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IMHO Sunday: Larry Scott’s 9 a.m. dream Pac-12 opener – ASU at USC

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

The clueless: If you thought that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was already incompetent and clueless when it comes to Pac-12 football, there was clearly enough evidence provided on Saturday morning when the conference released its “fall schedule” and revealed that the biggest game of the Pac-12 South Division season – Arizona State at USC – would be the season opener for both teams and played at the absurd local time of 9 a.m., which would be the earliest kickoff time for a Trojan home game since at least the early 1950s. All done to appease FOX television and its East and Midwest themed “Big Noon Saturday” viewers.

The clueless – Part 2: Larry Scott has long dreamed of the gridiron fantasy of having the Pac-12 Conference play games at 9 a.m., which Scott thinks would substantially increase viewership in the East Coast and Midwest. Wrong!  How ridiculous that theory is especially when you consider that SEC, Big Ten, ACC games will likely be competing for America’s passionate college football viewership. Scott, born in New York City, a Harvard grad, and a former professional tennis player, again exhibits his East Coast roots and his total misunderstanding of West Coast football and its appeal to the rest of the country. Enough already.  

The Clueless – Part 3: Hey, Larry, if you want to have fans and recruits outside of Pac-12 football country watching the conference, tell your teams to win big regular season and high profile bowl games against the likes of an Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. There was once no problem with the East and Midwest television numbers when Pete Carroll was the coach at USC. Are you also listening Dr. Carol Folt and Mike Bohn? Okay, we’ll state the obvious: When USC is rolling, so is the perception of the Pac-12, which creates impressive TV ratings.

In his press release statement, Scott said, “The schedule announced today is highlighted by exciting and tough matchups that will showcase the depth of our conference and position our teams well for CFP consideration and postseason bowl opportunities.” The key word there is “consideration.” Some might call it obligatory lip service to the CFP committee. Did I also miss “high quality” of teams by Scott somewhere in the statement?  

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) finally got his wish with a 9 a.m. conference football game – ASU at USC.

The clueless – Part 4: If Urban Meyer, who remains on the FOX Big Noon Saturday pregame show with former Trojan All-Americans Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, was USC’s head football coach, do you think he would have given his blessing for a 9 a.m. kickoff in his division’s most critical game? Is a frog’s a** watertight? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear s**t in the woods? In contrast, we all know that Gentleman Clay Helton would never rock the corporate or authority boat and show resistance to a 9 a.m. start. It’s apparently just not in his DNA.

The clueless – Part 5: Speaking of Gentleman Clay, in the Los Angeles Times he certainly made Larry Scott smile from ear-to-ear when he said of the Trojans ASU opener and kickoff time, “We’re grateful for the opportunity to play a game, a great game … at a time that I think the whole nation will be watching across the board. We’re excited. You want to be under the brightest lights, on the brightest stage.” Wow, the whole nation will be watching at noon ET. Who knew, but what about the West Coast? Will they still be under the covers?

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) says that the whole nation will be watching USC’s opener with ASU, and he believes the 9 a.m. kickoff was great to capture a large national audience, which is a typical positive from the USC coach.

The clueless – Part 6: Did USC athletic director Mike Bohn have a say in the kickoff matter? As a former Kansas Jayhawks’ quarterback, would he have wanted a 9 a.m. kickoff? The gut feeling here is that Mike probably said let’s give it a try, it doesn’t affect our fan base attendance, so we won’t rock the boat and we’ll see if it works. Let’s face it, both the ASU and USC athletic directors had to know that the combination of a first game and a dumb kickoff time won’t likely show the best of either football program to the nation. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? 

Did Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) have a say in the USC-ASU kickoff time?

The clueless – Part 7: Larry Scott always talks about putting the student-athletes first. So, what of the Trojans student-athlete football players? How will a 9 a.m. kickoff affect them? What time will they have to get up and what time will they have their “pregame breakfast”? Nothing like a Denny’s Grand Slam team meal at 5:30 in the morning, and what time will that alarm clock go off?

The clueless – Part 8: A 9 a.m. kickoff against ASU? NO problem, since it’s the first game of the shortened season, will Gentleman Clay get the boys ready starting this Friday, Oct. 9, with potentially 7:30 a.m. practices? Got to get the players’ biorhythms in sync with the game time, right?  

With a 9 a.m. season opener with ASU in the Coli, what time will Trojans’ practice (photo above) begin?

The clueless – Part 9: I guess once you get over the shock of the ASU-USC kickoff time and opening game matchup, you can relax and say with some degree of certainty that if the Trojans defeat the Sun Devils in the Coli, the schedule the rest is mostly cream puffs with the cherry on top being the out-of-division game reconstituting Washington State with first-year head coach Nick Rolovich on Friday night, Dec.4. That should draw big national TV ratings for a game that figures to start at 9 p.m. in the East.

