LOS ANGELES — Cameron Smith had longed for Saturday.
Smith, USC’s junior linebacker, was selected last week as one of the team’s four captains for the first time.
“Man, it’s an honor,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life.”
The distinction means he would ordinarily step to midfield in the minutes prior to kickoff against Western Michigan. He would shake hands with the opposing players. Officials would conduct a coin toss. Then they would retreat to their sidelines.
But Smith will be left in the locker room.
Smith is suspended for the first half, a penalty that carries over from last season after he was ejected for targeting in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl. When Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley fell after lofting a pass downfield, Smith lunged forward as if to make a tackle, resulting in a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Since new NCAA rules established in 2013, players who are ejected for targeting during the second half of one game are also suspended for the first half of the next game. Because the Rose Bowl was the final game of the 2016 season, it still must carry over to the next game. That is this season’s opener.
“It is what it is,” Smith said. “I don’t have anything to say about it. It’s a rule. They make the rules. I’m just gonna do my part in the first half, sit in the locker room and then play in the second half and it’ll be fine.”
Smith can go through warm-ups prior to kickoff, but when the teams retreat to their lockers rooms as the band performs across the field and the national anthem is played, he cannot return.
In his absence for the first half, Jordan Iosefa will start as the “Mike” linebacker.
Iosefa, a sophomore, was the backup there last season behind Michael Hutchings.
“He’s going to be a guy who’ll play a lot for us,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said, “so i don’t think there’s really any drop off there.”
Redshirt sophomore John Houston will also make his first start as the weak-side inside linebacker on Saturday.
Smith said he expected he would talk to the new starters before kickoff.
“Both of them are very capable of doing what they do well, but it’ll be more of a calming talk,” Smith said. “It’s just football.”
It is an unusual situation for Smith. He said he had not previously been suspended and had only been sidelined at USC late in his freshman season following season-ending knee surgery.
Coach Clay Helton said there is a TV…