Here are three things we learned about USC at Thursday's Pac-10 media day and what they translate to when it comes to the Trojans' future:
1. Lane Kiffin is feeling more comfortable in his post as the Trojans' first-year coach.
It wasn't really that Kiffin wasn't comfortable in his first public appearances this time around at USC -- although that could certainly be argued, with how he tentatively talked at his opening news conference and how his post-practice reports in the spring would often be short and not-so-sweet -- it was that he wasn't himself, wasn't the outspoken, attention-hungry coach college football fans had grown accustomed to.
The confidence was always there, but something else wasn't: a sense of real excitement, an actual smile.
But he was smiling Thursday, finally. He smiled when he was on the podium alongside sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, he smiled making the rounds of television interviews and he smiled while eating lunch with a horde of reporters asking non-stop questions. He finally appears to be enjoying his job, cracking jokes with both Barkley and reporters as the day went on.
Maybe that comes with the time of the year, with camp starting on Wednesday. Whatever the reason, it's a good thing for USC.
2. USC is no longer the favorite to win the Pac-10.
Yes, this was expected after the Trojans finished 9-4 in 2009 and then changed administrations and lost a boatload of talent in a short period of time, but Thursday's festivities officially put the underdog stamp on USC's 2010 season.
It wasn't just the media poll -- though, yes, USC was voted second for the first time in nine years, signaling that change in power atop the Pac-10 conference -- it was the general aura around the Trojans' appearance at the podium. In 2009 in particular, the event seemed to drag on until Pete Carroll and Taylor Mays hit the stage, representing USC. Thursday, Kiffin and Barkley were just another pair to hit the stage.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly dismissed the poll during his media session Thursday, saying, "I learned from last year's poll that we shouldn't put much stock in it." But the poll speaks for itself in terms of results: 2009 was the first time in 10 years the media didn't pick the conference's winner in July.
If that doesn't seal the underdog deal for you, maybe this will. Here's Kiffin when he asked if he was surprised that the Trojans were not first in the media poll: "I wouldn't have [voted USC first] either. I was actually surprised we were second."
3. The USC-UCLA rivalry is still not what it used to -- and could -- be, but it's heading there.
First, a quote from Barkley on the Bruins, as told to the Orange County Register: "I know we beat them last year, and we're going to do the same this year."
It's important to note in this situation that Barkley is ultra-savvy when it comes to the media, always watching his words and toning down what he says before it even comes out of his mouth. So when he says something like that, well, you take note.
Yes, it's not completely out of context for the rivalry, especially considering the Trojans' relative domination of the Bruins over the last few years. Still, any guarantee of a victory is a bold statement -- especially considering the circumstances that will surround this December's edition of the game.
To be held on the same field where Barkley made today's comments, the game will be USC's last of the season, while UCLA could very well be fighting for bowl-game contention.