18 min Read

IMHO Sunday: A countdown to questions and answers

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

The Countdown: Saturday morning’s final Coliseum scrimmage was a measured affair, which concentrated on game protocol with hitting being monitored to reduce the injury factor. Was this a good thing or was it simply a case of Clay Helton reverting back to his normal philosophy of not getting players injured with the first game just a week away?

According to the coach, the Trojans – who begin their ASU game week paces on Sunday because of no Tuesday practice due to Election Day – can be more physical in training camp this season because the regular slate is a minimum of six games as opposed to the normal 12-game regular season schedule.

The Countdown – Part 2: We’re now within a week of the Trojans opening this crazy pandemic season hosting Arizona State in the uninhabited Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and so much is on the line in spite of all the obvious distractions. The obvious question, of course, is will the Trojans – with a fairly weak overall Pac-12 South Division – go undefeated and advance to the Pac-12 Championship Game?

It says here that on paper, the Trojans should finish the season 7-0. They have the talent to do it and there has been an upgrade in defensive coaching, and Oregon’s chances will depend on Justin Herbert’s quarterback replacement. The Ducks should be strong on defense, but if the Trojans meet Oregon in the title game and the Trojans can protect Kedon Slovis, I like the Trojans chances.

The Countdown – Part 3:
If the Trojans do win the Pac-12 South and don’t stub their toes along the way, would it all but guarantee that Clay Helton will return as the head coach in 2021?

No question. If the Trojans win the conference, it would all but guarantee that Gentleman Clay returns. If he wins the conference, this shouldn’t even be a discussion.

If Clay Helton (photo above) wins the Pac-12 Conference, there should be no question about his job status.

The Countdown – Part 4:
Considering that as head coach of the Trojans Clay Helton has lost at least three games per season and is 13-12 the past two seasons campaigns along with recent blowout bowl losses (Ohio State and Iowa), if the Trojans do stub their toes – like lose to ASU in the opener and can’t recover, does the Clay Helton hot seat turn the switch to “extremely high” or does the coach get a pass because this is a pandemic season?

It may depend on the first game against ASU and/or it could be the outcome at Utah. If the Trojans lose to ASU, they’re actually two games behind the Sun Devils based not only on the loss but head-to-head competition should the two tie for the South Division. I would say that if the Trojans don’t win the division or lose to both ASU and at Utah, things could get really dicey for the beleaguered coach.

If the Trojans do not win the Pac-12 South Division, would Clay Helton’s (photo above) job be in serious jeopardy? (photo by Jordon Kelly)

The Countdown – Part 5:
If the Trojans fulfill expectations and go 7-0 by capturing the Pac-12 title, will the College Football Playoff committee actually take the Pac-12 champions into its Final Four? Would an undefeated USC team be penalized for being in a weak conference and even weaker division?

After watching the last couple of weeks of college football and some of the upsets by previously ranked teams, I say the chances are a bit better for the Trojans to get into the CFP if they finished the regular season a dominating 7-0. However, IMHO, the Pac-12 would still be on the outside looking in. This really could be the year that by not playing Notre Dame, it comes back to haunt an undefeated USC team.  

The Countdown – Part 6:
If the Trojans do win the Pac-12 Conference, will some of those 5-star players – both locally and nationally – suddenly join the Helton Momentum Express for the Class of 2021?

No doubt, it would greatly enhance the Trojans 5-star recruiting (i.e. DL Korey Foreman) if they went undefeated and won the Pac-12. If the Men of Troy also got invited to play in the CFP postseason and didn’t embarrass themselves in one of the semi-final games, it would put them in a strong position in terms of recruiting. Even Clay Helton admitted as much in his media Zoom on Thursday. It’s all about the 2020 production record.

A championship season for the Trojans would likely enhance its recruiting position with 5-star defensive lineman Korey Foreman (photo above) from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High.

The Countdown – Part 7:
If the Trojans make a head coaching change, how would it affect the current recruiting class that has all the earmarks of being a Top 10 class?

It depends, of course, on whom AD Bohn would hire. If it was a headline hire or close to it, it shouldn’t disrupt the current class.

The Countdown – Part 8: Are you sold that the Trojans will be throwing to the tight ends on a consistent basis, or do you believe that you’ll see it to believe it?