The clueless – Part 10: The only other real challenge besides ASU, which will have new offensive and defensive coordinators, in the Trojans schedule would be at Utah (Nov. 21), which will not have their rabid MUSS rooting section to sway the home field advantage. FYI, , only two teams (ASU and Utah) on the Trojans’ schedule finished above .500 last season.

The last game of the regular season is at crosstown rival UCLA (Dec.12) on “rivalry weekend,” which actually divides rivalry games into either Friday or Saturday TV windows. Before we forget, it’s worth noting that ASU’s out-of-division game will be hosting Cal, which could knock off the Sun Devils even in Tempe.

The Trojans get a big break when they travel to play at Utah (photo above) and no crazy Utes fans in the stands.

The clueless – Part 11: While the Trojans should be favored in every game they play, there will be more pressure than ever on head coach Clay Helton, who knows this is his best chance of going undefeated – pandemic or no pandemic. No out-of-conference games this season with Alabama and Notre Dame. No Oregon in the regular Pac-12 season. How do you screw that up? You can and it’s called opening the season with the talented Arizona State Sun Devils at 9 in the morning, and Helton knows it.  

From the press box…

Expand: I guess better late than never, but at least Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott advocated last week for the CFP playoffs to be expanded this season from four to eight teams, something I’ve been crowing about for forever and a day. How can you call the CFP a national playoff when the entire Power 5 from coast-to-coast isn’t involved? And don’t kid yourself, it will take a series of fortuitous events for a Pac-12 team to be part of the CFP semi-finals. Just telling it as it is, but you probably already knew that.

If no Pac-12 team makes the CFP post-season (photo above), how do you call it a national playoff? Why, especially this season, wasn’t the field expanded to eight teams and include all the conference championship game winners with two at-large teams and an independent?

Game times: Now that you’ve settled in with the Trojans 9 a.m. early season start against ASU, you should also be aware that game times and television plans for Troy’s other 2020 games will be announced at a later time. All USC games will be nationally televised by either the ESPN channels, ABC, FOX, FOX Sports 1 or Pac-12 Networks.

Pac-12 Championship weekend: The Pac-12 title game will be played on Friday night, Dec. 18, at a sight and time to be determined. If the Trojans don’t make the championship game, they will play – depending on their final placement in the Pac-12 South Division standings – on Saturday, Dec. 19, against their North Division standing counterparts. In other words, if the Trojans finish No. 2 in the South, they will play the No. 2 finisher from the North at a time and locale to be determined.

The flip: Sound the church bells, the Trojans have flipped a Notre Dame commit in DB Philip Riley Jr (6-0, 190) from Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale. If you think that’s not a big deal, remember that current high-valued USC running back Markese Stepp was once an ND commit and flipped. Oh, and Riley is considered a 4-star recruit. Riley plans to sign in December and enroll at Troy in early January.    

It’s always a big deal in recruiting when USC flips a Notre Dame commitment like defensive back Philip Riley (Valrico, Florida), who stunned the Irish with a switch to its arch-rival .

The flip – Part 2: As always, there’s a little intrigue with Philip Riley’s flip from Notre Dame to USC. Riley is originally from the state of Washington and on his 7v7 traveling team was linebacker Julien Simon, also a committed Trojan out of Washington, who will enroll in the spring.

The GPS: So, where is Philip Riley’s hometown of Valrico, Florida? Well, it’s about a 35-mile drive to the beautiful beaches of Clearwater. It’s also 14 miles from Tampa. To be more accurate, it’s located in Central Florida on the gulf side of the state.

The post-game show…

Dixie downer: Over the years, I’ve heard a ton of unusual recruiting and high school eligibility stories, but the one regarding the parents of current Trojans quarterback verbal Jake Garcia ranks near the top. Garcia, who left pandemic Southern California so he could play his final season of high school football for Valdosta (Ga.) High, was ruled ineligible this past week. Jake’s father, Randy, let it be known to ESPN earlier that he and his wife had dissolved their marriage with the purpose of allowing Jake to transfer. The kicker is that they planned to resume their marriage when the season was over. Jake’s current ineligibility is now under appeal, but should the ineligible ruling stand, it’s time to “look away, look away, look away, Dixieland.”

Trojans fans are waiting to find out if QB Jake Garcia (photo above) will still be able to play his final season of high school football at Georgia’ s Valdosta High after being ruled ineligible.

SEC Foreman: Official recruiting visits and coaches contacts are on hold thanks to an NCAA degree, which has expanded the current recruiting dead period to Jan. 1. However, that didn’t stop SoCal’s No. 1 recruit Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial) from visiting LSU twice in September, although he could not talk to or have contact with Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron or his staff. The fact that Korey was again in Baton Rouge in a short period of time speaks volumes regarding his interest in playing in the SEC and LSU in particular. With his close football friend, defensive tackle Maason Smith (Houma, LA) a near lock to go to LSU, it’s a very big recruiting challenge for the Trojans.     

