In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The return: The big question: Why did the Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) do a 180 and potentially change their position from not playing football until at least January but now potentially kicking off in late October or early November? Perhaps a better question: Hey, Pac-12, is the Big Ten Conference or CFP your daddy? You look as unorganized, intimidated, and panicked as a teenager on a first date.
The return – Part 2: The process of this Pac-12 reversal doesn’t exactly pass the smell test with a final conference ruling of when and where to play expected by this upcoming Thursday. The Pac-12 has a perception problem in so many areas that you really don’t know where to begin…and much of it is deserved. It pains me to say so, but where is the leadership? Where is the backbone? Get out the calliope, popcorn and the acrobatic performers, the Pac-12 leadership is a circus. Ringling Brothers would be proud. Then again, if only (sigh) the Big Ten hadn’t done a switcheroo and the College Football Playoffs hadn’t tightened the vice, the Pac-12 wouldn’t have had to do what it normally does – follow the leader. Thanks to their Big Ten big brothers, they’re still following the leader. Hang on Sloopy, Buckeyes; Hail to the Victors, Michigan; On Wisconsin.
The return – Part 3: For all the right reasons – COVID -19, the testing of it, health concerns for the student-athletes, logic over emotion – the Pac-12 once looked committed to its convictions and beliefs. To hell with the SEC, ACC, Big 12 that think that college football is so important that they turn themselves into human pretzels to justify playing in the fall. COVID-19 lethal? No drek. If money, power, and prestige weren’t on the line as well as national championship possibilities, do you honestly think we’d even be having a discussion about this entire political – excuse the expression – football?
The return – Part 4: Folks, it’s turning out to be not only about power and money or the reverse order, but a litmus test on how strong a conference believes it’s doing the right thing. I get the idea that the Pac-12 can now test for COVID-19 better than ever or so we are told. Good for the nation’s most denigrated conference. Do the right thing has never been as unpopular in our society as it is now. For the Pac-12, how would it look if it was now the only Power 5 conference not to be playing in the fall after the Big Ten’s sudden U-turn? Talk about peer pressure. The reality is that the Pac-12 currently is an afterthought across the college football landscape, especially when USC is wandering in the football desert looking to reinvent itself.
The return – Part 5: Again, I get that players want to play, and can you blame them? I get that the CFP money dispersion for the Pac-12 is too good to pass up during this difficult time in athletic budgets. However, a not-so-funny thing surfaced this week in the Pac-12 as word was leaking that it would probably join the Big Ten and the other Power 5 conferences in fall play. Although they didn’t give their names, enough Pac-12 coaches told respected college football writer Bruce Feldman – in no uncertain terms – that the idea of playing football without proper development was a recipe for disaster, and that conference leadership was lacking of understanding what it takes at this point to get everything up and running to compete.
The return – Part 6: Here’s a little sampling of what one anonymous Pac-12 head coach told The Athletics Bruce Feldman this week about starting too early: “You’re gonna have a s–t-ton of injuries. If the Pac-12 says health and safety is their No. 1 priority and they try to rush their teams back, then they’re just full of s—t.”
The return – Part 7: The coach continued: “What really has changed here since last week? It’s that the Big Ten came back. To play football, you actually have to practice football. Forget scheme; our guys are basically doing combine training. But that doesn’t get you ready to play games.”
The return – Part 8: And another Pac-12 coach told Bruce Feldman, “I don’t wanna hear health and wellness out of anybody’s mouth. The We Are United players, they have an F-ing point. It’s not f-ing ping pong. You don’t just open the garage door and go play.
“I don’t think people know that when the seasons were postponed, the Big Ten and Pac-12 took completely different paths. They kept going like it was still training camp. They kept the same schedule like they were gonna play. We didn’t. Half of our schools couldn’t. Our nose is so f-ing far up the Big Ten’s ass. Let’s just do what’s best for the Pac-12. Why do we work out in the summer (usually) if we only need a few weeks?”
The return – Part 9: Yet another unnamed Pac-12 coach said, “I thought (a start date of) Dec. 5 was pushing it. It’s a one-off year. Let’s do what’s right for our kids and our conference. We’re gonna take a lump. Let’s not take two lumps.”
