74F Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Matt Barkley and Southern California are ready to take care of unfinished business.
With Barkley back for his senior year and the top-ranked Trojans eligible for the postseason again after a two-year ban, USC starts a season of high expectations Saturday night at home against Norm Chow's Hawaii.
With USC ineligible for bowls the last two years due to NCAA sanctions, Barkley wasn't expected to be around once the Trojans could again qualify for a postseason berth. He likely would have been a top-five pick in the NFL draft in April, but he opted to stay in school and will be among the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy.
"I think it's clear my love for USC and how much I love this school and everything about it, and I wasn't going to give it up just for two games that we couldn't play in," said Barkley, who guided USC to a 10-2 mark in 2011.
USC printed up shirts with the words "Unfinished Business" over pictures of Barkley and T.J. McDonald, a safety who also returned for his senior season. It's clear that the Trojans' leaders are eager to compete for a national title.
"The unfinished business, that thought and that ideology is really just one game at a time and to finish those games," Barkley said. "You see so much about finishing, and when you're four years at college, that concept of finishing, I want to end that on a good note."
Barkley was third in the nation last year with 39 touchdown passes, two more than top overall draft pick Andrew Luck of Stanford for the highest total in the Pac-12. The Trojans' star-studded passing game features dynamic receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, a duo that had 26 TD receptions in 2011.
Coach Lane Kiffin was concerned about his lack of depth at running back before his program was able to take advantage of the scandal at Penn State to obtain the services of Silas Redd, fourth in the Big Ten with 1,241 yards rushing last year. Redd joins a ground attack that includes Curtis McNeal, who ran for 1,005 yards in 2011.
Seven defensive starters return, although three of the lost starters are on the line.
"There's going to be a lot of guys that have no experience playing in our defensive line," Kiffin said. "So the only way you get game experience is the games."
Standing on the opposite sideline will be a familiar face to USC fans in Chow, who will make his head coaching debut. Chow served as the Trojans' offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll from 2001-04, with Kiffin also on the staff.
"No one has more respect and admiration for the University of Southern California football program than I do," Chow said. "I was fortunate to have coached there, great people, great coaches from Mike Garrett to Pat Haden to Lane and all the coaches, I worked with some of them. Two of my kids graduated from that school. But you know what? It's not about them, it's not about them at all."
Since leaving USC, Chow has run into Kiffin each of the last five years. Chow was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans when they beat Kiffin's Oakland Raiders in a regular-season game in 2007 and a preseason game the next year.
Chow was UCLA's offensive coordinator when the Bruins beat Kiffin and Tennessee in 2009 and lost to Kiffin's Trojans the next year. In 2011, Chow served in the same role with Utah and his team lost to USC.
"We've played him so many times," Kiffin said. "My dad's (assistant head coach Monte Kiffin) played him at Tampa, we played him at the Raiders and we played him at Tennessee and we played him at two different programs here at UCLA and Utah. It's kind of crazy how many times we've played him."
Chow inherits a team that went 6-7 and is picked to finish seventh in its first season in the 10-team Mountain West Conference. He has announced that Duke transfer Sean Schroeder will be his starting quarterback.
Kiffin said this week that he is not familiar with the left-handed Schroeder. The coach doesn't seem too worried about the Warriors, who are 0-7 all-time against the Trojans.
"This will be about us in this game, most openers are," Kiffin said.