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IMHO Sunday: Clarion call for USC football, Kliavkoff wants national championships

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

Playoff expansion: The Pac-12 and its member schools received a major dose of reality when newly named Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff (Klēē-ãv-cough) said, in his opinion, the biggest weaknesses in the conference have been no recent national championships in football (USC-2004) and basketball (Arizona men-1997). During Thursday’s introductory digital media presser, Kliavkoff also said that one of his top three priorities is pushing expansion of the College Football Playoffs (CFP), which translates into the Pac-12 champions receiving an automatic berth into a potentially new and true post-season national tournament.

 

Playoff expansion – Part 2: No doubt, USC president Dr. Carol Folt and AD Mike Bohn heard the new commish’s comments loud and clear, and it could impact how Folt and Bohn view the immediate future of Trojans football and basketball. Kliavkoff’s emphatic and rapid response to the inevitable expansion of the college football playoffs and the general college football community’s acknowledgment that USC has traditionally been the standard-bearer for West Coast football, now puts greater scrutiny than ever on both the future of Clay Helton, who has won just one conference title since 2016, and the football program, which hasn’t won a national title since 2004.

New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff (photo above) says a major priority is Pac-12 CPF expansion, and that the biggest current weaknesses in the conference are no recent national championships in football and basketball.

Playoff expansion – Part 3: Since Dr. Folt was on the Pac-12 commissioner search committee that hired George Kliavkoff and with the new CEO’s dramatic statements about the state of Pac-12 football and expansion, how will that further affect Folt’s vision of USC football, and will Folt allow her athletic director, Mike Bohn, to make the right head-coaching decision, if necessary, to make USC once again a serious national contender?

The Trojans fan base has been demanding change for quite some time, and Kliavkoff’s declaration that football national championships are a sense of urgency and playoff expansion is a major priority for the conference should make Folt and Bohn also feel a realistic sense of urgency – not panic – to raise the bar. The football program is at a point to either fish or cut bait.

Playoff expansion – Part 4: It’s said that Dr. Folt cares a great deal about public perception of her university and herself. Fairly or unfairly, when it comes to USC football, Folt has been in the crosshairs regarding her commitment to Clay Helton and Trojans football in general. The Trojans football’s legacy as a storied and legendary program remains intact, but the overall image of the last several seasons is not one of a national championship contender but a perennial underachieving sleeping giant.

Considering his comments, ya think Commissioner Kliavkoff privately understands the importance of USC football as a national contender and a major conference marketing tool? You bet he does.

Will new Pac-12 commissioner George KIiavkoff’s comments regarding winning national championships in football and basketball and CFP expansion have an impact on USC president Dr. Carol Folt (photo above), who was on the Pac-12 commissioner search committee?

Playoff expansion – Part 5: Although he won’t begin his new job until July 1, George Kliavkoff, 54, also dropped a hint that the College Football Playoff could see some big news on expansion (translation: automatic playoff berth for the Pac-12 champion?) as early as this June, although he said he didn’t want to comment what the new structure might look like.

Obviously if the CFP is strongly thinking of expanding, Kliavkoff will be contacted early and often for his input and perspectives – if he hasn’t been already. FYI, Kliavkoff also said a review of the current Pac-12 football schedules and kickoff times are now subject to examination. You can read between the lines that those weekday games and kickoff times are definitely under scrutiny, thank goodness.  

Playoff expansion – Part 6: I’ve hit on expanding the playoffs repeatedly in the past, but it appears the College Football Committee is serious this time about expansion and so is Kliavkoff. Right now, the CFP currently uses a modest four-team playoff, which according to the incoming Pac-12 commissioner, 71 percent of the CFP post-season participants from its inception in 2014 have come from just four universities (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma). That revelation, of course, has basically left the Pac-12 in the cold. The last time the Pac-12 was actually invited into the CFP post-season was in 2016 when the Washington Huskies were dominated, 24-7, by Alabama in a semi-final game played in the Peach Bowl.

The last time the Pac-12 was in a CFP semi-final game was 2016 (photo above) when Alabama crushed Washington, 24-7, in the Peach Bowl. (Photo by Bleacher Report)



Playoff expansion – Part 7:
For traditionalists and old-timers, the thought of the elimination or the reduction of bowl games is blasphemy. As for future CFP expansion, it says here that all you have to do is keep the current bowl system and do some backward planning. If it’s an eight-team playoff – talk is of a 12-team tournament – just have the additional first round games played the week before the semi-finals and held either in one of the “second tier bowls” or hosted at the home of the higher ranked seeds.

As for the remaining bowls, let them continue their traditions by picking from the remaining teams not playing in the CFP. In men’s basketball, worthy teams that didn’t get selected to play in the NCAA tournament have played in the NIT.   

