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Originally published November 8, 2011 at 9:00 PM | Page modified November 9, 2011 at 4:15 PM

USC not lacking for motivation against Huskies | UW football

USC comes into Saturday's 12:45 p.m. game at 7-2 overall, ranked No. 18 in this week's Associated Press poll and playing about as well as anyone in the Pac-12 the past month.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

UW @ USC, 12:45 p.m., FX

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A USC football team concluding its second season without the carrot of a postseason game won't find motivation lacking this week as Washington comes to town.

Reminded of the fact that UW has beaten the Trojans the past two seasons, USC defensive tackle Christian Tupou said: "I'm sure a lot of guys will come into that game with a chip on their shoulder."

The Trojans, however, have appeared to play that way all year, defying the idea their probationary status might cause them to take a few Saturdays off.

USC comes into Saturday's 12:45 p.m. game at 7-2 overall, ranked No. 18 in this week's Associated Press poll and playing about as well as anyone in the Pac-12 the past month.

The Trojans have won four of their last five, three on the road, the only defeat coming in triple overtime against No. 3 Stanford. Their only other defeat came Sept. 24 at Arizona State, a loss due in large part to four turnovers.

That, however, could be attributed as much to the team's youth as anything else — USC has just four seniors listed as starters this week and just 10 among its top 44 players.

USC is ineligible to go to a bowl game for the second straight year due to penalties handed down for violations related to extra benefits given to former running back Reggie Bush.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who was an assistant at USC from 2001-03 and again from 2005-08, said the sanctions "could have very easily been an issue" affecting the team's play.

He says it's "a real credit" to USC coach Lane Kiffin and others at the school "of holding that thing together, and not just holding it together but excelling."

Kiffin said he thinks the thoughts of what has been denied USC "seeps in sometimes, especially when you lose games. Everything is real neat when all the players think you are going undefeated, and you lose one game and all of a sudden you aren't going undefeated."

Kiffin said he thinks the players have had an easier time dealing with their situation this year than last season, when the Trojans went 7-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play. That's in part due to the youth of the team, he said. USC is starting 10 freshmen or sophomores on offense and defense.

"The majority of our roster is in their first or second year so they don't know any different," he said.

They also know that beginning next season the Trojans will again be eligible for the Pac-12 title and a bowl game. And given their play this year and their youth, the Trojans will be considered a favorite to win the conference, especially if junior quarterback Matt Barkley were to return.

The impact of the sanctions, however, will hardly be lifted after this season. USC was also limited to awarding just 15 new scholarships (the limit is 25) and having 75 total scholarship players (the limit is 85) for three years beginning in 2012-13. Those sanctions were delayed a year when USC appealed, which was denied.

Kiffin used the delay to stock up on scholarship players last year, signing 30 (eight enrolled early), hoping to build a solid base to weather the reductions of the next three years.

Sarkisian says he thinks Kiffin has succeeded.

"They are a talented, talented team," he said. "Probably still the most talented team in our conference. They are deeply talented."

Holt says no

disrespect intended

UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said after Tuesday's practice that he meant no disrespect to USC when he said after Saturday's game that "I'd rather play USC than Oregon."

The quote quickly made the rounds at USC and was seen taped to a wall at the school's athletic center.

Holt, a former USC defensive coordinator, said he meant it solely in the context of "how difficult" it is to prepare for Oregon.

"I'm the last guy that's going to disrespect the University of Southern California — the institution, the players and their coaches," he said. "I'm the last guy to do that. Obviously, I think it was taken in the wrong context. I think what I was trying to do was just say how difficult and good Oregon is to prepare for. So take it as it is. I didn't mean anything by it."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699

or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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