Kris O’Dowd, receiving a hug after announcing he would play at USC in 2006, is three credit hours away from his American studies diploma. CHRIS RICHARDS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR 2006

Were I Kris O'Dowd, a future millionaire playing for the most popular football team in Los Angeles, I'd take advantage.

Sure, I'd watch film, lift weights, go to class. But in between? I'd hang out with a Kardashian or two. Maybe try to land a gig on "Dancing With the Stars."

I'd be insufferable. I'd be Mike "The Situation," essentially.

All of which makes the Salpointe Catholic High School graduate's maturity that much more impressive.

He lives alone in a downtown Los Angeles apartment, a good 10-minute drive from a USC campus where preseason All-Americans, even offensive linemen, are celebrities.

He uses the drive home to wind down every day. A big night includes grabbing a bite to eat and maybe having the guys over to watch a Lakers game.

"There's a bit split between football and what I do in my day-to-day life," the senior center said. "I treat football as my job.

"Living downtown is a way for me to get away from everything, to shut down and focus on myself. Reboot the batteries."

It gets better.

When O'Dowd landed at Troy, he took 21 hours of classes in each of his first three semesters. Doogie Howser didn't do that.

"I didn't know I was going to start as a freshman," he said sheepishly.

As a result, he's three hours away from his American studies diploma.

Matt Leinart infamously completed a ballroom dancing class for his final three college credits. (I know, Cardinals fans - Leinart actually completed something.) By contrast, O'Dowd, a 3.3 GPA student, is taking an upper-division American studies course about election politics and HIV.

He'll finish a research paper for the class the week after USC plays UCLA in the season finale, and then begin training for the NFL draft.

While previewing the 2011 draft today makes as much sense as picking 2017 Oscar winners, some experts think O'Dowd could be a first-round pick. Not bad for someone who didn't play a down of football until high school.

O'Dowd was a basketball junkie, his father, Charlie, said, but had the size to excel in football.

"Going to pick him up was like picking up papier-mâché," he said, "and it turns out to be a rock."

NCAA sanctions keeping the Trojans out of the next two bowl games might be "a blessing in disguise," the center said, because he'll have an extra month to train for the draft.

Those same sanctions made the 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pounder one of the country's most valuable free agents in June, when the NCAA ruled Trojan upperclassmen could transfer without penalty after the Reggie Bush scandal.

The nation's best coaches and players called to recruit O'Dowd.

"I had a lot of offers to go a lot of places," he said. "That would be stupid of me to consider something like that.

"Why would I turn down a degree from USC? Why would I leave a program because a fluke happened? We lost one game. We have 13 more."

The first comes Thursday, when the Trojans open their 13-game regular season in Hawaii. With nonconference games against Virginia, Minnesota and Notre Dame, USC could conceivably win the Pac-10 and be ranked No. 1 in the nation - and still not play in a bowl game.

"We have something special here," he said. "The few that left didn't feel that and weren't obligated to that. The ones that did, stayed."

O'Dowd's career has been slowed by injuries; he dislocated his right kneecap as a freshman and junior, underwent shoulder labrum surgery after his sophomore year and started only seven games last season with a sore shoulder and a bum knee.

But O'Dowd said he's "back to my normal self" physically, and happy in Los Angeles.

Even if it features a few quiet nights at home.

"I'm above and beyond," he said, "where I want to be."


The opener!

1. The Arizona Wildcats travel to Toledo to open their season Friday night, the first time in history a Pac-10 squad has traveled to face a Mid-American Conference squad. We're excited to see how a defense full of new faces looks against the mid-major school.


2. Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson will name his starting quarterback at a press conference today. Expect the Sun Devils to go with Steven Threet, who could join fellow Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett, now at Arkansas, as a big-school starter.

Home games

3. The Arizona Wildcats volleyball team returns home for the Wildcat Classic, playing against Butler and Louisville on Friday and Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday. The Wildcats soccer team hosts NAU on Friday and Cal Poly on Sunday.

Choices, choices

4. When NFL teams make their final cuts, they'll do more than send a few familiar faces to the land of the UFL and used -car sales. Some, like the Cardinals, could actually cut one of the two candidates to start at quarterback, Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson.

The season's end

5. The Tucson Toros' season ends at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Yuma Scorpions at Hi Corbett Field. Will the Golden Baseball League be here next year? Two cash-strapped teams are not playing in their home cities and a third, Yuma, is being operated by the league.

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