In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Schedule shuffle?: Due to the coronavirus, it’s being reported that one of the possible USC rescheduling models is replacing non-conference games with Alabama and New Mexico in exchange for Pac-12 games featuring Oregon State and Washington State, two conference schools, who will never be confused with Alabama.
As it appears that the Trojans program is in the initial stages of a very positive renaissance through coaching changes and recruiting momentum, I would make that trade-out of Alabama and New Mexico for Oregon State and Washington State in a heartbeat. Keep this Trojans off-season momentum going! As Trojans late radio voice Tom Kelly used to say, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
Schedule shuffle? – Part 2: Sure, New Mexico would be a victorious sacrificial lamb in the Coliseum but playing Oregon State and Washington State would be, IMHO, a godsend compared to one road game against Alabama, which could really put the kibosh on the current Trojans rebound momentum, given the last time we saw the Trojans they were being blown out by Iowa in San Diego’s Holiday Bowl.
With all due respect, please, don’t talk to me about the money lost by not playing Alabama, the macho element, and the Pac-12 image, it goes deeper than bucks, manhood, and perception. It’s about not stopping the current thrust of cardinal and gold energy with a potential in-your-face, reality-check thud against the Crimson Tide in Arlington, Texas.
Let’s talk real here: If the Trojans did get run over by Alabama, the anti-Clay Helton sentiment would again rise faster than a great day in Wall Street and would again point angry fingers in the direction of both Helton and the USC administration, namely Dr. Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn. There’s too much of a risk playing Alabama at the present time especially with things currently pointing in an upbeat path.
Schedule shuffle? – Part 3: I totally understand that segment of folks that say to be the best you have to play. No, you have to be at your best to beat the best. At the present time, Clay Helton’s program is working hard to return to a “normal” USC level of play; they’re just not there yet.
Traditionally, USC has never backed down to anybody. In my 58 years of watching the Trojans, they have religiously taken on all comers; then again, it has been rare over the decades that the Trojans didn’t have the talent level or coaching to match an Alabama-type challenge. Historically, it’s basically always been “Bring it on, sucker, We Are SC!”
That day will come, but it’s a question of will “sooner” arrive faster than “later”?
Schedule shuffle? – Part 4: The Trojans indeed have a resume of playing the best and on most occasions beating the best. However, this current Trojan program is not currently fully equipped quite yet to make those – some detractors would say arrogant – chants of “We Are…SC!” We know during the Pete Carroll era when the Coliseum faith start chanting “We Are…SC”, it was meaningful, truthful, emotional, and intimidating. It still gets down to more than talk the talk. It still gets down to walk the walk. Perhaps the 2020 Trojans will capture the Pac-12 title. This season’s Clay Helton edition certainly has some star power but not enough of it across the board to early-on take on the challenge of an Alabama, Ohio State, or Clemson for that matter.
The Trojans SHOULD play the best when they ARE at their best, but right now the talent level across the board is not the equal of Alabama, although, as said, the Trojans are rebuilding their talent level through impressive recruiting by an aggressively, mostly new, Type-A alpha dog defensive coaching staff. Many would argue that no matter how great the current strides, the controversial head coach remains the same. All that should play itself out one way or the other if and when there is a season. I would conjecture that USC athletic director Mike Bohn, despite all his positive hyperbole, understands what this season means for Clay Helton as head coach.
There’s no sugarcoating Clay Helton’s situation. Gentleman Clay needs every advantage he can get to have a successful season. Not playing Alabama would certainly support his cause. As it is, you still hear whispers regarding potential replacements like current Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell and even Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, even though Aranda, a Southern California native from nearby Redlands, has yet to coach a game with the Bears of Waco, Texas.
If Clay Helton could start the season 2-0 with conference wins over Oregon State and Washington State, the program could continue the momentum built in the off-season.