SEC Foreman – Part 2:
Of course, it was a bit of an eyeopener for Korey Foreman’s last visit to LSU, as the hometown Tigers were embarrassed, 44-34, by Mississippi State and first-year head coach Mike Leach, the former Washington State head man. Not that the loss will make a difference to Foreman, but it shows this is a different LSU team compared to last season’s national champions. For Coach O, he has had to replace a number of coaches, a Heisman Trophy winning QB to the NFL, and players defecting to the NFL, aside from personal family challenges.

Trojans fans are closely following the recruitment of defensive end Korey Foreman (photo above) and are concerned that Foreman has unofficially visited LSU twice within the past month of time.

In memory: Sad to report the news that former Trojans’ offensive lineman Mike Cordell (1973-75) has passed. Mike was a member of the Trojans 1974 national champions under John McKay. A great high school player at Long Beach (Calif.) Wilson, Mike was eventually voted into the Wilson Athletic Hall of Fame. Our condolences to his family and friends.

The passing of a legend: When I learned of the passing of the great running back Gale Sayers, the first thing that popped up in my head was what an incredible running back the “Kansas Comet” was. The second thing was when people would ask me who Reggie Bush reminded me of when he was coming out of La Mesa (Calif.) Helix High, it was Gale Sayers. Bush was so much like Sayers it was scary. And, yes, it’s a high compliment to the Trojans No. 5.

Many have compared the running back style of former USC All-America tailback Reggie Bush (photo above) to the late Gale Sayers, the “Kansas Comet.”

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, is it me or are Pac-12 fans not totally beside themselves regarding not being able to attend any games this fall?  

Caller No. 1, so much has dragged on that I think that Pac-12 fans are just worn out by it all, and I don’t think any conference fans will be heartbroken not being able to attend those 9 a.m. kickoffs. The Pac-12 fans involvement will never be the SEC, but I do think that Pac-12 fans get a bad wrap over their passion. I’ve been to every stadium in the conference for a number of years, and I can tell you that fans turn out for winning teams, although some venues are more passionate than others.   

No USC fans will be allowed to watch football in the Coliseum (photo above) this season. How intimidating will the Coli be without fans?

Caller No. 2: G-Kat, any comments regarding the possible return of Jay Tufele or Alijah Vera-Tucker?

Caller No. 2, I would say no news is good news. If they had no intention of returning, it would seem the former two starters would just come out and say thanks but no thanks. I think the fact that there has been no immediate comment is that they must be thinking about the pros and cons of returning. I still believe that Vera-Tucker is the more likely to return.    

Caller No. 3: Katzer, based on how many points the Texas Longhorns gave up in last weekend’s overtime win, do you think they regret having fired Todd Orlando as their defensive coordinator?

Caller No. 3, there are always extenuating circumstances when somebody gets fired – some more legit than others. I am sure that when you look at the amount of points the Texas defense gave up (56) to Texas Tech a couple of weeks ago, it makes it look like the Longhorns defense hasn’t changed or has gotten worse. On Saturday, the Texas defense gave up 33 points to TCU in a disappointing 33-31 loss. You can draw your own conclusion. 

Much is expected from former Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above), who is now the new USC DC. It will be intriguing to watch the impact that Orlando has with the USC defense and personnel. SC fans will get a look at the new way of doing things defensively when they open against ASU.

Caller No. 4: Mr. Meow, do you think that USC football television ratings will go up during this shortened season?

Caller No. 4, since fans can’t attend the games, I would assume those fans will watch the games on TV. I think that sports fans in general will watch games on television because there are not a lot of options with the virus still lurking. If the Trojans are doing well, people will tune in and there will be some ratings momentum. If the Men of Troy aren’t doing well and want Clay Helton to be given his walking papers, some will still tune in to see if there’s added evidence to make a change. Of course, Pac-12 commish Larry Scott is banking on Saturday 9 a.m. PT kickoffs adding ratings interest from East and Midwest viewers, which probably won’t be overwhelming.   

Caller No. 5: GK, are you a collector of DVDs?

Caller No. 5, I actually do buy DVDs that have meaning to me. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a collector of videos. The problem is that the ones that I have, around 75, I don’t often watch. I have a cross-section of genres, which include sports, drama, action, sci-fi, comedy, and concerts. I find that I only buy movies that have sentimental value or are my all-time favorites (i.e. The Godfather, Star Wars, James Bond, Indiana Jones, etc.). I guess I keep saving them to watch so I have something to look forward to and to also keep my mind off the current state of affairs.    

I guess when there is free time from football, I can go to my DVD collections (photo above). As you can see, I have a number of options to choose from if I so desire.

The final word: Well, the days are counting down until the Trojans open “fall” practice this upcoming Friday, and a half season is better than no season as long as all things are safe for the student-athletes. If that be the case, let’s get it on!

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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