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July 24, 2012

Matt Barkley Lane Kiffin T.J. McDonald


COACH KIFFIN:  Thanks, guys, for coming.  I think this week there's been a lot of negativity in college football, but I think today is about, for us three, about where our conference is at and where USC is at.  It's an extremely exciting time for our conference.
I think that starts with our leadership, Larry Scott and his entire group taking the Pac‑10 at the time to the Pac‑12 with the TV exposure and everything that brings us.  I think we are competitive from top to bottom.  I think you are seeing good coaches and players on each team and there are no easy games.
The conference is extremely competitive and when you add four dynamic coaches like what happened this off‑season takes us to the next level.  I think at USC, right now we kinda feel like we're in a perfect storm with so many good things going we feel good about our current team and about our future teams for years to come.  I think that really starts as well with great leadership and support.
Our president, Max Nikias and Athletic Director Pat Haden have been unbelievable in their support of our football program and of our coaches and players as well.  Basically this week we're moving into the John McKay Center.  It's the best student athlete center in the country, to have all of our sports there together is very, very excite and go walking through the building just yesterday as it's almost done, I think it's going to be a special place for us.
I think our coaching staff, our assistant coaches have had a great off‑season as far as getting ready for the season coming up and also in recruiting.  They have had a non‑stop effort this entire season and strong leadership by the two guys up here today, strong, senior leadership in our program as we go through the off‑season where obviously our coaches can't do too much.
The preseason rankings and all the questions we have got today about that, that has nothing to do with how well we will play next year and whether we will win games.  But I think it's exciting for our university and for our fans to be in those discussions.  We're two years removed in what was handed down as people saying "SC is over" and being a preseason number 1 team two years later is extremely exciting for our University and for our fans.
We have a lot of issues.  We have an exciting schedule.  We will have less players than everybody else that we play and we will have to manage that.  Our number 1 concern is our running back position.  We're concerned about our depth there and we know what we have at quarterback and receiver and we know people are going to try to take those guys away, so they will bring seven‑man boxes and opportunities for our running backs to make place and we will have to do a great job at developing depth at running back.
All that being said, we're excited about the season, about getting back to work, it has been a great off‑season for us, starting with these guys decide to go stay here and then going through the off‑season as they can talk about, their Haiti trip, 16 of our players took part in that and that is something we are trying to continue every year to give our players and these guys can talk about that.

Q.  Matt, when did it first hit you that you were thinking about guiding a team to a possible bowl?  What were your emotions at the time?  Was it jubilation or relief?  I'm talking about when it started to sink in that right now USC is bowl eligible.
MATT BARKLEY:  I think anyone in that position would be happy and I was, just thinking about the possibility.  It's not guaranteed and just the fact that we have the opportunity to do that this year and with the team we have and the character we have and these guys are my best friends and you saw it toward the end of last year how much fun we were having playing together and playing for each other.
I think we've got to keep playing like this year.  We can play for a national championship, and the Bowl games, but we can't forget how we got here, you were playing for your buddy, as our coaches say, and I think especially this year we can't forget to do that.

Q.  Lane, you have dealt with NCAA sanctions.  What advice would you give Penn State Coach O'Brien?
COACH KIFFIN:  I think when you go through a situation, like everyone else we recruit high school players but now you have to recruit your own players to stay and we were in a position where obviously our junior and seniors can leave and they're in the situation where anyone can leave, and that's not an easy position, you have coaches flying players to their schools, during summer school.  It's your back‑ups sometimes schools will say you can come and start here while you're a back‑up where you are, and it's not easy.

Q.  What is USC's interest level in him and what are you doing to check it out?
COACH KIFFIN:  We can't speak to any kids on the roster.  They're just like high school kids and we can't say anything about that.

Q.  Guys, when you said you had unfinished business beyond having the opportunity to compete for a national title what does that mean for this team overall?
MATT BARKLEY:  When T.J. and I decided to come back we knew that we had a great time at USC and we have had a lot of fun playing football, but we hadn't maximized our potential here at USC.  I think that phrase "unfinished business" has to do with finishing at a top level and finishing at what we're capable of as a team.
Every goal, I think, is to win every game and go all the way.  For this year I think we both feel and a lot of us feel on the team that it's the most realistic goal and that's not easy by any means.
The unfinished business, that thought and that ideology is really just one game the at a time and to finish those games.  You see so much about finishing, and when you're at four years at college, that concept of finishing, I want to end that on a good note.

Q.  Lane, is Nelson going to start out at wide receiver or running back?
COACH KIFFIN:  Our plan up to today has been to put Nelson at running back because of the issues there, outside of Curtis, really, D.J. has played a little bit, nobody has played so as of today that's the direction he's headed.

Q.  Can you guys talk about Marqise and the weight program, how he's been developing?
TEVIN McDONALD:  He's become a leader on the team, being able to be at all the work outs, ran track and played football at the same time and a guy that's been putting a large amount of work in throughout the off‑season, so he's become a leader on the team so for him to be able to be a leader and grab that young group of guys and bring them along, he's done well with that.

Q.  Matt and T.J., everywhere you look USC is ranked number one.  How are you keeping it in perspective?
MATT BARKLEY:  It may sound cliche but it's an approach that you have to have.  We have all this hype going into this year and like Coach said it's great for our program, our school, for our fan base to have that toward USC, but for us it doesn't mean anything and any high, any preseason, that opportunity to play for a game it's not going to win any games or score any points.  We're one week at a time and trying to be 1‑0 that week.

Q.  T.J. how impressed were you with your brother's play and how often did he look to you for advise?
T.J. McDONALD:  I was impressed, Tevin came in a little late and stepped in the scene with his game versus Cal and he had three interceptions in the game and that came after the Stanford game after us, so I was kind of down and I heard that about him and it brought light on to a new situation and I was proud of him.
If he comes to me and asks questions we will watch film together, not each other's film, but it was great to get a sense of what's going on, and just to pick my brain a little bit and from me to him, he's doing a good job, I'm really proud of him.

Q.  T.J., defense came on during the second half of the season.  How has that momentum translated into the string and into the summer for you guys as a defensive unit?
T.J. McDONALD:  I think it being our third year in the system, even though we had a young defense, everybody learned what they're doing, everybody knows what to expect from the coaches and everybody knows what the course is.
For us, it's just making sure that we stay the course and know exactly what we're doing and keeping everybody on track, and stepping up the turnover margin, making sure we go off that ball, and that's what we have been trying to do all spring ball and it will carry with us into summer camp and as long as we do that we will be fine and we have a great offense to go against every practical so that can only make us better.

Q.  Matt, this conference lost a lot of talented quarterbacks, what's your approach to being the standard barrier for the conference and for the position?
MATT BARKLEY:  I've been here four years and there is still a the lot of talent at the quarterback position, I got a chance the other week to hang out with Keith Price and Bryan Bennett, who are key quarterbacks and Matt Scott who I played against in high school, and a lot of offensive coaches with the new staffs that are coming in, I don't think it will be just me at all, there will be quarterbacks making a statement all around the country, all across the Pac‑12 and I think it's cool to see it adds more competition but there will be a lot of great players this year.

Q.  T.J., I asked your brother this a few minutes ago.  How involved has your father been in your career and do you consult with him now these days about football?  Do you talk football with your dad at think point in your career?
T.J. McDONALD:  He's been extremely involved.  My dad was my high school coach.  After getting here, any questions that we had, I was able to turn to him and I have that opportunity to go to a guy who has done it all, a guy who has done it at the highest level so at any point in time when I need that help he's there to offer it so with that me and my brother appreciate that from him a lot.
Right now he's coaching at Fresno State so he won't be able to make it to the games but I know he will be watching the film and making sure that he was able to make the corrections that he needs to and tell us the good things, the bad things, and everything in between.  I know he's excited for this season and I'm excited for the things that he has going on and I know he's excited for us.

Q.  Lane, you are obviously no stranger to NCAA sanctions but getting back to the earlier question about Penn State what do you think the sanctions were wear and what do you think other universities can draw from their situation?
COACH KIFFIN:  I'm not going to get into whether they were fair or not and I got a lot of questions earlier today about comparisons.  There is no comparison you can make between what happened at USC and what happened at Penn State.
As far as what we're doing and what we have been doing, our‑‑ led by Pat Hayden, we have been proactive in education of our players and staff but also anyone that comes through our university, our summer camps have to go through background checks for our second year in a row for anybody that comes near anybody on our campus.

