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IMHO Sunday: Am I dreaming the Trojans to open 2020 at UCLA?

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

The dream: The first thing I thought when I first saw the Pac-12’s revised 2020 football schedule that the Trojans were opening the conference-only season at UCLA on Saturday, Sept.26, in the Rose Bowl, was this has to be a dream. Right? Then I said to myself, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” And, man, no thanks to the coronavirus, the aforementioned cliché seems to fit perfectly. Opening up the season with the Bruins provides so many ramifications and so much intrigue that it’s actually quite perfect. I mean, if you can’t open with Alabama, why not the Westwooders?

Video additions to story

The dream – Part 2: Although the released schedule says the Trojans will open with the Bruins, The Times reported that USC athletic director Mike Bohn sent out a message late Friday afternoon to donors saying it was “likely” the game will be moved to a later date (Oct. 31 or Dec.12). Bohn is totally aware that “state, county, or university clearance for traditional practices and competitions” have not given the Trojans or the Bruins the go ahead to begin serious practice with pads. That target for official practice to open is Aug. 17, which would shortly lead to pads and contact.

The dream – Part 3: If the USC/UCLA game is moved to later in the season, it would mean that the Trojans would open the season against Cal on Saturday, Oct. 3. Of course, it all becomes meaningless if there is no season, a scenario that many – including athletic officials and those with knowledge of the situation – think is a real possibility. It’s not exactly a cardinal and gold state secret.  

The dream – Part 4: However, for the sake of Friday’s released schedule, you talk about potential opening day ramifications. Legendary former UCLA head coach Terry Donohue used to say that there were three seasons in his football season. First, there was the non-conference season. Second, there was the conference season minus USC. The third season, obviously, was the USC-UCLA Game. Well, this season there are no non-conference games, so Donohue’s third season just became the first season, and the balance of the conference-only season just became the second season. If there is a third season, it will be the Pac-12 title game, which for this wild coronavirus season will not be played in Las Vegas as planned but at the home team site of the team with the best conference record or head-to-head competition.

Legendary former UCLA coach Terry Donohue (photo above) said there are three football seasons. The first is the non-conference. The second is conference. The third season is the USC/UCLA game.

The dream – Part 5: For Clay Helton and UCLA’s Chip Kelly, the intense pressure for this season’s opener doesn’t get any more captivating than this. For Gentleman Clay and Mr. Kelly, the rivalry opener is a Pac-12 South Division Game, and the winner and loser will have a price to pay. That in itself brings both coaches a sense of immediate urgency. Helton remains on the hot seat after last season’s embarrassing 49-24 loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl, and his last two-season USC record is a combined 13-12. All of which turns up the heat considerably on USC President Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn after it was announced weeks before the Iowa debacle that Helton would be coaching the Trojans in 2020. Can you imagine the uproar if the Trojans drop the opener to the Bruins?

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) will be immediately challenged by opening the season at crosstown rival UCLA.

The dream – Part 6: For Chip Kelly, who sits on his own personalized hot seat after going 7-17 the past two seasons, another loss to the Trojans could be cataclysmic to his job security – not to mention the Bruins struggling recruiting efforts. Did we also mention all the football player defections and no bowl games within this period of time? The once legendary Kelly could go a long way in his image rehabilitation if his Bruins could pull the upset in the Rose Bowl. The folks in Westwood have lost their patience, and now wonder if Kelly is now just drawing a paycheck and has lost the fire.

The dream – Part 7: For the record, the last time the Trojans met the Bruins in a season opener was September of 1945. That season, the Trojans beat the Bruins 13-6 in front of 61,000 in the Coliseum, and later on Dec. 1, the Trojans Homecoming Game, again beat the Westwooders, 26-15, before a Coli sellout of 103,000. Obviously, the second game was considered the Trojans’ home game since both universities were sharing the Coliseum in those days.

The dream – Part 8: Any reasonable person knows the revised schedule released by the Pac-12 is as fluid as water. There is no way to predict what will happen in the September opener, but if you’re a betting person, bet that the coronavirus isn’t going anywhere, especially if mankind can’t or won’t adjust to all the requirements necessary to silence or drastically reduce this dreaded plague. If the Trojans and Bruins can’t play their opener due to the coronavirus, the game will be moved to Oct. 31, and wouldn’t that be a nice little Halloween treat since it figures the kiddies won’t be going door-to-door because of the virus. If that date doesn’t work, sometime in early December, and doesn’t that sound more normal in this abnormal world in which we live?