There has been a lot of positive comments thus far by both OC Graham Harrell and tight ends coach John David Baker, as it pertains to senior Eric Krommenhoek and redshirt freshman Jude Wolfe. Seeing is believing, but it appears that Trojans fans should expect greater production from this position. We’ll probably find out early against ASU with so much on the line. Offensively, it should be all hands on deck.

Redshirt freshman tight Jude Wolfe (photo above) has impressed the coaching staff in training camp.

The Countdown – Part 9:
The Trojans have been working feverishly to develop depth behind each and every starter. Will the offensive line depth from the true freshmen class prove to be a boon or a disaster?

Helton said he is impressed with the true freshmen and listed them as viable backups. The coach gave special mention to the following: Casey Collier (LT – 6-7, 290), Courtland Ford (RG – 6-5, 305), Jonah Monheim (RT – 6-5, 290), Andrew Milek (C – 6-5, 290), Caadyn Stephen (RT – 6-5, 285), and Andres Dewerk (LG – 6-7, 295). Helton also added the names of redshirt freshman Jason Rodriguez (RG – 6-6, 320) and redshirt sophomores Liam Douglas (LG – 6-5, 315), and Justin Dedich (C/G – 6-2, 300).

True freshman offensive left tackle Casey Collier (photo above on right in the cardinal jersey) has drawn praise from head coach Clay Helton. (photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

From the press box…

Precautions: Due to steps taken to minimize the spread of COVID, media parking has been moved from the nearby enclosed underground parking structure adjacent to the Coliseum to a nearby outdoor location.

Precautions – Part 2:
There will be a COVID form for media to review and sign before they can enter the Coliseum media gate, which will also include the now standard temperature check.

The Coliseum press box area (photo above on left) is under strict media guidelines due to COVID-19.

Precautions – Part 3:
The media will wear masks from the time they enter the Coliseum media gate to when they leave the Grand Old Lady. The Coliseum elevators to the press box will have very limited capacity. The media will be allowed to enter the Coli two hours before game time but must leave two hours following the conclusion of the game.

Precautions – Part 4:
There will be two levels of media seating in the Scholarship Tower, which will include both indoor and outdoor seating. Those sitting in the indoor section of the press box will have social distance seating, and all windows inside the press box will be open before, during, and after the game. All post-game interviews will be conducted through Zoom conferencing. There will be no face-to-face interviewing of the participants.

Precautions – Part 5: There will be no media buffet meals. All meals will be boxed, and media will climb the stairs to go up a level to receive their complimentary meal. All media must eat their meal on the top outdoor level of the press box and cannot bring their food down to the indoor press box if that is where they are seated. Those media who have been assigned seating on the top level will take their food and return to their socially distanced seat.

Due to strict Coliseum press box guidelines, buffet meals (photo above) will no longer be served. Boxed meals will be the new menu option, and meals will be eaten in a designated top floor open-air section.

Precautions – Part 6: All media pregame and post-game notes will be secured through a designated internet site.   

The post-game show…

Salute to Troy: It was a virtual Salute to Troy on early Friday evening, and did you help celebrate it with a virtual BBQ buffet? As for what was seen through streaming, the Salute to Troy evening was a tight, prerecorded, 40-minute production. It opened streaming of members fom the Trojans Marching Band playing “Tusk”, which then transitioned to USC President Dr. Carol Folt, who apparently spoke from her home and recited the “amazing football history” of USC, as it pertains to national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans, and what football has meant to the university.

USC President Dr. Carol Folt (photo above) gave a spirited virtual Salute to Troy speech in which she recited all the storied accomplishments of the USC football program over the generations.

Salute to Troy – Part 2: After Dr. Folt spoke, athletic director Mike Bohn praised the fans, campus organizations, support staff, coaches, and players. Following Bohn came recognition of the 1995 and 1969 USC football teams, which were represented by 1995 running back and team captain Terry Barnum and 1969 Wild Bunch defensive end Charlies Weaver, respectively. It then transitioned into a message from Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton, who praised and thanked the USC administration, his coaching staff, and his support staff, and said the 2020 goal was a Pac-12 title and an invitation into the post-season CFP.

