Teammates on the USC Trojans are denying reports that the team’s ugly loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech followed them into the locker room and overflowed into an all-out brawl.
Between 10 and 15 players were involved in the fight, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, that began after angry freshmen reportedly questioned the leadership of the team’s older players including star quarterback Matt Barkley, who was ruled out of the team’s final regular season game because of a separated and sprained right shoulder.
An argument over the team's effort during the Sun Bowl – which the Trojans lost by a 21 to 7 margin – quickly turned into accusations after cornerback Nickell Robey told his teammates he’d be going pro, although the official announcement would have to wait two more weeks.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in a locker room,” an unidentified player told the Daily News.
“I would say tempers flared, yeah, but that’s football,” Barkley said during an appearance on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd With Colin Cowherd” on Wednesday.
“If you ask some of the guys who were there what happened they'll negate those claims about people throwing punches and all that stuff or whatever was said," Barkley added. "Obviously, in the locker room after that game, which was a loss, there's gonna be words exchanged. People weren't in the best mood, but that wasn't to say we were fighting each other or there was an altercation.”
Another described the situation as “pure chaos. … I think there was a lot of frustration. There were some things said by some guys on our team who are just hotheads.”
“It's going to be a whole new family atmosphere next season and you can quote me on that. For the seniors, it's terrible," said freshman offensive tackle Zach Banner, who didn’t discuss the incident any further.
Coach Lane Kiffin denied any fighting took place or that, as one player put it, “haymakers” were thrown.
"Contrary to media reports, there was not a brawl or altercation in our locker room after the Sun Bowl," Kiffin said in a statement. "There was a noisy verbal exchange among a couple players who were frustrated with the outcome of the game. It lasted less than a minute. There was nothing physical. That happens sometimes in football locker rooms after a disappointing loss."
While some of the Trojans lamented that the acrimonious locker room scene would be their last memory of the team, it’s likely others are just relieved the season's over. USC entered the season ranked at No. 1 but limped to the finish with a 7-6 record after a losing streak. Kiffin fired his father, legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, along the way and released a student manager who was deflating game balls.