Offensive line key for No. 14 USC’s new additions to succeed

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LOS ANGELES — Southern California spent the offseason loading up on offense, bringing in a group of transfers that included electric quarterback Caleb Williams, Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison and 1,200-yard rusher Travis Dye.

But the impressive collection of talent at the skill positions won’t matter if the 14th-ranked Trojans don’t have an offensive line capable of creating running lanes or giving Williams time to throw down the field.

“Day in and day out since spring, that’s been the challenge for us,” right guard Justin Dedich said. “We always have skill guys here, and championships are not won just because of them. It’s the dudes up front.”

Although USC made strides last year, allowing the third-fewest sacks in the Pac-12 and improving its rushing offense by 48 yards per game compared to the abbreviated 2020 season, it wasn’t enough to avoid a second losing record in four years, which cost coach Clay Helton his job.

USC’s statistical gains were canceled out by its inability to deliver in pressure situations. There were critical breakdowns on third down and in the red zone, where USC scored touchdowns on 28 of 51 possessions (54.9%).

Right tackle Jonah Monheim expects his group to perform better in those scenarios under new coach Lincoln Riley and offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who is also the offensive line coach.

“Regardless of what it is, confidence always comes from preparation,” Monheim said. “So knowing that we’ve prepared, knowing that we’ve been there in practice and we’ve done those short yardage, goal-line situations with the coaches in practice, things like that, and executing there, it’s trusting the training.”

Riley and Henson will mostly have to trust the offensive line they inherited.

There are just three new faces, with only Virginia transfer Bobby Haskins expected to contribute immediately. USC also added Cooper Lovelace from the junior college ranks and freshman walk-on Kilian O’Connor.

Haskins started 20 games in four seasons with the Cavaliers, but he missed all of spring practice because of ankle surgery. The fifth-year senior had to make up for lost time in training camp, where he is competing with redshirt sophomore Courtland Ford to start at left tackle.

“Bob’s been doing a great job since he came in during camp, you know, playing physical and doing good things when he’s playing,” Monheim said. “He’s a great addition to the unit.”

Riley said he would release a formal depth chart following practice, but Ford and Haskins could both be working with the starters in the season opener against Rice.

The rest of the line looks set with Andrew Vorhees at left guard, Brett Neilon at center, and Dedich and Monheim on the right side.

There is plenty of experience in that group. Vorhees, Neilon and Dedich are redshirt seniors. Monheim started seven games last season.

Dedich dutifully waited five years to become a full-time starter for the Trojans, and that dedication was recognized as he was named a team captain.

“That’s O-line mentality. One-on-one, you got to be gritty,” said Dedich, summing up the attitude USC will need from its linemen so its offensive stars can shine.

NOTES: Williams, Alabama transfer LB Shane Lee and DT Tuli Tuipulotu were also voted captains by their teammates. “The team pretty clearly looks at those four as the guys they want to represent them,” Riley said.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.