In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Attendance: By having no live Coliseum football attendance in 2020, it probably spared Clay Helton’s digestive system from not having to react to yet another round of cardinal and gold fans vocalizations…especially after that disappointing home loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
If there had been a full Coli for the Pac-12 Championship Game, you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to figure out what the fan response would have been after the final gun. It surely wouldn’t have been a bonfire surrounded by cardinal and gold supporters holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
Attendance – Part 2: However, in retrospect, 2020 USC fans were a grab bag of emotions after the two 2020 regular season home victories over Arizona State and Washington State, respectively, especially the miracle season-opening comeback triumph, 28-27, over ASU.
No doubt had there been Coli attendance for that 9 a.m. (let’s not do that timeslot again) Pac-12 Conference showdown with the Sun Devils, it would have brought Trojans fans to their feet in hope and exhilaration, particularly for those trying desperately to erase from their memory the finale of the 2019 season, a 49-24 Holiday Bowl disaster to the Iowa Hawkeyes in San Diego.
Now, as a IMHO Sunday public service, if you’ve forgotten that Trojans’ miracle season-opener against ASU, below is a video highlights refresher.
Attendance – Part 3: In the past three of four seasons, Clay Helton has heard the boos and perhaps has seen one too many one-fingered salutes. It has been ugly at times, and as one who has walked up the Coliseum tunnel behind Helton during some of those forgettable moments, it was toxic.
That being said, you still have to admire Gentleman Clay for his disciplined way of taking the high road during those long jogs back to the Coliseum locker and media rooms as fans hurled insults, sometimes even in victory.
Believe me, it has been uncomfortable to watch and even tougher to block out the verbal bombardment. Imagine having to hear all that and then face a dissecting media wanting reasonable answers in the face of adversity. Then again, for Helton’s reported near $5 million dollars annual seasonal salary, maybe you’d be more than happy to give the job a try if you think the Trojans aren’t getting the results they’re paying for.
And, yes, there is agreement here if you say that Helton’s (some say Sam Darnold’s) biggest win was the 2017 Rose Bowl thriller over Penn State, although Helton’s 2018 club did win the coach’s only Pac-12 title but not long after that high were thoroughly dominated, 24-7, by Ohio State and Urban Meyer in the Cotton Bowl.
Attendance – Part 4: For the record, since Clay Helton has been the permanent Trojans head coach the past five seasons, average home attendance has been as follows: 2016 – 68,459 (6 games); 2017 – 72,683 (7 games); 2018 – 55,448 (6 games); 2019 – 59,358 (6 games); 2020 – No attendance. From 2016 to 2019, average Coliseum home attendance dropped a combined 13,325.
If there is one thing besides fan reaction and game results that draws attention to USC’s administration, it’s the turnstile financial count – butts in seats.
You see, money is a big deal at the University of Southern California: greenbacks talk when winning; squawks when it’s not. Losing a combined 13,323 fans over a four-year period of time gets the attention of your bank account all the while vigorously trying to keep those ultra-swank and expensive Coliseum Scholarship Tower Suites occupied with corporate sponsors and high roller boosters.
Attendance – Part 5: Thanks to state health decrees, it’s expected the Trojans will sell out its limited allowed number of available 2021 tickets, especially when you take into account season ticket holders. If games aren’t sold out with the minimum number of tickets available, it would send a warning shot over the Trojans’ athletic department bow.
With USC season ticket renewals rumored to be in a continuous decline – disenchantment with the product will do that to you – it’s a sign either of fan protest or worse yet – apathy, which some say has already permeated a growing number of a demanding Trojans’ fan base.
Attendance – Part 6: If there is a potential decline in home attendance, the solution to this numbers game is rather simple: Just win, baby (there’s that theme again), and win those bowl games against the big boys of which you’re expected to be. Lopsided season-ending bowl losses to Ohio State (2017) and Iowa (2019) doesn’t exactly inspire the masses to open their pocketbooks and head for The Bookstore on campus. It’s like one giant dominoes effect.