Playoff expansion – Part 8:
As new Pac-12 commissioner Kliavkoff understands, the CFP will never reach the heights of its capabilities if it’s restricted to a basic regional format of teams (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, etc.). The best thing from a competition, revenue, national audience, and media standpoint is a national playoff expansion mandate with all conferences involved, which makes the playoffs truly a national playoff.

From the press box…

The future roster: With spring practices across the country coming to a conclusion, roster movements are underway, and it is fascinating or frustrating watching who comes from the NCAA Transfer Portal and who goes into the transfer portal.

Carr to Indiana (UPDATED): By now, you’re all aware that Trojans running back Stephen Carr has entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal. I find it sad that Stephen, who confirmed on Sunday with a Twitter post that he is headed to the University of Indiana to be reunited with former Trojans RB coach Deland McCullough, is leaving Troy, but I understand Stephen’s predicament.

Trojans running back Stephen Carr (photo above) announced Sunday that he is transferring to the University of Indiana.
Carr to Indiana– Part 2: Carr probably felt he could be the odd man out of the probable two-man rotation, especially knowing that Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram had made such a strong spring impression. Add to the mix veteran teammate Vavae Malepeai, who figures to be the No. 2 back at worst, and the writing may have been on the wall as seen through Carr’s eyes. To his credit, Carr did have a very productive spring practice.   

Carr to Indiana – Part 3: A byproduct of Carr leaving is the perception it leaves Southern California high school coaches. Generally speaking, one of the arguments from out-of-state recruit coaches is that if one of their players signs and comes to SoCal, the USC coach will favor the local SoCal players at the same position if all things are equal.

In an odd reversal, SoCal prep coaches could tell their players they might be caught up with inbound Texas players/transfers gaining favor from Troy’s predominately native Texan coaching staff (8 of 10 USC coaches are from Texas). FYI, the last local running back signed (2019) and with the Trojans is current junior RB Kenan Christon out of San Diego (Madison HS).

Kenan Christon (photo above – No. 23) is the last USC running back signed from the Southern California area. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Carr to Indiana– Part 4: Imagine if Stephen Carr averages more rushing yards per game at Indiana than the entire Trojans team rushing per game. With Carr going to a run oriented team in Indiana and cranks, how does that reflect on the Trojans Air Raid, or does it?

Another Lonestar transfer: Speaking of transfers that call Texas their home, former Auburn safety Chris Thompson Jr. (Duncanville, Texas), who once officially visited the Trojans, is transferring into USC after a freshman year stint at Auburn, according to the kid’s Tweeter. Thompson (6-2, 200) has experience and will be immediately eligible. Like I’ve said before, if they can play, who cares where they call home? And, yes, it’s another Craig Naivar (USC safety coach) recruiting connection. 

Transfer safety Chris Thompson Jr. (photo above) announced he is coming to USC after playing his freshman season at Auburn. The transfer calls Ducanville, Texas, home.

 

Offensive linemen:
WeAreSC publisher Erik McKinney made an excellent point in his recent story on 5-star offensive tackle recruit Josh Conerly Jr. (Seattle, Wash./ Rainer Beach HS), revealing that in each of the past three classes, the Trojans’ highest-ranked offensive lineman was rated No. 299 overall (Jason Rodriguez in the 2019 class), No. 356 overall (Jonah Monheim in 2020) and No. 386 overall (Mason Murphy in 2021).


The post-game show…

No kidding: In the recent 2021 NFL draft, the two highest picks from the Pac-12 were offensive linemen: Oregon’s Penei Sewell (Detroit – No. 7 overall) and the Trojans’ Alijah Vera-Tucker (NY Jets – No. 14 overall). What happened to the “offensive-minded” Pac-12 skill players?

Belaboring the point: I am still trying to get my head around the fact that in 2019, the Trojans had two future NFL first-round draft picks – LT Austin Jackson and LG Alijah Vera-Tucker – side-by-side and still had the 10th worst rushing attack in the Pac-12. Sure, it could have been worse, and it was in 2020 when the Men of Troy still had AVT at left tackle and came in last in Pac-12 rushing.

Former Trojans offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker (photo above) is the second USC offensive lineman to be a first-round draft pick in the last two NFL drafts (Austin Jackson in 2020).

The great debate: A lot of folks are bemoaning that USC’s draft picks – outside of Alijah Vera-Tucker – were basically lower than their reputed true ability. Some point to the fact that wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was drafted (4th round) below his ability. Many NFL professionals believe that Trojans players are not truly developed during their time spent in cardinal and gold. I am sure that Clay Helton and his staff would love to join in on that debate. The fact that there is even a debate on this topic speaks volumes.


Photo op:
When new Trojans women’s basketball Lindsay Gottlieb, formerly a Cleveland Cavalier assistant, and her family went to take a photo op in the John McKay Center, they did so in front of a mannequin dressed in a home football uniform with the No. 55. The shadow of USC football is everywhere.

