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USC Sports

Three USC juniors thinking more about Holiday Bowl than NFL decisions

USC offensive lineman Austin Jackson blocks against Arizona during a game in 2018.
USC offensive lineman Austin Jackson blocks against Arizona during a game in 2018.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Before he confronts his football future and decides whether he’ll declare for the NFL draft, there is one matter of business Austin Jackson prefers to take care of first.

“Right now, I’m really just looking forward to enjoying a bowl game,” the Trojans’ junior left tackle said this week. “It’s something we didn’t get to enjoy last year. I’m just really focused on that right now.”

Jackson isn’t the only third-year USC player delaying that discussion until after the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 against Iowa. Wideout Tyler Vaughns and defensive tackle Jay Tufele also suggested they planned to wait on any draft decision until then.

All three are expecting to hear first from the NFL advisory committee about where they stand. Jackson has already elicited some first-round buzz, making his departure more likely than Tufele and Vaughns, who would likely be viewed as late-round picks.

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Vaughns, especially, may have trouble finding traction in a deep class at receiver. But as USC will get back a number of players at the position, making targets potentially harder to come by next season, Vaughns could also decide to take his chances.

“My goal right now is to beat Iowa and win the Holiday Bowl,” Tufele said Wednesday. “Everything else after that will handle itself.”

After that, the decisions should be fast for USC. But for now, the bowl game offers a bit of respite from the lingering uncertainty to which players and coaches have grown accustomed to this season.

Questions about the future are a bit more difficult to avoid for USC’s staff, which is expected to undergo some shake-up. Coach Clay Helton said this week that he wouldn’t make any major decisions until after the bowl game.

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“It’s part of the business,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said Tuesday. “It’s not a fun part of it. It can be a stressful part of it. But what people don’t realize is the family side of it, more than us. You want to be successful and win and be where you are, but it’s really hard on the families. That’s what people fail to realize. For us, we’re just doing our job until they tell us we don’t have one.”

Those discussions have yet to start, although some assistants have begun looking to 2020. Defensive backs coach Greg Burns said he already started thinking of next steps for his talented young secondary.

Clancy Pendergast would prefer not to look past the bowl. Asked if he had talked to Helton about his future, the defensive coordinator offered only a curt response, before calling attention back to the task at hand.

“Sure haven’t,” he said. “We’ve got one more game to play this year against Iowa.”

Bru McCoy is back

After two transfers and a mysterious illness kept him sidelined for all of his freshman season, wideout Bru McCoy has been a part of USC’s bowl practice this week, donning full pads for the first time since he arrived last fall.

McCoy is still working his way back to full participation, but Harrell, who had yet to see him practice in person, was excited by the little he has seen.

“It’s like getting a new toy at Christmas,” Harrell said. “You get to see something new, something different.”

Etc.

Redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp took part in bowl practice after undergoing ankle surgery in late October. His status for the bowl is uncertain. … Center Brett Neilon, who strained a calf Nov. 9 against Arizona State, is healthy and expected to be ready.


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