Attendance – Part 7: As of now, only 20 percent of the 77,500 seats in the Coliseum is expected to be available for in-person viewing of games. I am no mathematician, but 20 percent comes out to around a revised capacity of 15,500 seats, which doesn’t mean those in attendance won’t be expressing themselves. You can bet your cardinal and gold membership that athletic director Mike Bohn will be listening and counting numbers.
From the press box…
The chief of staff: Here’s hoping you got to read WeAreSC’s Erik McKinney’s insightful interview with USC athletic department’s chief of staff Brandon Sosna, right-hand man for AD Mike Bohn. The piece goes into depth regarding major upgrades in the USC Athletic Department – especially football – and the tremendous effort to catapult the Trojans recruiting infrastructure to a competitive level on par with other blueblood programs.
While there’s no debate here about updating and upgrading football and the athletic department, most USC fans don’t care about how you get there but that you get there with only one goal for USC: Not just competing for championships but winning championships – at the highest level. Not exactly an Albert Einstein revelation.
The chief of staff – Part 2: In the Erik’s Sosna interview, perhaps the most important Sosna’s quote was as follows: “At the end of the day, for an overwhelming majority of our constituents (fans), winning is the most important factor. And we understand that.” Right on, Brandon, yes, winning is the most important factor, but it’s Sosna’s final words – “we understand that” – that will be put to the test as he and Mike Bohn move forward under the microscope.
Public service message: To read the entire informative and insightful story by Erik McKinney and comments by Brandon Sosna, just click: https://wearesc.com/championship-resources-and-championship-expectations/
Pro Day: With COVID forcing NFL scouts to leave the friendly confines of the traditional Indianapolis Combine and venture out to specific college campuses, the Trojans will hold their Pro Day this Wednesday, March 24, which figures to draw local interest. The seven 2020 USC players named for Wednesday’s activities would have been invited to the 2021 NFL national combine in Indy had it been held, according to the NFL.
Pro Day – Part 2: The seven Trojans expected to participate at Wednesday’s Pro Day include safety Talanoa Hufanga, receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns, offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, defensive linemen Marlon Tuipulotu and DL Jay Tufele, and corner Olaijah Griffin.
Pro Day – Part 3: An interesting tidbit to Pro Day is that a few Trojans from the past are still chasing the NFL dream. Also participating on Wednesday include three players from the 2019 team: linebacker John Houston Jr., running back/corner Dominic Davis, and wide receiver Matthew Hocum.
Pro Day – Part 4: Matt Hocum? Okay, Hocum (5-10, 175), from Milwaukee, was a spring 2018 walk-on transfer from Marquette, which doesn’t field a football team. Matt, who says the toughest defender he faced at USC was former corner Iman Marshall, didn’t see action in 2018, suffering a hand injury prior to the Utah game of that season and missed Troy’s last six games. He was on the 2019 roster as a redshirt senior but wasn’t listed on the 2020 roster.
Last add Hocum: Asked by Draft Diamonds why an NFL team should invest in him with his very limited experience, Hocum said, “I’m bringing the heat and I’ll give you everything I got.” Give the kid credit, the fire still burns.
Pro day – Part 5: Pro Day, which will begin at 8 a.m., is not open to the public and a limited number of media will be allowed to view the proceedings on campus.
The post-game show…
Greenbacks: The holiday season came early for former Trojans All-America defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams, who came to terms with the New York Giants, signing a three-year deal worth $63 million dollars, including $45 million in fully guaranteed money. “Big Cat” is now under contract through the 2023 season.
In memory: If you haven’t heard, sad news to report as Trojans’ legendary and former All-America wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson announced this past week that his first-born daughter, Maia, has passed at the age of 25. No cause of death was announced. Keyshawn also has a 22-year-old son Keyshawn Johnson Jr.
