Pac-12 football: USC rides high in preseason polls

UCLA receiver Mossi Johnson holds on to a pass for a first down despite receiving a big hit from USC linebacker Su'a Cravens during the second quarter Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA receiver Mossi Johnson holds on to a pass for a first down despite receiving a big hit from USC linebacker Su’a Cravens during the second quarter Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC Coach Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler and linebacker Su’a Cravens won’t take the spotlight at Pac-12 Conference football media days until Friday, but hype surrounding the Trojans is already building.

On Thursday, the Trojans were ranked 10th in the national preseason coaches’ poll. And, for the first time since 2012, they were picked to win the conference title in a media poll.

USC received 21 of 45 votes in the Pac-12 poll. Times reporters do not vote in polls.

“They’re a championship-caliber team,” Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici said of the Trojans. “They’ve done it in the past.”


The last time USC was picked to win the conference, the Trojans opened the season ranked No. 1 in several national preseason polls. USC finished 7-6, including a loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

The Trojans have never played in the Pac-12 title game. USC finished first in the South division in 2011 with a 7-2 record but was ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.

Defending conference champion Oregon, loser to Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff title game, is ranked fifth in the coaches’ poll and was second in the Pac-12 poll.

Under review

Bercovici, a senior who played at Woodland Hills Taft High, said he has watched his game-winning Hail Mary pass against USC last season about 50 times. It gave the Sun Devils a 38-34 victory at the Coliseum.

“I’d rather not throw Hail Marys because the completion percentage on those aren’t very good,” Bercovici said. “But, hey, you know what? If it ends up like that then we’re going to go after it the same way….

“Those finishes, they might come once in a lifetime, but if it has to be that in 2015, we’ll make it happen.”

USC plays at Arizona State on Sept. 26.


Scott on the (USC) case

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has not shied from criticizing the NCAA for its handling of the USC case that resulted in some of the most severe sanctions in college sports history.

The full record of former USC assistant Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA was released this month. It included complete versions of inflammatory emails among infractions committee members.

Scott said Thursday the “airing of the dirty laundry” in the lawsuit “really just reinforced the concerns we expressed previously about some of the dialogue and due process not being followed and USC being treated unfairly.”


Scott said his focus was ensuring the NCAA improve its processes “and the caliber of people involved.”

The conference is not seeking compensation. “We really take our lead from the school and I don’t think that’s been the focus of USC’s leadership,” he said.

About those graduates

Stanford Coach David Shaw is a fan of the NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated to transfer and play immediately for a new school.


Former Cardinal running back Kelsey Young transferred to Boise State and fullback Patrick Skov to Georgia Tech.

Stanford also welcomed its first graduate transfer: Defensive lineman Brennan Scarlett from California.

“I think the rule is great,” Shaw said. “I have absolutely no problem with it…. We’ve helped our guys find places to go because as far as I’m concerned they’ve fulfilled their obligation to Stanford University and gotten their degree.

“And I have a tough time telling a guy with a Stanford degree what to do.”


Huskies to face Sarkisian

Several Washington players will compete against their former coach and assistants Oct. 8 when the Huskies meet USC at the Coliseum.

Senior linebacker Travis Feeney said “it was hard at first” after Sarkisian left Seattle, but the transition to Chris Petersen was “easy.”

Tailback Deontae Cooper, who suffered several knee injuries during his career, said Sarkisian’s departure was difficult “because he was very supportive of me throughout my process.”


“You hate to see him go,” Cooper added, “but it was the best decision for him and his family and you’ve got to respect that.”

Lucien a Sun Devil

Former UCLA receiver Devin Lucien had an ally when he was attempting to transfer to Arizona State. Bercovici and Lucien were acquainted from their high school days. Lucien played at Encino Crespi and Bercovici at Taft.

“He’s a guy who can stretch the field, give us home-run posts, fades,” Arizona State Coach Todd Graham said.


Arizona State and Lucien play UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Oct. 3.


Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.