In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Show them you care: Wait, don’t stop reading because of the headline above! I totally get the rancor, anger and frustration by USC fans directed at the USC administration for continuing to support Clay Helton. You know full well where I have stood on this issue. However, that being said, the real victims here, IMHO, are the current USC football players, innocent gridiron bystanders that have watched support for them decline while the adults are playing political cardinal and gold Russian roulette with the football program. The players don’t deserve being caught in this crossfire hurricane, but they do deserve one last hurrah of support in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.
Show them you care – Part 2: Knowing the players are powerless in the middle of this bull cheese, I am appealing to the Trojans massive and proud football fanatics to consider making a one-game bowl protest ceasefire and urge you to come down to San Diego to support your Men of Troy, which will not only be facing a good Iowa Hawkeyes team (9-3), but an avalanche of excitable Hawkeye fans, who will be descending into San Diego by the thousands in an attempt to turn SDCCU Stadium into Kinnick Stadium West. You want to protest your anger at Clay Helton and the USC administration by not attending the Holiday Bowl, I get it. It’s hard to separate your feelings regarding the USC admin and the coach from the team itself at this present time. I also get that protesting a one post-season bowl game is not the same as protesting an entire season – an option that some of you have told me you will consider for 2020 because nobody of authority listened to your cries of frustration.
The confessional: Believe me, those of you that know me personally, those who know me through reading my years of WeAreSC columns, or those that have sat next to me in a stadium press box, know I am not a shrinking violet when it comes to stating a viewpoint – hopefully more right than wrong. Friends, these are abnormal Trojan times, but this Holiday Bowl needs to be approached with a normal response of bowl appreciation for the players by showing up and giving the lads in cardinal and gold the best support you can, your ultimate thank you for their efforts under difficult circumstances. For one night at least, make these players feel like “this is what a USC bowl turnout is supposed to look and sound like – fighting on!”
The options: To be clear – again,I am certainly not telling you what to do with your dissent options – cancelling season tickets, withholding donations, shutting down endowments – no, it’s not my place, it’s your place. Let the final seconds tick off the SBCCU Stadium, and then you can feel free to financially send your message if that is how you are going to do your talking or just don’t show up to games next season if that’s your preference. I am sure you will do what’s best in your heart and head. No hard feelings from me if you decide sit this bowl game out. The players, however, will show up in San Diego ready to fight on, but can they count on you?
The matchup: Now, getting back to the Holiday Bowl game itself. One of the intriguing aspects to the game will be the perception and reality of each team. Iowa is the superior team in terms of discipline. They don’t make many mistakes or penalties and are quite comfortable in their skin, thanks to the 21-year Hawkeyes service record of head coach Kirk Ferentz. On the other hand, the Trojans under Clay Helton are considered by most – and the stats bear this out – of being an undisciplined team having not exactly been a poster child of consistency. The big question: Will both teams stay true to seasonal form for the upcoming 60 minutes?
Pass the butter: As he did before competing against former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in the Cotton Bowl, Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton is already in full verbal butter-up fawning, This time it’s over Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Of the Hawkeyes coach, Helton said, “To have the opportunity to compete against a team coached by Kirk Ferentz, who is so respected in our profession, is an honor.” Maybe what I’d like to hear is Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz saying, “To have the opportunity to compete against a team coached by Clay Helton, who is so respected in our profession, is an honor.”
From the press box…
The Hawkeyes speak: Iowa safety Geno Stone told Iowa’s Des Moines Register newspaper that the Trojans’ offense reminds him of Purdue. Stone added, “Some of my family grew up Penn State fans, the other side grew up Notre Dame. So, I always grew up rooting against USC. It’s pretty cool to be playing a team like this.”
The Hawkeyes speak – Part 2: Iowa’s two-time All-Big Ten first-team defensive end A.J. Epenesa said of the Trojans, “Obviously, when you think college football, you think Alabama and USC — the more famous schools, but what excites me the most is all my family on the Samoan side lives on the West Coast.”
Tickets, tickets, tickets: Trojans Athletic Fund members and Trojans season ticketholders have already begun receiving information via email about the opportunity to purchase Holiday Bowl game tickets. All other USC fans should visit the Holiday Bowl site (holidaybowl.com) for ticket information. More information about the Trojans’ participation in the Holiday Bowl is also available at usctrojans.com/bowlcentral.
Transportation options: If you don’t like the idea of driving down to San Diego on a Friday due to the weekend getaway traffic, I suggest you consider taking the Amtrak to San Diego’s Old Town, and then transfer over to take the local San Diego rail transportation system to the game.
Cold reality: I really enjoy the folks that administrate the Holiday Bowl and truth be known, many of the officials are real USC fans. However, I understand why, the game is played in one of the worst stadiums in America – SDCCU Stadium – once the home of the San Diego Chargers and San Diego Padres. The seats are far from the field and at night, the place gets so cold and windy you think you are in downtown Chicago next to Lake Michigan.
Cold reality – Part 2: Leaving out the weather, parking at SDCCU Stadium can be a nightmare, both coming and going. There just doesn’t seem to be enough space for everybody or entrances. My advice – FWIW – is to take the local train that drops you off right there at the stadium. It certainly beats the hassle of “rush hour” traffic to and from the game.
