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.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.