PULLMAN – Two years ago USC traveled north to Washington State University with one of the nation’s best teams. WSU, to put it mildly, wasn’t.
In fact, the Cougars, decimated by injuries and in the throes of a coaching changeover, put together a game plan more directed at survival than winning. The final score was 69-0 and, for once, the cliché about it not being as close as the score indicated was true.
But that was then, Saturday is Saturday.
And new USC coach Lane Kiffin is telling everyone who will listen “we aren’t very good right now.”
They are 3-0, however, and they are ranked 20th in the country by the Associated Press, the only poll the on-probation Trojans are allowed in.
And that’s the rub for Kiffin. Thanks to Reggie Bush’s family, USC is going through an NCAA probationary period that includes a bowl ban and the loss of 10 scholarships a year for three years. Plus, a handful of players who would be playing this season either transferred or got out of their letter of intent.
“It won’t affect them as much this year, but it will the next and the following year,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said of the Trojans’ scholarship restrictions. “You’re going to see the impact over the next three years, really. That’s all going to happen down the road.
“They’re going to be talking like I’m talking in (four or five years) from now,” Wulff said, whose team had 72 scholarship players his first season, in part because of to APR problems. “You’re going to be hearing the same words I speak, not instantly but down the road.”
This year’s Trojans do have their usual depth at a few positions, including running back.
“They’ve got four guys that are very talented,” Wulff said. “It’s like a home-run hitter. You never know, they can get one out of the yard there for you.”
The long ball was supplied by Allen Bradford, the 6-foot, 235-pound senior, who ran for 131 yards on just 12 carries last week against Minnesota. In the opener vs. Hawaii, it was 5-11, 230-pound junior Marc Tyler, who had 154 yards on 17 carries, and is still listed as the starter.
Then there is 6-foot, 195-pound freshman Dillon Baxter, who Wulff says, “is really one of those kind of rare guys whose quickness and speed is pretty darn impressive.”
Add in C.J. Gable, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior, and no one in the Pac-10 has as many options.
Around the conference
WSU athletic director Bill Moos has to be rooting for Arizona State this year, at least a little. His son Bo is the Sun Devils’ third defensive tackle. “He wasn’t very heavily recruited by anybody,” said ASU coach Dennis Erickson, who has known Bill for years. “But he’s worked himself into a pretty steady football player. He’s not flashy, but he’s started some, he’s 300 pounds, he’s strong and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.” Moos has seven tackles this season, including one for loss. … Asked to rate sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas’ performance after three games, Oregon coach Chip Kelly only marked him down for one bad interception. He also said, after three games, “he’s ahead of where Jeremiah (Masoli) was, I call tell you that. … Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has a 24-hour rule, meaning everything, good or bad, has to be put to bed in 24 hours. He broke that this week, saying Monday of Saturday’s blowout by Nebraska, “There were moments there that we lacked the competitive nature that this program prides itself on, and I was disappointed in that.”
After two tough seasons and a series of defections and injuries, UCLA’s offensive line was expected to be a weak link again this year. But it’s actually been a strength in the early going, with UCLA averaging more than 200 yards a game on the ground. “I think probably all of them are exceeding my expectations,” said coach Rick Neuheisel, “because I’m not sure I planned on any of them being where they are right now.” With seventh-ranked Texas as Saturday’s opponent, the Bruins front will be tested. … Mike Riley sees the blue turf at Boise State as an advantage. Oregon State’s athletic director Bob De Carolis saw it the same way, so he had the Beavers’ practice field painted blue this week. Riley thought it was a great idea, but with a caveat. “The biggest factor on that blue turf is that other team,” Riley said. … A 34-27 win over 18th-ranked Iowa last Saturday has to be put behind the Arizona Wildcats, according to coach Mike Stoops. “We haven’t accomplished anything,” said Stoops, whose Wildcats are ranked 14th. “Beating Iowa will only help us if we win this week to go to 4-0.” … Stanford heads to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame this week ranked 16th in the nation, sporting a 3-0 overall and 1-0 Pac-10 record, and “take great pride in being a tough football team,” to quote coach Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal will have to tough it out this week, facing their sternest test to date, according to Harbaugh. … Southern California safety Drew McAllister needs more surgery on his injured hip and will miss the rest of the Trojans’ season.