MINNEAPOLIS – Lane Kiffin lived the nomadic life of a coach's son while growing up, so it is easy to understand why he chuckled when asked about his homecoming this weekend in Minnesota.
"I've got a lot of homes. We moved like 17 times," Kiffin said. "Everywhere we play seems to be at home."
If anywhere is home for USC's first-year head coach, Minnesota could make a strong argument. Kiffin was a star quarterback at Bloomington Jefferson High School in suburban Minneapolis, spending three years playing for the Jaguars while his father was an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings.
"I still know a lot of people there," Kiffin said. "A really unique place from the aspect of just off-the-charts friendly people and a great place to raise kids. I have nothing but good memories there."
He'll be looking for a few more on Saturday when he leads 18th-ranked USC (2-0) into TCF Bank Stadium to face Minnesota (1-1), a team reeling from a stunning loss last week.
The Golden Gophers are coached by Tim Brewster, who was hired in 2007 over Kiffin. But Kiffin downplayed any notion of having extra motivation going into the game.
"It was the first time I've ever interviewed for a head job," he said. "It was a really good process for me to go through, the preparation for it and going through it and sitting there with the athletic director. It was a good experience for me and I thank them for that."
It's the first time in 30 years that the Trojans have played Minnesota, all part of Brewster's pledge to upgrade the traditionally pillow-soft Minnesota non-conference schedule. This USC team bears little resemblance to the high-powered program of earlier this decade, much less the fifth-ranked team that Marcus Allen led to a 24-7 victory over Minnesota in 1980.
NCAA penalties and sanctions handed down the from the Reggie Bush era have weakened USC to the point that the Trojans had to get into a shootout to beat Hawaii in the opener and barely outlasted Virginia in their home opener last week.
Bowl bans, scholarship limits or not, Kiffin made it clear this week that those kinds of performances won't cut it.
"The players have gotten the message that we're not playing anywhere near the standards we expect of them," Kiffin said.
Pete Carroll left after last season to take the head coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks, leaving behind a troubled program. Kiffin left Tennessee after just one year on the job, enduring an avalanche of venom from Rocky Top, to take over at USC, where he was an assistant under Carroll.
The position he described as his "dream job" has been anything but that early on, through no fault of his own. Not long after he took the job, the NCAA stunned the school by handing down a two-year bowl ban and revoking 30 scholarships over three years, all stemming from Bush's time at the school.
Earlier this week, Bush forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy, bringing another round of distractions to a team trying to move on.
"These players don't even know Reggie Bush," Kiffin said. "None of them were here when he was here. It's not as big a deal to them as you may think it is, or a topic that we needed to discuss in a team meeting."
Brewster, meanwhile, can't point to a previous regime or blame NCAA sanctions for his problems.
The Gophers are coming off a demoralizing 41-38 loss to South Dakota, the second home loss to an FCS school in Brewster's 40 games as coach. Watching the Coyotes march up and down the field against the Gophers defense last weekend caused many fans to boo throughout the game and call for the coach's ouster afterward.
"Our whole intention at this point in the season was to be 2-0," Brewster said. "The reality is we're a 1-1 football team at this point instead of 2-0. There's great disappointment at this point in us being 1-1 instead of 2-0."
If the Gophers thought stopping Dante Warren and the Coyotes was difficult, what is going to happen when Matt Barkley and the Trojans take the field?
"It's definitely a tough loss, but we just have to use that loss as motivation for our next game," cornerback Ryan Collado said. "All the criticism that we're getting, you just have to use that as motivation going forward."