If the season opener at UCLA on Sept. 26 is rescheduled, the first option is Saturday, Oct. 31, which is Halloween (photo above).

 The dream – Part 9: Getting back to the revised schedule,assuming the Trojans get by the Bruins, the rest of the first half of the schedule could easily find themselves 5-0, which means they will have beaten Cal, at Stanford, Colorado, and at Arizona. The only real pitfall could be at Stanford – only because they are Stanford, have talent, are well coached, and have been known to upset the Trojans at the worst possible times.   

The dream – Part 10: Now for the bad or should we say challenging news. We all know how Clay Helton likes to tell USC fans, “Just wait to November, our fans are really going to like what they see.” All righty then. The last four games for the Trojans in November are at Oregon, ASU, at Utah (Friday night), and Washington. You talk about a loaded backend to the schedule! It’s likely Clay Helton and his team will sink or swim in those last four games. The good news is that away games at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium and Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium should be ghost towns with no or little fans in the stands.

From the press box…

It’s Miller time: Now that Trojans Class of 2021 verbal quarterback Miller Moss is not eligible to play at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei because of his reported previous private coaching relationship with the Monarchs’ QB coach. A player cannot follow their coach from one school to another. We absolutely expect, barring a state reprieve, that Miller will arrive at USC in January, where he would have a great opportunity to not only be the Trojans’ third string quarterback but get playing time if games are moved to January. Based on last season’s health issues with Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink, it’s reasonable to think that Moss would stand a solid chance of seeing playing time. Of course, the Trojans’ other 2021 QB verbal, Jake Garcia, might have something to say about it.

It’s being reported that Trojans Class of 2021 quarterback commit Miller Moss (photo above) is strongly considering enrolling at USC after learning he won’t be able to play at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

For the schedule record: The college football crazed SEC finally came to its senses by announcing on Thursday that the all-mighty conference would play conference games only. Just when you think that the SEC would sacrifice their first born in order to have a college football season, they finally figured it out. If there is a season, this would be another push to expand to a CFP 8-team playoff featuring conference champions and some selected at-large teams, although Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott only mentioned in Friday’s webinar the same four-team CFP format.

For the schedule record – Part 2: Any chance for those dreamers that USC would play Notre Dame in 2020 were quickly dashed when the Irish announced their revised schedule, which was a 10-game ACC slate and one out-of-conference opponent.

For the schedule record – Part 3: So, Notre Dame will now play a 10-game ACC schedule and will be eligible for the ACC championship game. It seems there might a slim possibility that Notre Dame will forego its independent status and do what the rest of their sports teams are doing, which is participating in the ACC. Not predicting it’s going to happen, but it will be interesting.  

Because of the coronavirus and the Pac-12 going to a conference-only 10-game schedule, the Men of Troy will not be playing Notre Dame this season. The Irish will be playing a full slate of ACC conference games, and could this jeopardize the future of the greatest intersectional series in the country?

The bubble: There was the idea floated that in order for the Pac-12 to have a complete season and try and avoid the coronavirus, the conference should do what the NBA and NHL are doing by housing all their teams in one city. One suggestion was that the entire Pac-12 should house their football teams in Salt Lake City hotels away from the big cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tempe – if you call Tempe a big city. The reality is that on Friday Larry Scott said the “bubble” idea is not a consideration.   

The bubble – Part 2:
If the Pac-12 had gone to a “bubble” model, players would have been taking classes online, which many already do so that wouldn’t have been an issue or at least shouldn’t have been. Think about it: Putting a large group of teenagers and young men in a bubble for three months would seem – IMHO – an impossible task. Wouldn’t that have taken the fun out of football and made the players and staff feel like they were in prison?

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) announced on Friday afternoon that the Pac-12 would not be entertaining any thoughts of “bubbling” their football teams.

