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Musings from Arledge: Pac-12’s relevance, Notre Dame’s wins and Oregon’s loss

We’ve arrived at that special time of the 2020 season where nobody knows whether they’ll be able to play their next game. It’s like every football program in the country is grounded but has a mom that often forgets to enforce her disciplinary edicts, so they’re on the phone with friends Thursday night, not sure if their plans are possible or not.

“Are you coming Saturday?”

“Dude, I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything. I think maybe she’s forgotten, but I’m not sure.”

All of college football is sitting around hoping COVID has forgotten about their program. This week, USC was one of the unlucky ones. In the past, Pac-12 teams that missed a game because of COVID concerns rarely played the following week either. The Trojans may soon find themselves with a four-game schedule.

Still, the conference was right to play. Despite all of the predictions of gloom, I haven’t seen any evidence that playing football has endangered anybody. Currently, about 4% of Los Angeles County has tested positive for the virus. Thus, USC’s couple of cases seems to be consistent with the numbers for the population at-large. But in reality, of course, USC has fared much better. As I know from personal experience, young (relatively young, in my case) and healthy people often feel little in the way of symptoms from the virus. Thus, there are undoubtedly many more people who have gotten COVID in the Los Angeles area and simply never got tested and don’t show up in the official numbers. Playing football (at least in those places without fans in the stadium) probably hasn’t increased the spread of COVID among players or non-players, and there’s no reason to believe that any of these young, healthy
college football players is in any danger. (From COVID, that is. They’re all in danger from other football-related issues.)

I think this outcome was predictable all along. As are these cancellations in light of the rules of engagement that were agreed upon. How many games Pac-12 teams will play is anybody’s guess. It was a mistake to start late, and it was a mistake to take two extra weeks to prepare compared to the Big 10, since that left no available bye weeks. The Pac 12 teams might play an average of only four or five games this year.

But that’s enough games to know that the Pac 12 still isn’t nationally relevant.

We’ve seen USC three times. USC is an above-average football team (maybe?) but nowhere near an elite squad. And nobody else in the conference is worth anything either. Stanford is back to the old Stanford. Washington is nothing to worry about. Oregon is fool’s gold again. During Oregon’s latest debacle, as the Ducks gave up 41 points and the game to a weak Oregon State team, the announcers kept talking about the impact on the Pac 12’s playoff chances. I kept wondering when Jim Mora would pop on the screen and deliver some hard-hitting reality. Playoffs!? You kidding me!?

I think we can safely conclude that the Pac-12 has no business talking about playoffs. Alabama and Clemson would be 20-point favorites over USC or Oregon, and they’d cover if they wanted to.

For all the troubles in the Pac 12, this conference at least seems ripe for the picking. In Carroll’s first year at USC, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington were all top-10 teams. Jeff Tedford and Cal would quickly become one also with one of the best offensive backfields in conference history. The current
conference is a shell of its former self. Obviously, Urban Meyer would dominate the conference. But Urban is a monster; he would likely dominate anywhere. But it probably wouldn’t take an all-time great like Meyer. They may not be interested, and USC may be content to tread water and pretend to care, but Luke Fickell and Matt Campbell must at least have considered the possibility that they could dominate the weak sisters of the west coast and win 11 or more games every year. It’s doable, if USC finds anybody competent and willing to take the wheel. And while the Pac 12 might be the ugly stepsister of conferences, taking a job at a Power Five conference that you can dominate year-in-and-year-out isn’t exactly a bad career move.

I didn’t think he would pull it off, but Brian Kelly has the Irish machine running like a return of Lou Holtz.

He is now 42-6 since his disastrous 4-8 season, and his old-school formula – big, powerful offensive lines, a strong running game, attacking defense – seems to be a winner. Replacing the assistants usually doesn’t work. Kelly, of course, was a good coach before that terrible season, having had two undefeated regular seasons under his belt before that year, so if you’re going to trust a coach to turn a program around with a new staff, he was as likely to succeed as anybody. Still, it’s unusual, impressive, and more than a little depressing.

This would have been the weekend of the USC-Notre Dame game. And anybody who reads Musings knows that I love the Notre Dame rivalry; it’s my favorite game of the year, every year, and likely always will be. But in a rivalry where both teams have plenty of bad memories of what the other has done to them over the years, I’m not exactly thrilled by the thought of Notre Dame taking a little historical revenge on a weak USC program as they march toward a playoff appearance. In a year without silver linings, that’s one.

By the way, I’m so sorry. I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed watching Oregon lose. Every Duck loss is a beautiful loss, of course. If the Ducks lose their next 700 games, that still won’t be enough. Oregon is everything that’s wrong with college football: no tradition, no class, no uniforms that aren’t a disgrace. It’s a program built on video games, the ready availability of weed, and a never-ending parade of tasteless uniform designs.

Imagine you had a group of 13-year-old boys who wanted to take woodshop as their elective, but woodshop was full, and they were forced to take fashion design instead. Then imagine these embarrassed, distressed boys were tasked with designing uniforms for a college football team as their first assignment.

Oregon’s uniforms is what you’d get. The boys might not be willing to blow off the project entirely – they don’t want their parents getting angry over missing assignments and a failing grade – but they’d have no desire to participate in good-faith. So they’d botch it intentionally. They’d give the teacher a project that is little more than a giant middle finger to good taste and class, an intentional embarrassment. That there are some people who look at Oregon’s uniforms and prefer them to classics like Michigan’s, Notre Dame’s, and USC’s is remarkable to me.

The only thing almost as ugly is what Oregon State wore the other night, which made the Oregon-Oregon State game the single most aesthetically displeasing sporting event of all time. Oregon in their ridiculous Human Highlighter uniforms. Oregon State in their pumpkin attire. Mother Nature in such distress that she kept trying to send fog to cover it up. So ugly.

Remember that scene from There’s Something About Mary when the creepy Matt Dillon is trying to spy on Mary and instead gets an eyeful of the wrinkled old lady in a state of undress? That’s how it felt when I first turned on Oregon-Oregon State the other night. Is there anything uglier? Notre Dame’s student body? Pat Haden’s tenure as AD? WWI trench warfare when mustard gas was introduced? Maybe. Not sure. Just ugly. So very ugly.

Yet also so beautiful in the end. You’re asking if I’d like to watch Oregon’s defense get gashed and humiliated by a junior college team in jerseys the color of a bad spray-tan? Yes, please.

Graham Harrell seemed genuinely surprised that Utah didn’t repeat last year’s mistake and leave its corners on an island against USC’s wide receivers.

Umm, really, Coach? Kyle Whittingham ignored the blueprint that BYU gave the entire country on how to defend USC last year. It blew up in his face. And you thought he’d do it again, just with a less-experienced secondary? You must think Kyle Whittingham is as stubborn as you and Coach Helton are.

Word of advice: everybody is going to drop into a soft zone and force USC to deal with it. Everybody. The world knows that USC is not able or willing (I think willing) be make them pay by running it down their throats, and it’s clear now that without being able to hit the big play downfield, the USC offense just isn’t scary. Nobody is going to put their corners on an island with Amon-Ra or Drake London and hope for the best. They’re going to play soft, keep everything in front, and watch USC’s offense self-destruct on the majority of their possessions. They’ll do it because they know you won’t adjust.

Not much else to talk about this week. Maybe we’ll have a game to discuss next week. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe the sports world will care. Or maybe it won’t. Until then….Carthago delenda est.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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