In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The schedule maker: After the Pac-12 announced on Thursday afternoon that it will begin play on Friday, Nov. 6, wouldn’t it seem logical to have also released the official conference schedule? On Saturday, according to Commissioner Larry Scott, the abbreviated 2020 conference-only schedule of games will be released by the end of next week. Oh, the anticipation. Somebody please pass me a bottle of Maalox or a carton of Tums. Then again, maybe the Pac-12 still has to receive official clearance from the Big Ten before releasing the schedule.
The schedule maker – Part 2: What we do know is that the Trojans will be playing every team in the Pac-12 South Division. It also figures that the two South teams the Trojans were originally scheduled to play in the Coliseum (ASU and Colorado) will still come to LA, and the three road opponents (Arizona, Utah, UCLA) probably won’t change either. The original schedule sequence of Pac-12 South teams may change, but there is the element of intrigue regarding just who will be Troy’s out-of-division opponent. Logic would seem to dictate that the Trojans should get an out-of-division home game to even their overall schedule to three home games and three road games. Other wise it would be two home games and four road games.
The schedule maker – Part 3: If you’re trying to figure out just who will be the Trojans’ out-of-division opponent, let me put on my Master’s in Athletic Administration and Coaching hat (yes, I actually have that MAAC Master’s Degree from Concordia University) and give a logical scenario. The likely out-of-division candidates would figure to be Washington or Cal, who were already scheduled to come to the Coli in 2020. If team travel distance is an issue, then it would seem that Cal would be the lone out-of-division game.
The schedule maker – Part 4: Although it’s just conjecture on my part, I don’t expect the Trojans to travel to Oregon because the Trojans would then have that unbalanced schedule of two home games and four road games – obviously inequitable. I expect the Trojans to open the season with the mandatory out-of-division opponent. That said, it wouldn’t shock me if the Trojans hosted the Pac-12 North’s Cal Bears on Friday night, which if televised would bring in a large Los Angeles and Bay Area television markets and perhaps a curious national audience. What we don’t know is if there will be any built-in scheduling byes in case of COVID-19 postponements.
The schedule maker – Part 5: The Cal Bears would certainly be a formidable opponent for an opener whether the game is played on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. The knock on a Friday night game could be the Trojans were originally scheduled for a Friday night game at Utah. It would seem unreasonable for any team in a shortened schedule to have two Friday night games. Well, maybe Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, in his divine wisdom, will elect to experiment with early Saturday morning (9 a.m. PST) kickoffs, especially when there will be no fans at the games.
The schedule maker – Part 6: To be clear, the seventh and final game is what is being billed as “Championship weekend.” This final climax to this chaotic season will feature the title game between the North and South divisional winners on Friday night, Dec.18, which, according to reports, will be played on the home field of the team with the best overall record through six games. However, what happens if the Trojans and Oregon finish the season 6-0? Where will the championship game be played? Objectively speaking, again it’s assumed there will be no fans in the stands anyway, thus neutralizing any home field advantage.
The schedule maker – Part 7: Following the Friday night championship game, on Saturday, Dec. 19, the matchups will feature the Pac-12 South’s final order of finish against the Pac-12 North’s final order of finish (ex. No. 2 South vs No. 2 North, No. 3 South vs No. 3 North, etc.). Just which teams will be the designated home team is still a mystery. Got it so far? I actually like the format of matching up the North and South by seeding each team’s final spot in their respective divisional standings.
The schedule maker – Part 8: From a post-season bowl game perspective, those Saturday “Championship Weekend” matchups could play a big role in bowl invitations. Because of this crazy season, the NCAA is waiving for the minimum number of wins requirement. Who knows if fans will be allowed to watch any of the bowl games in person or at what limited numbers?
The schedule maker – Part 9: Hopefully, when the schedule is released next week, all rivalry games will be played at the end of the truncated regular season before Championship Weekend. Rivalry Weekend would make a great climax to the regular season. In the past several seasons, TV, unfortunately has spread the rivalry games out and sometimes not even on the same weekend. Let’s get back to some tradition, please. Larry Scott, you have heard of tradition, right?
