LOS ANGELES -- One of the hidden bonuses of making a bowl game is the extra practice time each team gets.
When USC coach Lane Kiffin was asked in a Sunday night media call about his practice plans, he said, "there will probably be between 13-15."
That is not a minor detail. Spring ball practice sessions are limited to 15 days, so this is basically like getting an extra spring session. It's also one of the things that a team serving a bowl ban really misses, because the December practices can do so much to help a team that also has one eye on next year.
For the veteran players, a bowl game is certainly a reward and a chance to enjoy the experience of the events leading up to the game, in addition to the game itself. But those players tend to know the system and the coaches are familiar with what they can do.
It is the younger players -- particularly those who were limited to service team work this year -- who can really benefit from the extra practice sessions. Players such as linebacker Jabari Ruffin and offensive lineman Zach Banner haven't had much of an opportunity for extended work with their position coaches since most of their practice time has been spent imitating the upcoming opponent.
Many coaches, including Kiffin, use the bowl practices as a way to get additional work for those younger players.
"It's great for our younger players to get the benefit of these practice sessions," Kiffin said. "It's something we haven't had for the last two years."
Anticipation for Matt Barkley
There is still no final decision on Matt Barkley's availability for the Sun Bowl. The health of Barkley's shoulder will be determined during USC's practice sessions -- which begin on Wednesday at Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field -- but Kiffin thinks his senior quarterback will be ready.
"We anticipate that Matthew will play," Kiffin said.
Barkley was forced to sit out the Trojans regular-season finale against Notre Dame after suffering the shoulder injury late in the UCLA game.
There are many opinions out there about whether Barkley should even try to play. As much as Barkley is a team player who would want to be out there, doesn't he also have to consider the risk if the shoulder isn't 100 percent healthy? Barkley has some pretty important NFL job auditions coming up in the next few months and his college resume is strong no matter if there is a Sun Bowl appearance on there or not. One of his former quarterback coaches, Steve Clarkson, made some compelling arguments here about why Barkley should be prudent with this decision.
Knowing Barkley, though, he will do everything he can to be on the field. When he made his decision to return to USC for his senior season, one of the key reasons was to show the importance of finishing what you start. It wasn't just lip service for Barkley. He was as genuine about that as he is everything else in his life. The guess here is that if Barkley is medically cleared to be out there with his teammates, he will be there.
No easy out for Monte
The bowl game will be final appearance for Monte Kiffin as USC's defensive play-caller, and he couldn't have picked a more unique opponent.
Rather than face a traditional pro-style attack that could play to his strengths, Kiffin will go up against a flexbone option scheme that is a hybrid of the spread-option attack that has given USC so many problems this year. The attack is spearheaded by quarterback Tevin Washington, who ranks in the top 10 in Yellow Jackets history in 11 different categories.
The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 4 in the nation in rushing per game (312.5), and it should be noted the team ranked No. 3 is Oregon, and every USC fan remembers what the Ducks did on the ground against the Trojans this season.