For the present, things are legitimately looking up for Clay Helton. IMHO, no reason to roll the dice with Alabama. No reason for the Crimson Tide to view the Trojans as a “tune-up” on national television. I could live with the Trojans not playing the Crimson Tide in the opener, but if the Men of Troy can win the Pac-12, enter the CFP, and find Alabama as the opponent, this end of the season match-up would be more cardinal and gold favorable.
Schedule shuffle? – Part 5: Ya see, folks, when the Trojans scheduled Alabama for a second time in four years after experiencing that 52-6 beatdown to Saban’s team in Texas back in 2016, it was expected that when the powers-that-be signed off playing Alabama in 2020, Clay Helton’s program would be able to show how much growth in talent and coaching it had accumulated these past four seasons.
Obviously, these past two seasons haven’t shown that there has been enough progress from 2016-to-2020 to play the Tide again even on a neutral site. If the Trojans do play Alabama to open 2020, they will be facing a program that will clearly again be supremely talented and motivated, looking to get off on the right foot after last season’s “disappointing” 11-2 record.
Schedule shuffle? – Part 6: The good news, however, is if the coronavirus does play a huge part in a scheduling reset, the Trojans could easily talk big about wanting to play Alabama. They’ll have the perfect “it’s out of our control” or “it ain’t our fault, blame it on the virus” alibi. It’s a perfect scenario and takes it out of the hands of the original USC scheduler and puts it into a plausible denial situation.
Schedule shuffle? – Part 7: In terms of playing Oregon State and Washington State, these games would make for building momentum. However, don’t dismiss Oregon State, as the Beavers have shown good progress under former Beavers star quarterback Jonathan Smith. If the game is played in Corvallis, it will be no gimme.
As for Washington State, the Trojans could catch a break as the Cougars will be led by first-year head coach Nick Rolovich, the former head man at Hawaii. With no spring practice and being a first-year program, Rolovich has his work cut out for him. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the Trojans playing in Pullman during early September, for it sure beats playing them in cold and possibly snowy November.
And let’s face it, if you combined the rosters of Washington State and Oregon State, it still wouldn’t come close to that of Alabama.
Schedule shuffle? – Part 8: It’s probable that if the 11-game Pac-12 schedule is implemented, this season’s marquee Coliseum home game against Notre Dame in late November would probably be cancelled. By the end of the season, IMHO, this Trojans team would have an excellent shot of beating the Irish and snapping that three-game losing streak.
From the press box…
Zoom time: This week, the Pac-12 hosted a series of media-only webinars with various head coaches from the conference’s football programs. Clay Helton was one of three coaches who answered questions on Monday. Asked what scenarios were out there to have a season, Helton answered, “We’re all optimistic as coaches. I think we’re half-glass full people and we’re optimistic about a season. We don’t know what that timing is of a start date and we don’t know the structure, but we’ve been talking about all different scenarios about the opportunity to maybe starting on time, the opportunity that maybe it gets pushed back, the opportunity of maybe it’s more of an abbreviated conference schedule.”
Zoom time – Part 2: Asked about possible rescheduling for conference games only, Helton said, “Yes, it’s been discussed in our Pac-12 meetings. It’s been discussed by the commissioners. That is one of the many structures as we go through this situation in this crisis, that the possibility of all conference schedule, that’s that is one of the structures under discussion. Depending on where we are at, you know, six to eight weeks from now, but those are viable discussions, and it has been brought up in our meetings.”
Zoom time – Part 3: Helton on playing games with no fans – “Part of college football is the passion of the fans. We love that and that’s going to be the celebration whenever that time is when we’re all back together in the same environment and to all be able to enjoy the game.”
Magazine wars: If you think you’re concerned about the 2020 college football season, imagine what those publishers of college football publishers must be thinking? Do we publish? When do we publish?
Magazine wars – Part 2: If you’re a college football magazine, how do you deal with no spring practice to get an accurate story/depth charts on teams? With the SEC and other conferences looking to start sometime in August, you can bet some of the mags will probably be on the racks around the first week in June.
