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IMHO Sunday: A season on the brink…of return?

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

The announcement: Amidst a continuing heavy coronavirus pandemic, massive protesting in the streets of Southern California over the brutal police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the revelation that several University of Alabama football players recently tested positive for the coronavirus, USC President Dr. Carol Folt announced that the 2020 USC fall semester – barring unforeseen circumstances – will commence with in-person classes on Aug. 17, thus adding fuel that the USC Trojans’ football season could become a reality.

The announcement – Part 2: From a football perspective, obviously, the Alabama players coronavirus revelation becomes front and center, given the fact the Trojans are scheduled to open the 2020 season by playing the Crimson Tide on Sept. 5 in Arlington, Texas. It certainly wouldn’t be shocking if what happened health wise in Tuscaloosa wasn’t the norm for college football programs nationwide. It’s the Alabama’s medical episode that reminds us all how precarious the upcoming season figures to be.

The announcement – Part 3: Speaking of the USC/Alabama game, most “experts” still don’t believe the game will be played even before the reported coronavirus infection of the Crimson Tide football program. Although Alabama didn’t officially make the announcement of the virus on its beloved football team, it was reported on an Alabama website, BamaOnline, that “at least” five Alabama football players have tested positive for the coronavirus. Certainly, that should give pause to the rush to have a football season as we know it. Just because the country has “opened up,” doesn’t mean things are back to normal. Not by a longshot.   

The announcement – Part 4: BamaOnline also reported, “Players returned to Tuscaloosa this week ahead of the start of voluntary workouts, and following testing, several Crimson Tide players tested positive for the virus. According to the SEC release in late May, Alabama and teams across the league have a plan, as immediate isolation, followed by contact tracing, of team members who are diagnosed is suggested.” Question: How will USC react to when – not if – one of its football players comes down with the virus?

Alabama coach Nick Saban (photo above) can’t be pleased upon learning that at least five of his players have reportedly come down with the coronavirus. The Trojans are scheduled to open the 2020 season against the Crimson Tide on Sept. 5.

The announcement – Part 5: In her public message regarding the fall semester, Dr. Folt specifically mentioned USC athletics and competition. The Prez said the following:

* The NCAA and the Pac-12 are developing protocols and policies around athletic practices and competitions for each sport. Much is still being developed.

* As in all activities, the health and safety of our students and staff will always be our top priority. 

* USC Athletics will follow both the guidance of government officials, Pac-12 and NCAA rules, and the university on when and how athletes can return to campus. 

* The Pac-12 Conference has allowed for voluntary in-person athletic workouts for all sports to commence on June 15; however, each school will determine how this works on their own campus. No decisions have been made here at USC yet.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) has given permission for conference teams to return to voluntary practices beginning June 15.

The announcement – Part 6: According to the USC official academic website, “Fall classes will start a week earlier than originally scheduled and wrap up by Thanksgiving, with online alternatives for almost every in-person class, changes to classroom, housing and dining arrangements, and more.”

Question: With the fall semester starting earlier than usual, how does all this affect USC athletes, specifically football?

The announcement – Part 7: With students having the option of attending classes in person or for those that are uncomfortable participating through on-line classes, what changes will also be made for the football team as it pertains to mixing in with the general student population?  

The announcement – Part 8: With steps will be taken to ensure health and safety with all on -campus facilities being reconfigured for social distance and guidelines, might the Trojans athletic programs encourage athletes to take on-line classes so not to expose themselves to the general student body population and jeopardize the season?

The announcement – Part 9: As expected, all Trojans will be required to wear face coverings on campus, and that should be intriguing when the Men of Troy take the short walk from the John McKay Center to Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy practice field. Will Clay Helton’s players be required to wear a mask until they enter the practice field?

The announcement – Part 10: A key to it all is what Dr. Folt said in her messaging outlining the fall semester guides: “Our health and safety procedures will be guided by the LA County Department of Health, and our own internal Health Policy leadership team, and will be focused on safeguarding individuals and the community.”

USC President Dr. Carol Folt has released information that the fall semester will begin Aug. 17, and the semester will end before Thanksgiving Day. Athletics remain a fluid situation and no real specifics regarding football have been announced.