The schedule maker – Part 10: Don’t know about you, but it’s time to move on regardless of your position on when, where, or if the Pac-12 should be playing in the spring or not at all. We’re playing Nov.6 – depending on our little COVID-19 friend – so let’s get it on with what we have left. BTW, with no fans allowed to attend any of this season’s Pac-12 conference games, it’s time to fire up the backyard immediate family tailgater.
From the press box…
Playoff dark horse: So, with the return of the Pac-12, what happens now with the College Football Playoffs (CFP)? Commissioner Larry Scott, who is part of the CFP management team, says the playoffs will remain a four-team format this season (boo, boo) and will not expand to an eight-team format. On Saturday, Scott said, “There’s no reason an impressive 7-0 Pac-12 Champion shouldn’t be in the CFP conversation.” The Commish also said that the number of overall total games played won’t be a factor in selecting the four teams when it’s all said and done. And if you believe that, you believe that COVID-10 is no longer a pandemic.
Playoff dark horse– Part 2: Folks, don’t hold your breath that even an impressive undefeated Pac-12 team in the end will get an honest look. Even Commissioner Scott deep in his heart knows the chances of a Pac-12 team cracking into the “Final Four” is slim to none, so help me Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and (fill in the blank). Get the picture?
Playoff dark horse – Part 3: The Pac-12 at best will be a dark horse for a CFP selection. Once the conferences are power ranked, that figures to put the Pac-12 near the bottom of the ladder. Well, at least the conference will get some playoff money for playing a “regular” season in the fall. Oh, that’s right, money had nothing to do with the Pac-12 now playing in the fall.
The big question: Will USC star offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker and All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele, both of whom made the earlier decision to head to the NFL because they thought there wasn’t going to be a fall USC football season, return to the Trojans to play in 2020? Tufele would need a waiver since he has reportedly signed with an agent, but Vera-Tucker has not signed and would not need a waiver.
The big question – Part 2: The bigger question regarding Jay Tufele and Alijah Vera-Tucker is do they want to return for a seven-game season? Prediction: It seems more likely that Vera-Tucker returns than Tufele, but Clay Helton said he would welcome back both players in a Tommy Trojan heartbeat as would their teammates.
Money ball: Did the Pac-12 give in to College Football Playoff money to play in the fall? No, not according to Oregon president Michael Schill. The UO prez said,“Let me just say one thing it was not about, this has nothing to do with money. It was never once mentioned as a consideration. The losses that schools are encountering and in particular our athletic departments are huge. The amount of money that will be paid as a result of going back to play is tiny in comparison with the losses. It had no effect on our decision.” Not normally a conspiracy theorist, I had to laugh when I first heard Schill’s mea culpa regarding money.
Money ball – Part 2: As far as the part of “the amount of money that will be paid as a result of going back to play is tiny in comparison with the losses” is giggling material. Come on, dude, in the dire straits that college athletic budgets are in, “tiny” money is better than no money. I don’t disagree that the players want to play badly and the conference has great compassion for that.
Money ball – Part 3: Do you really think that any of the Pac-12 reps would even publicly say money had at least something to do with the decision? If they did, the outcry of money over student-athlete safety would be deafening. The next time the Pac-12 goes negotiating a rich TV contract, maybe it can say to the network bean counters, “Money isn’t important, we just want our games televised for the kids. It’s all about the kids.”
Oh Carol: Maybe I missed it, but has USC President Carol Folt put out a statement regarding the Pac-12’s return to play college football in November? Just asking.
The post-game show…
Roll Tide: After watching No. 2 Alabama roll over host Missouri 38-19, I doubt deep down Clay Helton is depressed over not opening against Nick Saban’s powerhouse program. The Trojans are just not there yet in talent as well as other necessities.
Good news: Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell was on Saturday’s FOX Big Noon pregame show and was asked by former Trojans Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart about the Trojans offensive prospects. Harrell replied, “Kedon Slovis is as special a player as I’ve ever been around, a great receiving corps, and a good offensive line.” A good offensive line? That certainly disputes the naysayers that say that the Trojans 2020 offensive line is questionable. Hopefully, the coach is correct in his early evaluations.