The freezer: As a member of the media who sits in the press box and is still there long (3 hours) after the game, I’ll be dressed for a Midwest winter. The SDCCU Stadium press box is an open-air facility, which means there are no enclosed windows before, during, or after the game. Folks, it’s freezing up there and trying to word process with frozen fingers and chattering teeth is not ideal to write 3,000 words.
The post-game show…
Early signing: There is justifiably a lot of concern over the current status of the Trojans’ recruiting Class of 2020. By all accounts, the Trojans are currently – I can’t believe I am actually saying this – worst or second worst in the Pac-12 at the moment. To some degree, it may get better because this Wednesday is the early signing period, and there is still some time to recover later with the February signing date. By the numbers anyway, the Class of 2020 is expected to be a small group, so it’s really about quality over quantity. Remember, there was also concern last season at this time regarding Clay Helton’s recruiting class, and that didn’t turn out too bad or maybe you didn’t notice that true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was named the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year while true freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson was named second-team All-Pac-12.
Say what: How is it that Oregon true freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, but he didn’t make the All-Pac-12 first or second-team defense while Trojans’ true freshman defensive end Drake Jackson didn’t make 2019 Freshman Defensive Player of the year but made the All-Pac-12 defensive second team? I am so confused.
It’s official: The game officials for the Holiday Bowl will be from the ACC.
Believe it or not official: The CFP National Champion Game will employ Pac-12 officials. Grab your popcorn and beverage of choice for that added little addition.
Holiday gift thought: If you’re looking for a cardinal and gold stocking stuffer and want some real holiday music this bowl season, celebrate Dr. Bartner’s landmark 50th season as director of The Spirit of Troy with The Golden Legacy album. It includes a gold vinyl record spanning five decades of your favorite Trojan Marching Band music and a full digital download of the album – plus a commemorative oversized booklet detailing the 50 greatest moments of Dr. Bartner’s career in photos.
Meyer-ed in opinion: Former Ohio State national championship coach Urban Meyer recently said for public consumption that the USC head coaching position remains an elite, elite job.
The Call-in Show…
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, do you see a time when the USC uniforms will have the last name of a player on the back of their jersey? It could happen, but hopefully not in my lifetime. I think that the idea of “we” instead of “me” promotes the best team unity. I do understand that at some point we could see names, but right now the Trojans should concentrate on winning games.
Caller No. 2: Sir, do you think it was a mistake that the Trojans open the 2020 season against Alabama? Caller No.2, is the pope Catholic? I thought it was a bad idea before the Trojans got pummeled 52-6 in Clay Helton’s debut back in 2016. I felt at the time that it would take a long time under Helton – if ever – that his program could be competitive with a Nick Saban team. The evidence is clear that the Trojans heading into 2020 should be a good team, but they are still knee deep in you-know-what by playing the Tide again. It wouldn’t have been my scheduling choice, not by a longshot.
Caller No. 3: Greger, up to this point, what do you think Clay Helton’s greatest moment of achievement has been during his coaching era? Thanks. Caller No. 3, no question in my mind it was the 2017 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. However, it has always been my feeling that Penn State coach James Franklin really showed incredibly poor clock management in the fourth quarter when rather than take time off the clock by running the football, Franklin decided to throw deep across the field not once but twice, and the second ill-advised pass was intercepted by Trojans safety Leon McQuay lll and the rest is history. Had the Trojans not won 52-49 on a Matt Boermeister field goal on the last play of the game, scrutiny would have been directed toward defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast for his defense allowing 49 points.
Caller No. 4: Coach Katz, I know you’re big on discipline, but did you see any early signs that Clay Helton’s teams were going to be so undisciplined? Caller No. 4, funny you should bring that up because I was talking to another former football coaching colleague of mine about this same question. It was my perspective that in Helton’s first game of his first full season as the permanent USC head coach, his players were at the mouth of the AT&T Stadium tunnel ready to take the field when some of the players in the front row got down on all fours and started acting like barking dogs. I remember being in the AT&T Stadium press box and turning to our late publisher Garry Paskweitz and asking, “What the hell are they doing?” I remember saying to myself, “Houston, we have a problem,” and thinking what would John McKay have done if some of his players did that before a big game? A rhetorical question to the say the least. They would have had to call the undertaker.
Caller No. 5: Dude, I missed it last week’s ‘personal’ answer to a non-football related question. You must have had too many football related items to address. So, sir, I hear that your son is in the music business and is a manager of song writers. Are any of his clients famous? Well, I am not into rap music myself, but my son’s top client, Roget Chahayed, wrote the famous song “Sicko Mode” sung by Travis Scott, which was the first song played at halftime in last season’s Super Bowl and played during selected USC pregame Coliseum home games. Chahayed co-wrote another famous Grammy-nominated song, “Broccoli,” sung by Dram, which I’ve also heard a number of times at USC football practices and during pregame warmups of USC home football games.
The final word: The Trojans are now back to practicing for the Holiday Bowl, so do you feel better?