Question: Taking those words into account, how will USC protect or shield student athletes from not contacting the coronavirus and passing it on to teammates?

The announcement – Part 11: One notable addition to Dr. Folt’s announcement is that the fall semester will end at Thanksgiving break, which is two weeks earlier than normal and the same week as the scheduled arrival of Notre Dame for a Nov. 28 game in the Coliseum. There is strong conjecture whether the nation’s premier intersectional rivalry will even take place.  

The Palo Alto Plan: Stanford, which is scheduled to host in the Trojans’ first Pac-12 game on Sept. 19, has announced its basic plan for this summer and fall. FYI, below is the Cardinal plan, but it makes no reference to athletics:

* Stanford’s instruction in 2020-21 will continue to be online, calling it the “default teaching option.” But in-person classes will be offered for smaller classes and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to make the most of classroom space.

* An early start to fall quarter, which will begin Monday, Sept. 14, and end Friday, Nov. 20, before the Thanksgiving break.

* Only half of undergraduates to be allowed on campus each quarter, including summer 2021. The university intends to have undergraduate first-year and transfer students on campus in the fall and graduating seniors in the spring but has otherwise not planned how to divide students over the quarters.

* Reduced density in student housing. All undergraduates on campus will be housed in rooms that have private sleeping spaces, such as a single or a two-room double, in order to provide for sufficient physical distancing.

* Altered campus life. Gatherings will be limited. Students will probably need to wear face coverings regularly and practice physical distancing.

Stanford has announced guidelines for opening its campus (photo above) on Sept. 14, but athletics were not part of the general announcement.

From the press box…

Tighten up: Oh hum, the Trojans got yet another verbal on Friday when 3-star Lake Travis (TX) tight end Lake McCree (6-4, 217) declared for the Class of 2021. It’s all rather interesting because the Trojans will be loaded at tight end, so one would assume the tight end is going to be part of the offense in the future. But then again, we’ve heard that before. McCree chose the Trojans over six other options that included LSU, Auburn, Penn State, Washington, and Purdue.

Tight end Lake McCree (photo above on right) made a USC verbal on Friday. McCree, from Lake Travis, Texas, is a former Texas Longhorns commit.

Tighten up – Part 2: Texas Longhorns fans know all about Lake McCree, running back Brandon Campbell (Katy, Texas/Katy) and wide receiver Quay Davis (Dallas/Skyline). All three Trojans verbals were once Texas Longhorns commits.

Viva Las Vegas: As announced this week, Las Vegas wide receiver Michael Jackson lll (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) announced for the Trojans Class of 2021. Depending on your recruiting service, Jackson is either a 3-star or 4-star, who did not attend some of the basic national recruiting camps that can make a difference in star rankings. If Michael’s high school sounds familiar, former Trojans’ receiver Randal Grimes, now at UNLV, is a former Desert Pines grad.

Viva Las Vegas – Part 2: According to Michael Jackson lll personal trainer, “The first day I started training MJ, I noticed he was different. He was basically an athlete that walks into the gym, and he’s ready to go immediately. He comes in with that mindset, and he’s one of the few athletes that walks in and tells me what he needs to work on to get better.”

Trojans wide receiver verbal Michael Jackson lll (photo above), from Las Vegas Desert Pines HS, has been given exceptional praise by his personal trainer for his work ethic.

Viva Las Vegas – Part 3: The Trojans are in very good position for Michael Jackson lll’s offensive tackle teammate Tiaoalii Savea (6-5, 260), who is also a Class of 2021 prospect. Savea is considered the No. 2 player in Nevada.

No doubt: How strong is Trojans’ quarterback Miller Moss (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany HS) verbal commitment? Even with a pandemic, Miller said, “If USC was 3,000 miles away, I’d be going there.”

The post-game show…

FYI: There may be a lot of questions regarding the 2020 college football season, but preseason college football magazines – Athlon, Lindy’s, and Street and Smith – are now available on newsstands or through ordering online. Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis is on the regional cover of all three publications. 

