USC's O'Dowd will have to win his job back

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- This is how USC is different: The questionable health of an All-American center is greeted with a shrug even before a marquee game with national championship implications.

Kristofer O'Dowd practiced Monday for the first time since dislocating his knee cap three weeks ago, but there's no rush to push him back into the starting lineup Saturday when the Trojans visit Ohio State.

"We won't play him unless we feel like we're going to be fine," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're not going to play Kris just to play him. We're going to play him because we feel right about him and he's all right ... We're fine with the guys we have."

With O'Dowd out last weekend against San Jose State, sixth-year senior Jeff Byers moved over to center from guard and Butch Lewis and Alex Parsons played guard. Both Lewis and Parsons started last year -- Lewis at right tackle -- so the drop-off was minimal.

The Trojans rushed for 342 yards against the Spartans.

Moreover, while Carroll didn't say this, true freshman Matt Barkley made his surge to be the starting quarterback while taking snaps exclusively from Byers, so there is some issue of continuity.

O'Dowd, of course, is having none of that.

"I'm definitely going to be back for this game," he said. "I'm not going to settle for second string. That's not what I'm shooting for."

So USC's competition Tuesday is going to be just that for O'Dowd -- he's got to compete, prove his knee is 100 percent and win his job back.

In other injury news, the Trojans got one D-lineman back while another was missing.

Tackle Jurrell Casey missed practice because he was ill, while Averell Spicer practiced after sitting out the San Jose State game with a sprained ankle.

"He looked pretty good," Carroll said.