Last season, USC's motto was, plain and simple, "No distractions." This time around, the Trojans have a new slogan that embraces the high expectations surrounding the team from all areas in 2012.
Get ready to hear this phrase quite a bit this season: It's about the prep, not about the hype.
Lane Kiffin is going to say it a lot. Matt Barkley's going to say it a lot. The other players are going to say it a lot, in one form or another.
Heck, Ed Orgeron's probably going to yell it a lot.
The originator of the phrase, at least as it applies to this season and this team, was Kiffin. The first time he said it, though, was late last September, after the Trojans lost to Arizona State by 21 points in Tempe.
The next week, as USC prepared to play Arizona at home in a classic rebound game, he said it over and over in practice. The Trojans barely won that game, but, as the season went on, it started becoming vernacular with the players.
Why did they collectively embrace it? Maybe because it made sense. Maybe because it acknowledged that -- even though they couldn't play in a bowl game -- there was hype surrounding their performances, and then squashed the importance of that hype in the next thought.
Then, after the season-ending 50-0 shellacking of UCLA sparked expectations for 2012 even further, Kiffin stressed it in his final conference call with reporters. And he emphasized it again in his signing day news conference last month. It's nothing short of the official team mantra now, with expectations teeming for a team most experts are ranking as the pre-preseason No. 2 and players insisting it means just about nothing.
"Of course we are going to get that much more attention just because we are eligible this year," Barkley said after Tuesday's spring-opening practice, taking on the official team spokesman role as he often has. "But I'm not looking at it different than any other year that we've had.
"Yeah, we can play for a bowl game and all that stuff, but our preparation, I don't think that can change just because of that."
Said Kiffin: "We're not going to, all of the sudden, prepare any different or coach our players any different or get ready for our opponents any different. We're gonna do the same thing we always do."
Practice didn't look any different Tuesday. There were a few surprise stars and few key mistakes, as usual. Kiffin and Barkley both said it was a positive first-day experience. But the senior signal-caller also said the Trojans have plenty left to do this spring with their 14 remaining practices.
"I think a lot needs to get done every day and for us maybe more than normal, because we have something to prove," Barkley said. "I think we have to have the same mentality that we did last year of wanting to prove something."