Salute to Troy – Part 3: Following Helton, each position assistant coach spoke briefly regarding their players, accompanied by mugshots of that unit’s players. After the team introductions, 2020 captains Kedon Slovis and Amon-Ra St. Browns spoke and were then followed by a message from FOX college football’s pregame hosts, Rob Stone and former Trojans All-Americans Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Appropriately, the early evening presentation concluded with the Trojans Marching Band playing “Conquest.”    

Junior wide receiver and captain Amon-Ra St. Brown (photo above) spoke about his excitement for the upcoming 2020 football season during the virtual Salute to Troy celebration.

Cancellation dept.: Because of recent cutbacks and network reassessments, there will be no live conference football game broadcasts on the Pac-12 Networks, which begs this question: What’s the point of having the Networks if they can’t even show live games of their flagship sport?

He’s back: Well-traveled Trojans quarterback commit Jake Garcia, ruled ineligible for Valdosta (Ga.) High, has transferred to Grayson High, a suburban Atlanta high School, and played on Friday for his latest new high school. FYI, Jake threw a touchdown pass in limited action to help national No. 5 Grayson (Loganville) improve to 7-0 with a 47-7 win over Parkview (Lilburn).

Sears cheers: On Saturday night, Boise State crushed Air Force, 49-30, as former Trojans quarterback Jack Sears, subbing for starter Hank Bachmeier who didn’t make the trip to Colorado Springs, passed for 280 yards (17 of 20) and three touchdowns (75, 21, 26) and ran for 36 and one score (1 yd.).

Former Trojans quarterback Jack Sears (photo above) started for Boise State on Saturday night and threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Boise State smacked Air Force, 49-30, in Colorado Springs.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Greg, what kind of game do you expect from Arizona State next Saturday?

Caller No. 1, I expect a high scoring game, and the Trojans better be ready for a mobile quarterback like ASU’s Jayden Daniels. The Sun Devils’ young sophomore can neutralize Todd Orlando’s blitzing defense. The Trojans can’t call on a home field advantage since there will be no fans in the Coliseum stands. That’s not to say the Trojans won’t use strategic use of the sound system when it comes to music and crowd noise. That should be interesting in itself. Given that the Trojans barely beat ASU, 31-26, last season in Tempe without Jayden Daniels, this game figures to test the Trojans new defensive physical look and poise under pressure.   

It should be quite a 2020 season opener when the Trojans host Arizona State (photo above) next Saturday in a huge Pac-12 South Division season opener, which will be televised nationally by FOX at 9 a.m. PST.

Caller No. 2: GK, if the Trojans don’t beat ASU next weekend, what does it mean in terms of their chances of winning the South Division?

Caller No. 2, if the Trojans take a dive against the Sun Devils, they are in big trouble. A loss to ASU is more like a double loss because if the two teams tie for the division at the end of the regular season, ASU would get the nod into the Pac-12 title game based on their head-to-head victory over the Men of Troy. Bottom line: The ASU game is SUPER important.  

Caller No. 3: Mr. K, what are the top areas of concern do you have as we approach the season opener with the Sun Devils?

Caller No. 3, I would say that it would be conditioning and depth at each unit position. When I say conditioning, I mean game condition, especially with the way things transpired in the off season due to COVID-19. As for depth, the Trojans may need it more than ever when you think of injuries and the possibility of somebody on the team testing positive for COVID-19.  

Caller No. 4: G-Kat, if something happens to Kedon Slovis, can the Trojans still win their division with Matt Fink?

Caller No. 4, because the Trojans are in such a weak division outside of the opener with ASU and that trip to Utah, I think Fink certainly wouldn’t embarrass himself or the team. In other words, he would be functional and successful if he is given a game plan that plays to his ability to run and throw.  

Senior quarterback Matt Fink (photo above) would be an experienced signal-caller if starter Kedon Slovis had to leave a game. (photo by Jordon Kelly)

Caller No. 5: Do you like clothes for holiday gifts or are you into more adult toys?

Caller No. 5, wait a minute, what do you mean adult toys? Let’s keep it clean. In answer to your question, I am not really into clothes. I am not really into collared shirts unless they’re soft. My shirts cannot be itchy, and I can do without stiff collars. I don’t like pants that have to have belts, so just buy me sweatpants. Some complain that buying me holiday presents is hard. I respectfully disagree. I am generally happy with gift cards ranging from restaurants, ticket agencies, and theme parks. Now, how hard is that?

The final word: Did you set your clocks back an hour? Just testing.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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