but that brief burst provided a jolt of energy to the Trojans — and perhaps a glimpse of what USC’s opponents could be in for this season.
“With the preseason rankings and everything, everybody’s following the hype,” Trojans senior running back Curtis McNeal said on Friday. “But we’re just focused on accomplishing our goals.”
Those goals have changed this season.
No more playing for pride, building toward the future.
A major bowl, a national championship, that’s what these Trojans are after.
It wasn’t the case the past two seasons.
Thanks to NCAA sanctions related to Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush, USC was banned from the postseason the past two seasons. The also Trojans lost 30 scholarships, forcing the coaching staff to get creative with the roster and in recruiting.
The roster issues are still there — USC isn’t as deep as some teams — but the postseason ban has ended.
And with the postseason a possibility again, not to mention Heisman-worthy quarterback Matt Barkley back for his senior season and the addition of running back Silas Redd, there’s an in-the-national-title-hunt buzz in Troy again.
“At USC, right now we kind of feel like we’re in a perfect storm with so many good things going,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
The Trojans held their first workout in full pads and full contact on Friday, lining up for a scrimmage in their first practice at the Coliseum since spring drills.
It certainly wasn’t perfect.
Barkley had trouble getting his timing down with star wideout Robert Woods, the running backs put the ball on the ground several times and players on both sides made numerous mistakes lining up.
Still, there were flashes of brilliance, glimpses into just how good these Trojans can be this season.
“We’ve got a ways to go until guys feel comfortable in a game-like setting,” Barkley said. “We’re still in kind of practice mode here, but being in the Coliseum we tried to up the tempo, making it more game-like, the speed of getting to the line, things like that. Execution-wise, we’ve got to get everyone lining up in the right spots, got to be more crisp.”
One player who has added to the excitement in Troy is Redd.
The star running back at Penn State, he was allowed to transfer without having to sit out a season in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. He’s only been with the team for a handful of practices, but has broken some long runs and picked up the offense quickly.
Redd raced through a gap for a run of more than 40 yards during the scrimmage and, perhaps more importantly, held onto the ball, a problem USC running backs have had in the past and again in the scrimmage.
“We’re very glad we have Silas and that’s why we went and got him, all of those concerns (fumbling),” Kiffin said.
Like every team, USC has plenty of other concerns. But the Trojans have Barkley, they have Redd, they have talented players and they a shot at the postseason again, perhaps even a national championship.
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