El Paso, Texas • 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 the 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.
O USC vs. Georgia Tech
• Monday, noon, Ch. 2