Yes, USC will win football games. But these aren't the old Trojans, and the results of sanctions against the school could take years to overcome.

The uncertainty of years of Reggie Bush investigation melted into last summer’s sanctions of USC. And then there was that purgatory period when we couldn’t be sure about the Trojans; they might just do what they talked about doing — running the table and winning a national title.

So Washington’s 32-31 victory Saturday night had a sense of finality to it, like the clang of a prison cell door, or a light being turned off.

Good night, Trojans.

Yes, this will be a team that can still win football games. It can spoil seasons for Stanford or Oregon or Arizona. But it can’t go to a bowl game in 2010 or 2011, and unless it gets relief from an appeal, it can’t sign more than 15 players each of the next three Februarys.

Tuesday, coach Lane Kiffin talked about the diminished numbers in the program due to early NFL entries, a couple of released signees and five transfers. And he added a wry postscript.

“We were far under the numbers (the ceiling of 85 scholarships) when we got here,” he said. “We’re operating at about 69 or 70 scholarship players.

“Which is good practice for us.”

I asked Kiffin when the Trojans might come out of all this.

“You’re looking at a good five years, maybe six,” he said, “until you can have a full roster.”

Of course, USC can be good before that. Its 15 signees aren’t like the 15 in most places. But through its five games of 2010, there was no particular indication Kiffin was maximizing what he had, or that USC players had mounted a rallying cry around probation.

Hugh Millen, the former NFL quarterback and local radio and TV analyst, went to the sideline in L.A. for pregame warm-ups, a weekly ritual. He assesses the things the layman might miss — the throwing mechanics of the quarterbacks, the hip turn of defenders, the urgency that players might emit.

He says he doesn’t want to take anything from a turnaround Washington victory, and he says the Trojans don’t stir any natural fury in him like Oregon does.

“SC looked disinterested,” he told me. “They didn’t play with a great deal of zeal or energy.”

Referring to cornerback Shareece Wright and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, Millen said, “I only saw two dominant players on their defense.”

On the critical fourth-and-11 pass that Jake Locker completed to D’Andre Goodwin late in the fourth quarter, Millen watched a USC linebacker who had to turn and redirect himself.

“To me, he doesn’t look like a Pac-10 player, let alone a USC player,” Millen said.

After that Goodwin catch, as the clock ticked well inside two minutes toward one, it became apparent USC’s best tack would be to start using timeouts for a retaliatory strike on offense after Washington’s field-goal try.

Tuesday, Kiffin offered a perplexing explanation for not using timeouts, saying “there was no guarantee that if we use our timeouts that we were going to get the ball back. We were still going to have to stop them.”

Instead, he used two silly timeouts to try to ice kicker Erik Folk, and left the field with one in his pocket.

In a different context, he referred to USC’s 6-5 league record over the past two seasons and confessed, “This is not your old SC.”

That one appears long gone. Who knows when it might return?

And what’s more …

• If anything can rile USC, it might be this week’s rematch with Stanford, which went for a late two-point conversion last year in the famous “What’s your deal?” repartee between Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. Says Harbaugh, “That horse has been beaten pretty well. It absolutely couldn’t be any more irrelevant.” And Kiffin, referring to Carroll’s new port of call: “It’s irrelevant, unless they’ve (Stanford) got the Seahawks on the schedule.”

• UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel says QB Kevin Prince (knee) should start at California, which not only had a bye to prepare for UCLA’s Pistol offense, it played Pistol-packing Nevada earlier. “It’s not how I would have drawn it up,” Neuheisel says.

• In an effort to shore up its run defense, WSU has moved DE Sekope Kaufusi to MLB, and CB Anthony Carpenter to safety. Coach Paul Wulff defended MLB Mike Ledgerwood, who has been playing with a neck stinger, saying, “He played (against UCLA) in a tremendous amount of pain.”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com