For the players making up USC’s current roster, the 2013 campaign has been a roller coaster ride. Their season has been filled with emotional highs and lows, losing one head coach after another, from Lane Kiffin, to Ed Orgeron, to Clay Helton – who will ultimately give way to the newly hired Steve Sarkisian following the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State on Dec. 21.
For junior safety Dion Bailey, the sudden departure of Orgeron on Dec. 2, hit him particularly hard.
Nonetheless, when the Trojans began bowl practice, the team was in noticeably high spirits, thanks in part to the leadership of veterans like Bailey.
“I’ve definitely taken on that role, but it’s been a lot easier with this group,” said Bailey, who has 58 tackles and a team-high five interceptions this fall. “This group has a lot better focus than a lot of teams that I’ve been a part of, so it wasn’t hard to refocus after all of the emotional whirlwinds we’ve been through the past couple of weeks. Everybody has been out here with a great attitude.”
And why not? After all, not only will the Trojans have a shot at 10 wins, but they will be doing so in a city that isn’t exactly dull by any stretch of the imagination.
“A lot of people think we’re not excited to go to Vegas, but who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?” Bailey said. “It’s going to be great. We’re going to have a blast doing what we do. We’re going to go out there and finish the season off right, and try to get this 10th win.”
But for Bailey, the game could prove to be especially significant. After a sturdy three-year starter with 219 career-tackles to his credit, he has the option to enter the NFL draft.
It’s a decision that Bailey revealed was still up in the air.
“I’m going to sit down and meet with my parents [Tuesday night], and we’re going to discuss some things, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have it figured out within this week,” Bailey said, “but I probably won’t announce anything until after the bowl game. I don’t want to be a distraction to the team and what we’re focused on.”
One person who is certain to have a special interest in the decision is Sarkisian. Bailey hasn’t had a chance to speak with the new head coach one-on-one just yet, but having been recruited by him as a standout Class of 2010 performer out of Lakewood (Calif.), he is familiar with him, and he’s optimistic about the new coach.
“That was my first scholarship offer -- to Washington -- out of high school, so I know Sark pretty well,” Bailey said. “He has a lot of energy, a lot of confidence, and he knows how to win. He’s been a part of our run here, so he definitely knows the formula.”
Despite the looming decision, Bailey has made a concerted effort not to lose sight of the task at hand. The Trojans will have their hands full in Vegas with a potent Fresno State offensive attack that is engineered by the nation’s No. 1 passer (4,866 yards) in Derek Carr.
“He’s a guy that has an unbelievable arm,” Bailey said. “It’s impressive the way he spins the ball, and he reads coverages. He finds the open man, and he’s having a great year, so we definitely have a great challenge ahead of us.”
But after having overcome so much already, it’s a test that Bailey and his teammates are more than eager to take on.
“To come away with a victory would be huge,” Bailey said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the history of college football that has been through as much as we’ve been through in my four years of being here. To go out here and get a big 10th win, we could walk out of that stadium with our heads held high and our chest poked out. It would be something to be very proud of.”