Q.  Coach, you talked about running back depth.  In that regard, do you look to protect Curtis McNeal, maybe limit his carries?  And what is the update on Robert Woods?
COACH KIFFIN:  As far as Curtis, when you look over last season when he was playing and carrying the ball a lot, even in practice, and in games, he had a lot of injuries, he was getting banged up a lot and having to come out of games.  So it's critical for us to find an answer to our running back depth as we mentioned earlier today about Nelson projected to go over there.
We would not like to do that, we would rather have Nelson be a receiver which is what we primarily recruited him as but the situation that we're in today has made us move him there.
As far as Robert Woods, I think it is amazing as you go back to think about Robert catching 111 passes as a true sophomore and he was held out of two games he should have had a conference championship game and a bowl game to add to that record so it is amazing what he did and when you combine it with the fact that he was at 75% the whole season, and now he will be 100% and it will be fun to see what he can do in training camp and at full speed.

Q.  Matt, being in your situation a few years ago trying to decide whether to go pro or stay in school, I know that had to be stressful on you.  Was there a time where the NFL outweighed you coming back to school?
MATT BARKLEY:  Right after we played UCLA I was on an emotional high and the way we finished out the season I thought for sure I was going to the NFL but once that settled down and I started looking into it all, I think I made the right call.  I wasn't really thinking right after that game I was just feeling so great about the season.  But I definitely went back and forth until ultimately I reached that conclusion.

Q.  T.J., we visited last year when you were the trophy impact player of the week.  What would it mean to you‑‑ given what Ronnie Lott means to the Trojan family and to college football and how quickly this award has become so prestige I couldn't say, what would it mean to you to win the Lott Trophy?
T.J. McDONALD:  It would it mean a lot.  I have to put in the work, and I understand that.
But for me to win the Ronnie Lott Trophy, it would mean a lot, the all‑time greatest safety and for me to be able to win that award would mean a lot.  I know I have to do the work and I'll worry about that when the time comes but it would be great to win that award.

Q.  Coach, if you guys successfully recruit a player from Penn State, how does that work scholarship‑wise?
COACH KIFFIN:  As we went into the seasons we have never talked about that and how we we're going to stay with that today.  Thanks.

Q.  Coach, Matt Barkley is a kid who could have left a couple of times.  Can you talk about his belief in the program and why in your eyes you think he sticks around?
COACH KIFFIN:  As we went through the process after the season of Matt figuring this out and once again figuring this out and as Matt had questions again today, they were about how did you convince him to stay and I think Matt would be the first to tell you, I didn't recruit Matt to stay, sometimes we recruit kids to stay because they're projected as a second or third‑round pick and they could stay and work on things and get better.
Matt was completely ready for the NFL.  I assume he would have been a top‑5 pick, totally ready to go in and be the face of a franchise and be ready to play in the NFL.  His situation was different, and I think it was about him wanting to do something special.  What people somewhere written, may be able to go down as the most historic Trojan ever if we do big things this year.

Q.  Matt, going back four years ago there were gloom and doom predictions about what the bowl ban and the recruiting sanctions were going to do to the program.  You could have left.  What gave you the conviction that four years later you would be where you are right now on the doorstep of a national championship run to make you stick around and stay?
MATT BARKLEY:  To tell you the truth, we didn't know we would be here today when we were dealt the sanctions.  We heard that news, and there was never any thought of leaving, never any thought of going anywhere else, never any thought of doing anything other than standing up and facing the "Giant" in a sense.
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.  So I haven't looked back.  I do think that the sanctions have brought our team closer together and strengthened us in a way that I didn't anticipate.  It made us stronger in terms of character and, you know, it allowed us to face adversity in a unique way that guys our age aren't really used to.
It seemed all bad at first, but ultimately, I think it worked in our favor for this point where we are today.

Q.  Lane, I know it's early but I hoped you could talk with Zack and where things are with him and football and basketball?
COACH KIFFIN:  Zack has practiced with our basketball team already, I don't know anything about how his summer is going because we're not allowed to coach them or watch them or get reports on them so I don't have much for you there on that.  As far as getting to fall camp with any lineman, obviously there is always a learning curve coming from high school to college but as we do with all our freshmen we will throw him in there and see if I can stick.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, gentlemen. 

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