Left off: Regarding their preseason top 5 quarterbacks in the country, both FOX college football analysts Urban Meyer and Joel Klatt listed Trojans’ QB Kedon Slovis on their list. However, fellow FOX college football analysts and former USC greats Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush left Slovis off their top 5 list. Hmmmm.

FOX college football analysts Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Urban Meyer (photo above L-R) differed in opinion whether Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis is a national Top 5 signal caller. Meyer made Slovis part of his Top 5 while Bush and Leinart, former USC All-Americans, disagreed with the legendary coach.

A big deal: In a rather shocking and unprecedented move, the NCAA has restored the eligibility of underclass Arizona State punter Michael Turk, a first team All-Pac-12 selection, who declared for the 2020 NFL draft, hired an agent, and actually participated at the NFL combine before going undrafted and unsigned in free agency. I know what you’re thinking, could any of the Trojans with college eligibility left who didn’t get drafted or signed do the same thing?

The decision: Isn’t June the month when we find out if USC is going to officially reinstate and welcome back Reggie Bush back onto campus?

Officiating: Of all the questions about the challenges to having a college football game, there remains the challenges regarding the actual game officials. How will they be tested and when? Will game officials wear masks on the field?

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: GK, do you think the Trojans can have the 2021 No. 1 recruiting class in the nation? If the Trojans can secure the commitments of DL Kory Foreman and LB Raesjon Davis, they would be in the mix of that conversation, and one would have to say the chances of landing a few other 5-stars would be reasonable if things fell into place.   

If the Trojans can get a verbal from Corona (Calif.) Centennial HS defensive lineman Kory Foreman (photo above), considered the nation’s top recruit, and linebacker Raeshon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), currently an LSU commit, the Men of Troy could be in the conversation as having the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Caller No. 2: Grego, who is this San Diego high school running back that I am hearing about as it pertains to the Class of 2021? I think you’re probably referring to San Diego Morse running back Byron Cardwell (6-0, 193), one of the nation’s Top 10 ball carriers. Among the competitors for Byron’s services are UCLA, Washington, Utah, and Cal. He is also considered one of the top 20 players in California (No. 16).   

Caller No. 3: Sir, the Trojans recruiting class really has me really excited. Am I going overboard too much? Given the disaster that happened in the Class of 2020, which could theoretically turn out to be better than was evaluated, if the Trojans can have a very good season, Clay Helton can stay away from all the firing rumors, and there is continued momentum throughout the season, this class could stay intact.

However, very few recruiting classes ever remain the same as things play out. Don’t be surprised if a few of the current commits decide to go other places because the Trojans can bring in even better players. It’s just the nature of the recruiting business.  

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) and his staff have positioned themselves to make a strong run for the No. 1 recruiting ranking for the Class of 2021.

Caller No. 4: Dude, when fans are allowed back in the Coliseum, who do you think will get priority?  On the surface, one can see all those that have seats in the Scholarship Tower will probably get first call. I suspect the next group will be students in limited numbers, and then deep pocket boosters that sit inside the Coli. I think the reminder will be season ticket holders based on seniority. To me, the intriguing part will be whether there will be any walk-up game day sales. Of course, this is all just speculation on my part.  

Caller No. 5: Mr. G, not to get too political, but do you see a difference between the protests of the 1960s and where we are today? Yes, there is a difference since I have firsthand experienced both movements. Today’s movement is a massively broader coalition of races, which gives hope to a future generation that can overcome the controversial issues of today, which never should have gotten to this point. I grew up in the age of Kennedy, the Watts Riots, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, the Nixon impeachment, and now in the twilight of my life, American is again at a crossroads of who our nation wants to be. I am optimistic that for every rainstorm there will be a rainbow.

Having lived through the 1960s protests (photo above) and now the protests of 2020, the country is again going through another crisis.

I know that many of you come from different political points of view, but we can all agree that we can do better, much better, and we must. Hopefully, those that are looting and flat out committing crimes do not overshadow the vast majority of peaceful protesters, who are fighting for true equality and a better country.   

The final word: Have you purchased your “USC” logo mask yet?

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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