Nationals

USC ends disappointing season in Sun Bowl

USC ends disappointing season in Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas (AP) A season that began with so much promise for Southern California will end Monday in a place few would have expected to see the Trojans this bowl season.

USC started the season No. 1 in the country with a quarterback favored to win the Heisman Trophy. Losses to Stanford and Oregon took the Trojans out of the national title picture, and losses to Arizona, rival UCLA and then finally to Notre Dame sent them tumbling to second-tier bowl status.

Instead of the BCS, the Trojans (7-5) will face Georgia Tech (6-7) in Sun Bowl. Both teams are unranked and riding two-game losing streaks, and USC will be without injured quarterback Matt Barkley (shoulder).

The Trojans admit they had much greater expectations for themselves, but they also are happy to be in a bowl game after a two-year ban and will try to salvage a season that slipped through their fingers after a 6-1 start.

``We wanted to be in a better bowl game, and that's typical, but we decided our own fate and this is where we're at,'' All-American receiver Marqise Lee said. ``Things happen to the greatest teams out there. Sometimes situations happened where there's struggles, and that's what we had. So now we're here, just ready to play and focused - enjoying practice and enjoying our days here, and we'll be ready to play on Monday.''

Barkley, the first three-time captain in team history, injured his right shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. It was announced Thursday that Barkley was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl. He put together one of the greatest careers in USC history and is expected to be one of the first quarterback drafted by the NFL in April.

It certainly is not the season Barkley envisioned when he decided to return for his senior season and put off the NFL.

``I wouldn't say tough. It's not like you really have an example to look to as how to handle it with all the success teams in the past have had at this school,'' Barkley said. ``It's been definitely a learning lesson, not something I could have imagined, but then again nothing is guaranteed.

``When you strive for something, there are times when you're going to be disappointed. Knowing we were shooting for a very high goal . it just happens that way sometimes. But it doesn't take away from the fact of the experiences I've had.''

Barkley's injury means that redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get his second start. The first was the 22-13 loss to Notre Dame in which he was 14 of 23 passing for 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

``We're fortunate it isn't the first time we've had to (play without Barkley),'' USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ``We did it a lot of games last season. The team is very comfortable with Max. It's not like all of a sudden we made him the starter.''

Lee gave Wittek a ringing endorsement.

``Based off that Notre Dame game, we had little situations here and there, but then again you know what your quarterback is capable of. Max threw two picks, but then again in the huddle he was still pumping us up,'' Lee said. ``From a young quarterback, you don't expect that. So to see that from a freshman, willing to push us, the vets, and get us there and ready to go is amazing. So I'm not worried about him at all. Monday, he'll go out there and do what he's supposed to do. He looks great. He didn't have much time to practice for Notre Dame, but now he'll be on point.''

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said he doesn't expect USC to change much offensively with Wittek.

``Surely he's an excellent player,'' Johnson said of Barkley, ``but I think the young man that played in his place is also very talented. We only had the one game to break it down, but you can see he's got good feet, a very strong arm and he's very capable. I doubt they're going to change what they do.''

And neither will Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, with their triple-option offense, are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 323 yards per game. Quarterback Tevin Washington has run for 19 touchdowns.

``It's very difficult (to prepare for),'' Kiffin said of Tech's offense. ``Luckily, we had a month to prepare for it. I don't know how people do it in a week. It took us a week to get the (scout) team to play them. It's different. In a weird way, it's like playing Oregon. There are not a lot of plays being run, but they're so good at it.''

The Yellow Jackets have to prepare for a USC offense that features two of the best receivers in the nation in Lee and junior Robert Woods, who is expected to make a decision after the game regarding whether or not he plans to enter the NFL draft. Woods is USC's all-time receptions leader, while Lee won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in this year's Heisman voting.

``The two wide receivers are so talented,'' Johnson said. ``They've got a good offensive line, an adequate running game. They're just very talented all up and down at every position.''

Quick Links

Former Astros RP Will Harris dons ‘District of Champions’ T-shirt for Nationals press conference

Former Astros RP Will Harris dons ‘District of Champions’ T-shirt for Nationals press conference

Will Harris may have been the pitcher who served up Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, but he apparently isn’t holding any grudges about the outcome.

Harris, who spent five years with the Houston Astros before signing a three-year deal with the Nationals over the winter, sat down for a Zoom press conference Tuesday in what his first chance to speak with the media since Summer Camp began. He wore a T-shirt that was a bit surprising for a player who was on the losing end of Washington’s title run.

The shirt reads “District of Champions,” a nod to D.C. winning titles in MLB, NHL and WNBA over the last three years. To his credit, Harris hasn’t shied away from talking about his performance in Game 7.

RELATED: DANIEL HUDSON ISN’T SURE A 60-GAME MLB SEASON CAN DETERMINE THE BEST TEAM

“Look, I took the L in Game 7, that’s never gonna change,” Harris said on MLB Network in January. “But at the same time, I plan on winning my next Game 7 and I plan on winning more World Series, and I think Washington is a place I can do that.”

As if there was any doubt before, it appears that Harris has completely committed to his ballclub and D.C. as a sports town.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Natasha Cloud rips WNBA's decision to decline Elena Delle Donne's opt-out request

Natasha Cloud rips WNBA's decision to decline Elena Delle Donne's opt-out request

Surprising news broke Monday evening when Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne's request to opt-out of the 2020 WNBA season was declined. The two-time WNBA MVP suffers from Lyme disease, but her condition was not on the CDC's list of underlying conditions that puts someone at additional risk for COVID-19. 

Delle Donne's teammate, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, was also stunned by the league's decision. On Monday evening, Cloud posted an Instagram story in support of Delle Donne, asking the WNBA: "how do you deny someone with Lyme disease?"

Cloud doubled-down on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to express her dismay of the WNBA's decision.

"It’s bull----," Cloud wrote. "@WNBA either play or risk her life...what do we stand for? Cause apparently it’s not the players."

If the league doesn't reverse its ruling, Delle Donne must play the 2020 season to receive her full salary. In her statement Monday, she said she wants to play but her personal physician advises against it.

"I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me," Delle Donne said. "My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I'm at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19."

Cloud, who had a career season for Washington last year, has already decided to opt-out of the 2020 season in order to continue her commitment to raising awareness of social justice issues and the fight for racial equality. The guard signed an endorsement deal with Converse earlier this offseason, and the brand will pay her entire salary this season.

MORE MYSTICS NEWS: