Like other USC seniors, Jeff Byers is looking forward to the Trojans' Nov. 29 matchup against Notre Dame because it will be the final game at the Coliseum for fourth- and fifth-year players.
But it might not be for Byers.
The dean of the USC's offensive line said Wednesday that he had applied to the Pacific 10 Conference for a sixth year of eligibility because of medical hardships that caused him to sit out nearly all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
"I just wanted to get the process started," said Byers, a two-year starter at left guard.
"Better to have done it than not to have done it."
Byers, though, is not sure what he would do if granted an extra season by the conference and NCAA.
"That's when you have a deep conversation with your parents and coaches," he said.
Byers, a Colorado native, arrived at USC in 2004 as the Gatorade national player of the year. A hip injury and subsequent surgery forced him to sit out the 2005 season and a back injury kept him sidelined nearly all of 2006.
Byers said that when he filled out the application for the extra year,
"I dug through my medical file, which is not thin."
Byers is in the second year of a graduate program in business, so if he were granted a sixth season and decided to come back, he would continue taking classes in the spring semester while preparing with the Trojans for the 2009 season.
"It would be nice to have the option, but I can't assume I'm going to get anything," he said.
If he were denied, or opted to turn pro regardless, he said he would probably spend the spring semester getting ready for the NFL draft.
So Byers is treating every moment as if it could be his last with the Trojans.
"I have to -- there are no guarantees," he said.
"I could get turned down in a heartbeat."
The future is now
As per custom, USC coaches are using practices preceding this week's open date to look at younger players and reserves who could play larger roles next season and beyond.
Back-up quarterbacks Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp took multiple first-team snaps again Wednesday.
Coaches are mixing players in various combinations to glimpse what might become.
"I told [the players], 'This isn't just about this week, this is about the future,' " Coach Pete Carroll said.
Tailback Allen Bradford said he would have hip surgery Friday. . . . Tight end Blake Ayles practiced but still appeared hampered by the knee bruise that forced him to miss the game against California.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga is a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive player. . . . USC will practice today and then be off for three days. Carroll said coaches would spend the weekend recruiting.
Klein is a Times staff writer.