USC’s cornerback has a knee injury. The team is on its third starting outside linebacker. The linebacker on the other side has played on a wounded ankle. The left tackle has experienced soreness in his two surgically repaired knees. The tight ends are hobbled.
The Trojans have done themselves a favor by clinching the Pac-12 Conference South Division with time to spare. USC has two weeks, including the first bye of its season, to prepare for the conference championship game. But tight end Tyler Petite, who has a sprained shoulder, issued a reminder after USC’s win over Colorado last weekend: "I think a lot of people are forgetting that we do have one more game next week."
The game, the last of the regular season, will have no effect on the Pac-12 standings. However, the opponent is UCLA, which puts coach Clay Helton in a predicament:
Should he give his hobbled players a rest against a rival?
Saturday’s game will be USC’s 12th in 12 weeks, and 13 starters have sat out at least one game. Giving some of those players two weeks off before the championship game could give USC a significant boost, whether it faces Stanford, Washington State or Washington.
Helton indicated a distaste for the idea. "This is the next game,” he said. “And we try to be 1-0 every week. Every week is the most important game to us. We treat each game like a playoff game, and this is no different than the previous 11 games that we played."
USC is unlikely to hold out players such as outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Christian Rector or left tackle Toa Lobendahn, who are less than fully sound but have played through relatively minor injuries. But Helton could be more conservative with those players’ usage.
And he could hesitate to bring back players who are approaching a return from injury, such as cornerback Iman Marshall, who sat out the last three games because of a sprained knee.
Players indicated that they intended to treat the game against UCLA like any other rivalry game. Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe once compared USC’s two main rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA: The game against Notre Dame, he said, is built on mutual admiration and respect. "Whereas the UCLA rivalry is kind of based on hate and disrespect,” he said.
Defensive back Ajene Harris balked at the idea that USC could use the UCLA game as a breather, even though UCLA has struggled to a 5-5 record.
"I mean, we're Trojans,” he said. “It doesn't matter what standings or what rankings are.”
USC released more details about the Coliseum renovation. Senior associate athletic director Steve Lopes said construction would begin immediately after the Rams’ season ends.
About 1,850 Trojan Athletic Fund accounts, a total of about 7,500 seats, will be affected by the renovation. A small number, Lopes said, will have to move twice: Once while the renovation is underway in 2018 and a second time after completion before the 2019 season.
USC has begun manually reseating members of the Scholarship Club and the Committee — the two highest donor levels — a process that will run through Dec. 5, said Ron Orr, senior associate athletic director for development, and Tim Martin, USC’s senior associate athletic director for business development.
From Dec. 5 to Dec. 22, USC will conduct online reseating for remaining Trojan Athletic Club members and season-ticket holders. Priority will be determined by donor level.
Orr said that about 950 of 1,090 club seats have been sold, as have 20 of 21 Founders Suites, which carry a one-time cost of $7.5 million and $10 million.
Friday night fright
Four Pac-12 teams have followed a Saturday conference game with a Friday night road game. All four lost.
Three — USC, Washington and Washington State — would have been in strong position to make the College Football Playoff if not for the loss. All three were favored.
Has the Pac-12’s schedule cost the conference a spot in the playoff?
Helton declined to blame the schedule makers.
"That's somebody else's job. That's not mine,” he said. “A lot smarter men than me make those decisions."
USC also played a Friday road game following a conference game last season against Utah. That also resulted in a loss.