The return – Part 11: You know what’s really hysterical about all this, besides the fact that there are probably more Pac-12 coaches that didn’t want to be quoted on the record even anonymously? The fact that the Pac-12 in high probability won’t even be considered for a CFP spot even if one of its team – let’s say Oregon or USC – actually goes undefeated in a seven-game schedule that might also include a conference championship game. The Pac-12 schedule has to be reconfigured to fit into the CFP schedule calendar of business. Do you really think a Pac-12 schedule of seven games will be equal in strength and value to that of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, or even the Big 12 if those conferences play nine or more games? Give me a break.
The return – Part 12: As for the post-season College Football Playoffs, I would say that you can count on perhaps at least two teams from the SEC (Alabama, Georgia), potentially two from the ACC (Clemson/Notre Dame), likely one from the Big Ten (Ohio State), and maybe one Big 12 team (Oklahoma). Sorry Pac-12. With no real out-of-conference prove-it games (ex. Alabama and Notre Dame, Ohio State), all the CFP committee can go on for the Pac-12 is how the teams within the conference look and the perception of how strong the Pac-12 Conference appears given the eye test. You certainly don’t have to be a college expert to sort that one out.
Of course, we could end a majority of the CFP politicking if their selection team would expand to an eight-team playoff with all Power 5 conference championship game winners gaining automatic playoff placement. You could add two deserving at-large teams and an independent in the playoff. But there I go again being logical. My apologies.
From the press box…
Decisions, decisions: When the Pac-12 does return to play, how will that affect the current USC player roster? With the Trojans now probably playing in the fall, it would be hard to envision there would be any further defections to the NFL aside from DT Jay Tufele and OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, both of whom have already announced their intentions to move on and aren’t expected back.
Decisions, decisions Part 2: With the Trojans losing Jay Tufele and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Men of Troy will be missing their top offensive and defensive linemen, respectively. No doubt, this isn’t a good thing for the Trojans and head coach Clay Helton. That’s not to say that other players won’t elect to leave early and apply for the draft, although it would seem at this point further defections would seem unlikely.
Decisions, decisions – Part 3: Of course, with the Trojans looking to play in late October or early November, the big elephant in the room remains: If the Trojans don’t win the Pac-12 South in a possible seven-game schedule and don’t play in the conference title game, will Clay Helton be given grace and be retained due to the crazy circumstances of this pandemic season?
Decisions, decisions – Part 4: I think if Gentleman Clay’s team does not beat UCLA and does not win the Pac-12 South, I’d say it’s 70-30 he still returns. The key games, IMHO, will be key Pac-12 South games at UCLA, ASU in the Coli, and Utah in SLC. A loss at Oregon might be forgivable depending on the final score, but a loss by any score at Stanford – if they are part of an abbreviated schedule wouldn’t be good.
Decisions, decisions – Part 5: Nationally, attention should be focused on major high draft pick players that have elected to return to college and not forego their fall season. Ohio State was a big benefactor with a return to a fall schedule with the announcement that All-American offensive guard Wyatt Davis (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and standout corner Shaun Wade would now return to help get the Buckeyes get into the CFP and increases their chances of a national title shot. Sentimentally, it sure would have been nice if Jay Tufele and Alijah Vera-Tucker hadn’t left the cardinal and gold building, but it was certainly understandable at the time.
The post-game show…
Zoom: Is it true that Trojans head football coach Clay Helton and AD Mike Bohn held a Zoom conference on Friday with former Trojans players? Some insiders say it’s possible that Gentleman Clay is trying to circle the wagons by informing cautious and unsure gridiron alumni about the direction of the Trojans program, get some support for the upcoming season, and a long range vision for the program. I am told that former All-American linebacker Chris Claiborne was a respected participant, which was a good thing.
El Capitans: In case you missed it, former Trojans Robert Woods (Rams) and Sam Darnold (Jets) were named seasonal captains for their respective NFL teams.
El Capitans – Part 2: Speaking of Sam Darnold (215 passing yds/1 TD against the Bills) and Robert Woods (105 rec. yds), both looked pretty good in the first week of the NFL season. And let’s not forget former Trojans and New York Giants DT Leonard “Big Cat” Williams, who had a key sack on Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger in last Sunday’s Giants loss to Pittsburgh. FYI, today the Rams play at Philadelphia, the Jets host the 49ers, and the Giants play at Chicago.