The Granddaddy: Football is scheduled to return to the Rose Bowl next Jan. 1, but will the Trojans be there? Speaking of the Rose Bowl, The Granddaddy of Them All has reopened for football and will host this week the Pasadena High Bulldogs playing the Burbank John Burroughs Indians Thursday, March 25, at 3 p.m. followed at 6:30 p.m. by the clash between the Pasadena John Muir Mustangs and the Crescenta Valley Falcons. It should be a great thrill for all four teams to play in college football’s most hallowed ground.
The Granddaddy – Part -2: A huge prep tradition in the Pasadena area, rivals Pasadena and Muir will compete in the “annual” Turkey Tussle on Monday, April 16. Each team will actually play twice in the historic stadium before facing each other. Question: Although it’s not Thanksgiving Weekend, will a turkey dinner be served to the winner of the PHS/MHS battle? Hot dogs and beans for the loser?
The Granddaddy – Part 3: If you don’t think it’s not a lifetime memory for a high school team to play in the Rose Bowl, my Alhambra High football homies still recall when our varsity and “B” teams played Pasadena in 1966 in the Arroyo Seco. Even though my beloved Moors lost to PHS rather decisively, it was truly a win for “grandpa once played in the Rose Bowl.”
French dip: As a public service message to those Trojans fans that love one of L.A.’s most iconic and historical restaurants, “Philippe’s”, fans can now enjoy French Dip sandwichs and more culinary delights indoors again, although the restaurant is limited to 25% capacity. The restaurant’s outdoor dining area remains open, and takeout, local delivery, and nationwide shipping are still available. Philippe’s is now open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with breakfast available daily from 7 to 10:30 a.m.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, will WeAreSC be reporting on Pro Day?
Caller No. 1, yes, WeAreSC will have coverage of the event. The media is not allowed to interview players, but there will be a Zoom presser with most of USC’s participants on Monday prior to Wednesday’s Pro Day. FYI, it isn’t hard for media members to find out what is transpiring during Pro Day; there will be media releases available throughout the day.
Caller No. 2: Grego, any word on the media covering spring practice?
Caller No. 2, with limitations, it appears that the media will be allowed to attend spring ball. According to a SID release this week, “USC spring football practice will begin on March 30. Media information regarding USC spring football coverage opportunities will be provided soon. USC’s 2021 spring football roster and media guide will be posted at USC Trojans.com several days before practice begins.”
Caller No. 3: GK, do you sense that future Trojans will enter the NCAA Transfer Portal after spring ball is concluded?
Caller No. 3, I would suspect that could be the case. Realistically, this would apply to all colleges. It’s the college football world in which we live. Nowadays, players transfer for different reasons and even Alabama’s Nick Saban has seen it during his Crimson Tide tenure. As you’re aware, the Trojans have one of Saban’s former players in defensive tackle transfer Ishmael Sopsher, who will be participating in USC’s spring practices.
Caller No. 4: Gregorio, your thoughts regarding California high schools football currently playing games in spring?
Caller No. 4, As long as it’s safe, I am all for it. It’s still a fluid situation in Southern California, as a number of schools are already having to cancel games due to COVID numbers. That’s where we are today, but high schools seem to know how to handle the various situations that are arising. No doubt the players, coaches, and family members are thrilled beyond belief that there is a season. This limited prep season is especially important to future and current recruits, but it should be noted that current NCAA rules dictate colleges recruiting remains in a dead period.
Caller No. 5: Katzman, are you the type of guy that likes to dress up and have a night on the town?
Caller No. 5, as a former high school varsity coach of 32 seasons, my idea of dressing up is some nice, comfortable sweatpants and a T-shirt. If I can help it, I dress up only when I have to and not very often. A coat and tie are not my idea of dressing comfortably, although I do surprise on very rare occasions (weddings, etc.). I am just one of the boys enjoying the times and trying to impress through attire isn’t in my DNA.
The last word: Good news from USC president Dr. Carol Folt, who announced that commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and 2021 will be held in-person at the Coliseum. Just call it “Back to the Future.”