The recruiting map: As you know, the Trojans got a verbal commitment for the Class of 2022 from quarterback Devon Brown of Queens Creek (Ariz.) High FYI, Queens Creek is located approximately 34 miles southeast of Phoenix.
The vote: In case you missed it, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced 130 Modern-Era nominees for its Class of 2021, and former Trojans All-America tackle Tony Boselli is again part of the selection ballot.
The evidence: The case for voting Tony Boselli, who was the second pick of the 1995 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, into the Pro Football Hall of Fame includes being named to the Pro Bowl five times – following the 1996-2000 seasons – and a second-team selection to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade team. He was a three-time first-team Associated Press All-Pro selection before shoulder injuries cut his career short after seven seasons.
Vote: Speaking of voting, USC’s Galen Center, home to the Trojan men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams, will serve as a voting site from Oct. 30 through Election Day on Nov. 3.
Vote – Part 2: To prevent the spread of COVID-19, strict protocols will be enforced at the Galen Center for voting, including required wearing of masks, social distancing, frequent sanitizing of hands and equipment, adequate ventilation and one-directional foot traffic.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Greg, now that we’re going to have a fall season, do you have confidence that Trojans offensive line coach Tim Drevno can get the job done if Alijah Vera-Tucker doesn’t return?
Caller No. 1, I do think that Coach Drevno can get the job done in terms of coaching what he has. If Alijah Vera-Tucker returns, Drevno turns into even a better coach. The challenge is what he has to work with. It’s not a state secret that the Trojans are trying to be competitive with a large group of recruits that more often than not have been rated 3-star projects. Not all, but most. Fundamentally, I think Drevno will get the best out of them. There does, however, come a point that fundamentals can take you only so far. There will be no hiding the offensive line as the season unfolds. Trust me, nobody wants the rebuilt O-line to succeed more than quarterback Kedon Slovis, whose health depends on it.
Caller No. 2: Sir, with the Pac-12 returning in early November, would you be surprised if strong safety Talanoa Hufanga forgoes leaving school early for the NFL draft and returns to the team?
No, Caller No. 2, not at all. Given a chance to move up in the draft with an impressive seven games, I think that Talanoa would be making the right decision to play with the Trojans this fall. The kid – if he can remain healthy – can do himself a great service by having an outstanding junior season.
Caller No. 3: Katz, do you think that COVID-19 will play a part in the success or failure of the Pac-12’s modest season?
Caller No. 3, I am not a betting man, but can anybody really figure out how the COVID-19 will impact the Pac-12 this season? I think we all hope for the best, and hopefully the Pac-12 is really going to be a leader in protecting the student-athletes. As important, it will behoove the players to police themselves and look after each other to make sure nobody is put into a very uncompromising position that affects themselves and the team.
Caller No. 4: GK, do you think that we will see more of a running game from offensive coordinator Graham Harrell this season?
Caller No. 4, I am not sure if you’re going to see an impact on the ground, and some of that has to do with a new offensive line, which may or may not have its best player in Alijah Vera-Tucker. Then there is the one offensive line constant with Clay Helton offenses – the lack of physicality. That’s certainly something to monitor. Last, of course, is IF the Trojans show they can run the ball, how committed will Graham Harrell be to rushing the football? This season will show how much Harrell has matured as an offensive coordinator and if he is willing to alter his passing frame of mind to incorporate a legit running attack.
Caller No. 5: Dude, this might be a stupid question, but what is your definition of work?
There’s always one in the crowd that has to rain on the parade. Since I don’t duck questions, I will give you my definition of work: Work is when you get paid to do something you don’t like doing. Conversely, the ultimate goal is to find something you like and actually get paid for doing it. I remember sitting in the press box at Autzen Stadium next to The Times Gary Klein and agreeing that “can you believe we sit in the press box, enjoy the game, eat a free meal, give our opinion of the game, and they pay us to do it?” Not a bad gig, I think you’d agree.
The final word: Are you ready for some football…USC football? From here on out, the anticipation will build towards the weekend of Nov. 6 even if you can’t see your beloved Trojans in person. Given what we’ve all experienced, even watching the Trojans on television certainly beats the alternative, which I think you will agree.