The Steel City: Speaking of NFL Trojans, based on the first week of the season, former Trojan and current Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (69 yards and two TDs) looked great against the Giants. Today Pittsburgh entertains Denver.
The Steel City – Part 2: In case you’ve been vacationing in Siberia, former Trojan and Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle Zach Banner unfortunately was lost for the season last Monday night after suffering a knee injury against the Giants. Hurry back, Big Fella!
The good Samaritan: Trojans College Football Hall of Famer and 1994 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Tony Boselli and his foundation surprised 14 teachers in Jacksonville, Florida, with a special free shopping spree.
The good Samaritan – Part 2: Speaking on the free shopping spree for the 14 teachers, Boselli said, “They are such giving individuals and they give so much for the kids in the classroom.” Hoping the teachers will also buy something for themselves besides their students, Tony went on to say he knows how much hard work the teachers put into their classrooms, and this was just his way of saying, “thank you.”
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: G-Kat, since it looks like we are going to have a fall season. Where do you think the Trojans “trap game” might be?
Caller No. 1, I think the big game will be when the Trojans host ASU in the Coliseum, but I wouldn’t call it a trap game. ASU almost beat the Trojans last season in Tempe without their starting QB. For me, the trap game candidates would be road games at Stanford and Utah. I think playing at Utah, especially if fans are allowed in the stands, is the bigger of those two trap games. Under Kyle Whittingham, Utah runs a true program, a physical program that succeeds with players not likely to be known quantities in the recruiting world. However, they are getting more high-profile recruiting interest each season due to their recent successes in the Pac-12. Even with key losses in personnel from their 2019 club, watch out for the Utes in 2020, especially at home.
Caller No. 2: Kitty, what might happen if current offensive coordinator Graham Harrell leaves for the NFL after this season or gets a new head college coaching job?
To be honest, Caller No. 2, I don’t expect Harrell to be at Troy much past the Kedon Slovis era if that long. I think Harrell wants to be a head college coach and if one of the major colleges in Texas has an opening, I wouldn’t be shocked if he went after it. I also think if he was offered an NFL OC job, he might jump at it. The bigger question to me is if Harrell goes and Clay Helton is still the HC at Troy, would he try and keep the Air Raid offense and find another disciple of that system?
Caller No. 3: Greg, if the Trojans don’t sign Korey Foreman, would you hold the new defensive staff accountable for the loss of the kid?
Caller No. 3, absolutely not. I think the new defensive staff has done a remarkable recruiting job considering the challenges. Until the Trojans can accomplish wins against high profile out-of-conference opponents (Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, etc.) and high-profile conference teams like Oregon, there will be a stigma that Clay Helton’s program cannot get to the next level, which would be a national championship level. Based on the records of the last two seasons combined (13-12), it’s more than perception because the record speaks for itself. In other words, just win, baby.
Caller No. 4: I am looking for USC football gear for the holiday season, any ideas or suggestions?
Caller No. 4, I would suggest going to the USC athletic website and click on “shop.” From there you can navigate the various shopping categories. The USC campus school Bookstore or the South Coast Plaza in Orange County are excellent places to shop. I’d suggest, however, that you call to see if they are open during this COVID-19 environment. In the past, I have found both places excellent places to go and have on occassion even ordered items online.
Caller No. 5: Sir, I’ve run out of DVDs at home to get my mind off of COVID-19. At this point, could you recommend a movie to rent or buy and I don’t care from what era that might be.
Caller No. 5, well, here’s a movie I watched a week or so ago with my girlfriend. Some of the older crowd might remember “The Summer of 42” starring Jennifer O’Neil and Gary Grimes. Rather than give you the plot, how about I just allow you to watch the movie trailer below, and you can make your own judgment.
The final word: After all the wheeling and dealings this past week regarding the Pac-12, there should be an air of optimism. So how much more excitement and interest would it be if the Trojans actually open up the abbreviated college football season in the Rose Bowl against UCLA? One thing for sure, the results of that game could make or break any positive excitement for this already very strange 2020 season.