Magazine wars – Part 3: While it would appear to be a challenge without spring practices for college magazine writers to forecast each team’s outlook, it really isn’t going to be all that hard. Most writers have a pretty good idea about the upcoming season as it pertains to rosters, returning starters, new arrivals, and most scribes will be on point. Any preseason outlook is all speculation anyway.
The post-game show…
Another commit: As you know by now, the Trojans got a verbal from Hyattsville (Md) DeMatha Catholic defensive lineman Colin Mobley (6-4, 260) for the Class of 2021. The key here is that Mobley has unofficially visited USC before, and he has family on the West Coast. This is a Keary Colbert and Vic So’oto recruiting victory. So’oto already had a relationship with Mobley when Vic was still at Virginia. Mobley had some impressive offers from the likes of LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Florida, and Florida State. He currently has a 3-star ranking.
Another commit – Part 2: If Colin Mobley’s name sounds familiar, the defensive lineman played against local national champion Bellflower St. John Bosco last prep season, a game that was televised. Mobley’s visiting DeMatha team put up a good fight early but eventually succumbed to powerhouse Bosco, 35-7.
The dotted line: I know the Trojans have really had an impressive recruiting run up to this point, but it still gets down to players signing on a dotted line in December. I feel more comfortable with the current California in-state commits than the out-of-state commits unless an out-of-state commit has some sort of West Coast family connection.
Marketing daydream: It’s a given that if the Trojans play this season, there won’t be fans in the stands at least in the early going. If the Trojans insert one more conference game in the Coliseum – Oregon State or Washington State – those in the USC ticketing and marketing department must be dreaming if not for the coronavirus, how much of an attendance increase ($) would there be if either the Beavers or Cougars replaced New Mexico in the home opener?
The expected: Anything short of a nuclear World War lll, you just know the SEC would hold their season with or without all its member schools. On second thought, the conference that refers to college football as a religion would probably still play even if our country was under a nuclear attack.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Sir, there seems to be a concerted effort by all to start the season sometime in September or certainly a season at some point. What is the major motivation to have a season? Money, money, money. Hopefully, the safety of the athletes, staff, and support personnel is the real first consideration, but money has always been the root of all evil. I am sure that the coaches and players want to play, and who can blame them? However, there needs to be extreme caution and it should be logic over emotion.
Caller No. 2: Greg, if you could be the Trojans’ schedule-maker, who would you like to see the Trojans play in the future? I have always hoped the Trojans would one day play at Wisconsin and/or Michigan. Traveling to Madison or Ann Arbor would be a great experience, especially early in the season if the weather is not too hot and humid. I think that Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn might be intrigued by taking the Trojans into those two venues.
Caller No. 3: GK, do you think that not having fans in the stands will have a big effect on the team’s performance? I think that playing away will make a difference, especially if there are no fans in Autzen Stadium when the Trojans play at Oregon on Nov. 7. The same could be true if there are no fans in the stands when the Trojans travel to Utah for the Oct. 2 game, which is a Friday night. Those Friday night Pac-12 away games have traditionally put the visitors at a huge disadvantage. FYI, the week before playing Utah, the Men of Troy are scheduled to battle ASU in the Coliseum.
Caller No. 4: Gregster, do you think given the current national circumstances the College Football Playoffs should expand from four teams to eight? I have written for a long time that I always believed the CFP should be an eight-team tournament. In the coming weeks, I’ll probably write extensively on it. One thing I will say is that every Power 5 Conference Championship Game winner (Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12, Southeast) should get an automatic CFP bid.
Caller No. 5: Katzie, Hot Fudge Sundae or Banana Spilt? Wow, that’s a tough call. It depends how big the desert. It also depends on how big the scoops of ice cream. If it’s a big goblet glass, I’d probably go with the sundae. The taste of the toppings on the banana split can be a difference-maker for me. Nothing worse than bad toppings on a banana split or bruised bananas. On both items, I like whipped cream, but I don’t like nuts on either desert. I am good, however, with a red cherry on top of either.
The final word: Stay safe, be well, and keep the faith!