If you tried wrapping your head around USC’s football team this season, chances are you’d find yourself wanting to know more.Because of the ever-vigilant eye of the sports media and its constant barrage of prediction and analysis, it’s become a real challenge for a program of USC’s stature to sneak up on anyone. Still, this year’s squad possesses an enigmatic quality that’s hard to place.It’s not that the coverage isn’t there, for plenty of outlets continue to scrutinize the Trojan program on a daily basis. It’s not that coaches and players are being exceptionally cryptic or reserved or coy in their interviews. It seems more that there’s just less to know right now.Here’s what we do know: USC is irrelevantly ranked No. 25 in the preseason Associated Press poll. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley will return and will play well, likely making a splash in the Heisman race. And Tom Brady is jealous of this season’s receiving corps. That’s about it.If you read the preliminary depth chart aloud, the number of times you heard “or” might lead you to believe you were glancing over the crew team’s inventory.We don’t know which tailback is going to find a way to distinguish himself from the rest. Will it be sophomore Dillon Baxter? Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan? Junior Curtis McNeal? Freshman Amir Carlisle? USC coach Lane Kiffin probably couldn’t even guess.Will redshirt freshman Xavier Grimble or another tight end develop a connection as Barkley’s comfort target, a role Anthony McCoy shaped so well in 2009?What constitutes Monte Kiffin’s simplified defense? Will USC be able to apply it to any level of success on that side of the ball?Then, of course, there are the motivation questions. Can USC figure out how to cope in its second year of bowl ineligibility? Can Kiffin start to carve a legacy like his predecessor?The sheer number of questions left unanswered to this point can be troubling with the opener against Minnesota just two short days away. This obscurity suggests a level of unpreparedness that could render the Trojans sorely regretful Saturday night. A loss to Minnesota seems implausible, but if USC isn’t ready, a 0-1 start is far from out of the question.“I would be blown away if this team is overconfident: number one, because we’re not very good, and number two, because [Minnesota] is very, very well-coached and has a dynamic playmaker touching the ball every snap,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Wednesday’s practice.That said, it’s premature to necessarily associate indecision with disarray.With little at stake this season, it’s understandable for Kiffin to wait as long as he can before playing his hand, giving everyone on the depth chart a shot to blow him away. And the last thing he needs is the intricacies of his pop’s defensive modifications getting out to opponents.Really, staying off the radar and providing critics with so little fodder to craft narratives and sketch out the season is an advantage. Expectations can be a healthy burden on a team. Eschewing them as much as possible allows these guys to go out and play and not concern themselves with how they stack up.Then there’s the strategic leg up.You can place your bets now that Minnesota coach Jerry Kill lacks even the faintest idea of who will be lining up at the bottom of USC’s I-formation Saturday afternoon, or at receiver, guard, tackle, center or a handful of other positions.Minnesota’s already an enormous underdog coming into the Coliseum this weekend, and now it has to gameplan for about seven billion lineups? There’s no relief in facing an opponent that has so many options and so much left to reveal.One of the great aspects of Oregon’s stellar season last year was that the team crept up on everyone, both on and off the field. The Duck’s 72-0 shellacking of New Mexico in the opener last season was an eye-opening statement of authority that the Ducks were going to, well, make a splash. Yes, they were already ranked No. 11 at the time, but few saw that uptempo game rushing them all the way into the national championship game.USC’s team this year is no 2010 Oregon — in part because its offense isn’t so hectic but also because the Trojans have no championship to play for. Still, that model of taking teams by surprise is worth emulating. USC has a rare chance this year to evade the microscope that comes as a packaged deal with the program’s prestige, and the team would do right to take advantage of it.The lack of information about this team is puzzling, especially to fans.But that indefinable quality? That’s not going to hurt the team one bit. “Suicide Blitz” runs Thursdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Danny at email@example.com.
Some unanswered questions surround Kobe Bryant besides how he will recover from his right shoulder injury, the third consecutive season-ending ailment he experienced that required surgery.The Lakers’ star also has not decided if he will retire when the final year of his contract worth $25 million expires after the 2015-16 season. “I have assumed that he has one year to go and is 36 now. That’s all I can plan on,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “That’s all he’s planning on. A year from now, maybe different. But right now, that’s all we’re planning on.”Yet, Kupchak said the uncertainty of whether Bryant will retire after 20 NBA seasons will not influence how the Lakers shape their roster this offseason. But how the Lakers assemble their team could influence Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points on a career-low 37.3 percent shooting. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Motivation tacticHe broke out as the Lakers’ starting point guard, but Jordan Clarkson constantly reminded himself over feeling snubbed with falling to the 46th pick of the 2014 NBA draft.So much that Clarkson said he has watched the draft about eight to 10 times in the past year, arguing that it “keeps me hungry.”“I kind of just watched it, even when I wasn’t feeling good,” said Clarkson, who averaged 15.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, five assists and 4.2 rebounds through 38 games as a starter. “Say I had a bad game – I would watch the draft and be like, ‘You’ve got to come back the next day. You’ve got to come get it.’ It’s just a motivating thing for me.”Lakers forward Carlos Boozer since called Clarkson “the steal of the draft” and called him a “mini Westbrook.”“That’s a good compliment,” Clarkson said. “But I kind of want to be my own player.” Slim downKupchak praised Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle for being a “studious and conscientious young player” during his season-long recovery from a fractured right tibia. Kupchak reported that Randle responded quickly to emails asking for his analysis on games as he watched from the sideline. Kupchak also added Randle has lost 18 pounds in hopes to ensure strong conditioning. “We won’t jeopardize next season for summer league,” Kupchak said of Randle. “But summer league is a realistic expectation.” “The makeup of the team right now is just not clear enough for us to drop Kobe in and say, ‘This is what we expect. Can you do it?’” Kupchak said. “We have to wait until the first couple weeks of July.”Lakers coach Byron Scott said Bryant has started lifting weights and has full range of motion. Although Scott said Bryant “looked good,” the Lakers coach recently recalled stressing one important thing. “In his mind, he’s going to go at this thing real hard this summer to get ready for training camp. I didn’t want him to overdo it,” Scott said. “I know how he is when he gets his mind set that he wants to be ready for training camp that he’s going to go all out.”Scott also reiterated he plans to handle Bryant more conservatively after playing him 34.5 minutes per game. That workload prompted Scott to rest Bryant in eight of his final 15 games before his injury. Scott has said that minute range marked higher than Bryant’s expectation. “This time I’m going to take his word for it instead of going with my own gut,” Scott said. “He was absolutely right.”