The bubble – Part 3: Well, maybe the players wouldn’t have handled being in a bubble, but the coaches might not have minded it as long as they were getting their paycheck. Oh, that’s right, the players don’t get a paycheck. And, BTW, wouldn’t coaches’ wives have had a problem with their hubbies being away for three months? Of course, these same wives might have said they could have dealt with it as long as the money kept flowing to their bank account.  

Travel plans:
Even after the Pac-12 released its revised football schedule, all fan travel plans are on hold because nobody knows which games will be cancelled and which stadiums will allow a minimum number of fans. At this point in time, why in the world would fans start making plans when they might not be admitted into stadiums? Would it be even worth the health risk if stadiums did admit a small number of fans?  

The post-game show…

Numbers game: Who will be the next USC defensive player to wear No. 55?

Who will be the next Trojan defensive player to wear No. 55 ? All America linebacker and Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne (photo above) wore No. 55 with pride.

Numbers game – Part 2: If Reggie Bush gets his Heisman Trophy back, would USC officially retire his No. 5 jersey?

Numbers game – Part 3: If Reggie Bush’s No. 5 was retired, would Reggie allow his number to be activated if he knew a blue-chip recruit wanted to wear Bush’s number to honor him?

Numbers game – Part 4:
Even though former Trojans Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett’s No. 20 was retired, Iron Mike allowed his retired jersey number to be activated when Long Beach Poly blue-chip recruit and former Trojan safety Darnell Bing wanted to wear No. 20.

Heisman Trophy winning former tailback Mike Garrett (photo above) had his uniform No. 20 retired, but had his number un-retired when future safety star Darnell Bing from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly wanted to wear it.

Surprise, surprise: We must admit, we’re more than a little surprised to hear that both ASU and Arizona will be holding in-person classes because the coronavirus is a hot spot in that state. I heard the president of Arizona  Robert Clayton Robbins say how they have “it” under control. The more I listened to him, the more I just shook my head and thought how ridiculous this man was sounding trying to justify his rational for opening up – especially after he said a month ago he wouldn’t do it “as of today.”

The good old days: I yearn for the good old days when all the Pac-12 football rivals played on the last day of the regular season.  

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, what did you think of the news last week that former Trojans tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe would be enrolling at Illinois? I am shocked…not. Given the fact that Daniel’s brother, Josh, had a successful season as an NCAA Portal Transfer and the Imatorbhebhe family is very close, this seemed to me to be a no-brainer.  

Former Trojans tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (photo above) will join his brother, Josh, at Illinois.

Caller No. 2: Coach, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott says he can’t predict the future of games being played. Where is your take on his comments? Scott has firsthand experience with the coronavirus having gone through the infection himself. When I listened to him talk on Friday afternoon, I didn’t get the impression he was confident at all that there would be a season. He even mentioned it’s possible that some of the teams in the conference would even complete all their games.     

Caller No. 3: GK, what do you think of the Pac-12 not playing its season’s championship game in Las Vegas this season? First, I wouldn’t bet there will even be a championship game due to the virus. It makes no sense to play the title game in Las Vegas if fans couldn’t go to the game. From the Las Vegas point of view, why hold the title game this season with no fans filling up hotel rooms or gambling? I am fine with the Pac-12’s team with the best record/head-to-head competition hosting the game.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced on Friday that due to coronavirus, the 2020 Pac-12 title game in the new Raiders Stadium (photo above) in Las Vegas would move its two-year contract to the 2021 and 2022 seasons, respectively.

Caller No. 4: Grego, now that it seems like all the conferences are going to play exclusively in conference, do you think the CFP will expand the post-season tournament?  So far, nobody is talking about expansion. However, it just seems if it was going to be done, this would be the logical year to do it. I mean, what are we going to have in the four-team post-season playoff? Two or three teams from the SEC?

Caller No. 5: Katzer, what are your five Rock and Roll songs of all-time? Okay, I am game. My favorite five in no particular order because, IMHO, they’re all great would be: Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones), Light My Fire (The Doors), Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan), I know you’re out there somewhere (The Moody Blues), and Please Please Me (Beatles).   

The Beatles (photo above) all-time hit Please Please Me is one of my Top 5 songs of all-time.

The final word: Be safe, stay sane, and keep the faith.

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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