Hard to believe:
Trojans’ legendary quarterback Matt Leinart recently celebrated his 38th birthday. In case you’ve forgotten, all Lefty accomplished at USC was two national championships, a Heisman Trophy, was a three-time All-American selection, a 37-2 team record, set 16 USC records and 11 Pac-12 records, and did we mention now being a member of the College Football Hall of Fame?

Hard to believe that former All-America USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart (photo above) recently celebrated his 38th birthday. It seems like just yesterday he was leading the Trojans through one of the most incredible runs in college football history.

Hard to believe – Part 2: If Matt Leinart isn’t considered one of college football’s all-time greats, he should be. Had the Trojans defeated Texas in the BCS championship back in 2006, Leinart arguably might have been considered the greatest college quarterback of all-time. 

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Coach, what were your early impressions of new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff?

Caller No. 1, although I was initially concerned that Kliavkoff had no prior experience in college sports administration, I was energized by his comments about football playoff expansion and the surprising comment that the current weaknesses of the Pac-12 are no recent men’s national championships in football and basketball.

Klisvkoff also strongly hinted that he could be hiring in the future a second in command who has expertise in areas in college administrative that he doesn’t. Let’s face it, overall, anybody has to be better than Larry Scott, right?  

Caller No. 2: Coach, with Stephen Carr in the NCAA Portal Transfer, do you believe the Trojans will dip into the transfer portal to bring in another running back.  

Caller No. 2, never say never, but I would be surprised if they do with returning backs Vavae Malepeai, Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram, junior Kenon Christon, true freshman Brandon Campbell and serviceable grad student Quincy Jountti all available.  

The Trojans are banking on Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram (photo above) to help fill the void if Stephen Carr completes his transfer to play for another university.

Caller No. 3: Grego, is it true that many great Trojans of the past are very disillusioned with and do not support where the football program stands today?

Caller No. 3, unfortunately, that’s true. Speaking to many former players, they are – to put it mildly – disgusted with where the program is today. They really don’t like the offense, have been totally taken back with the lack of physicality, and the inability to move on in a new direction. They also feel neglected and miss the days of Pete Carroll, and before COVID, they never felt they were totally embraced under the current regime. Don’t kill the messenger, but this is what I see and hear.    

Caller No. 4: GK, which team in the Pac-12 South has really improved in your IMHO?

Caller No. 4, no question in my mind that Utah has made the biggest strides with the portal transfer of former Baylor standout quarterback Charlie Brewer (6-1, 210). In his Baylor career, Brewer appeared in 44 games and started 40, including 35 of the last 36. He threw for 9,700 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions while completing 63.5 percent of his passes. Brewer also ran for 1,039 yards and 22 touchdowns. In 2020, Brewer did struggle under new Baylor coach Dave Aranda and decided to transfer and eventually become a Ute.

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (photo above – No. 12), a heralded transfer from Baylor, throws during last month’s Red and White spring game. (Photo by Desert News)

Caller No. 5: Gregger, Los Angeles has evolved incredibly in the last 60 years, so what is no longer around in L.A. that you miss?  

Caller No. 5, oh man, there is a lot. I miss when downtown L.A was the center of Southern California universe, and there were no malls. Los Angeles ceased being a major city to me when malls started giving reason for people not to drive into L.A. For example, when big department stores like May Company started expanding into new malls like the West Covina (Calif.) Eastland Shopping Center, a little bit of L.A. died.

It was quite an era when people would drive into Los Angeles and shop at the 5-floor May Company Department Store (photo above) and Sears.

I also miss amusement parks like Pacific Ocean Park (POP), which was located in Santa Monica. It was really special. Right on the ocean and on the pier, one of my favorite rides was the Banana Train.

Pacific Ocean Park (photo above), commonly referred to as POP, was a one-of-a-kind amusement park that actually stretched into the ocean.

I also miss when downtown Los Angeles was so populated with shoppers that at a typical street crossing people were actually allowed to cross the street diagonally.

In the good old days, it wasn’t unusual for downtown L.A. foot traffic to cross streets diagonally (photo above).

And perhaps what I really miss from the 1950s is driving with my parents into parts of Culver City and seeing western movie sets and sometimes actual filming. It really was something to behold.

In the view above from 1958, one can see one of the western movie sets, including the “Mayberry” courthouse (right edge, center) and the mansion from Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation “Tara,” from the film Gone With The Wind (just right of upper left corner). Notice on the far right is a normal L.A. street and public housing.

The last word: I thought it was nice that the USC graduation ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 were held in the Coliseum, which was a good alternative to campus due to COVID social distancing challenges.

Graduation ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 were held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (photo above).

 



Author
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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