Senior quarterback Matt Barkley might not be the only USC Trojan to miss the Hyundai Sun Bowl due to injury. After the final practice before the New Year’s Eve match-up, head coach Lane Kiffin noted that senior tailback Curtis McNeal and sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee are questionable for the game against Georgia Tech.
On Saturday, Lee, the team’s All-American receiver, went down holding his knee in the team’s last practice before the bowl game. He didn’t return to action but was reportedly walking normally later that evening.
McNeal sat out both of the team’s final two practices with an undisclosed injury and, per usual, USC has not provided specifics on his status.
Barkley has already been ruled out of the game with a strained shoulder, which he suffered in the final minutes of the loss to UCLA on Nov. 17.
Lee’s absence would be a huge blow to a team that’s already without its starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek played in Barkley’s place against Notre Dame and will start against Georgia Tech. He was 14 of 23 for 186 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Fighting Irish, but he could certainly use the help of a school and conference record-holder.
Lee, who set new USC and Pac-12 records for receptions in a single season with 112, has almost 100 more catches on the year than the Yellow Jackets’ top receiver. He was voted the Trojans’ Most Valuable Player, and his loss would be huge for a team that ended the regular season on a downward spiral and hasn’t shown much spark heading into the Sun Bowl.
McNeal has already missed some time this season. Last year’s 1,000-yard rusher has seen fewer carries and fewer rushing yards since the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd, but the Trojans have been most successful when they’ve been able to establish a strong rushing attack. It will be especially critical against Georgia Tech, the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the nation, particularly if the game-time conditions are as blustery as predicted.
Neither player has been confirmed out, and while missing either will hurt the offense, Lee would undoubtedly be the biggest loss – perhaps even bigger than Barkley.
If he can’t go, it could help boost Robert Woods‘ draft stock. Woods is expected to declare for the NFL after the Sun Bowl, after seeing fewer targets than a year ago thanks to Lee’s emergence as one of the top receivers in the nation. A year ago, that was Woods, and if Lee’s out, Woods will have one last shot to make a big impression on NFL scouts.