This week we had reader questions about recruiting and tons of hypotheticals as to the 2020 football season, including overall record, defensive production, and whether it will finish as scheduled.
Q: When is the soonest we could have on campus visits?
A: Right now, the recruiting dead period runs through August 31, so Sept. 1 would be the earliest USC could host recruits on campus. I don’t fully know what to expect at this point, but it would surprise me a little bit if that Sept. 1 date remains in place. Based on what student-athletes have to go through for their return to campus, it’s tough to imagine how a program like USC will bring a recruit and his family to campus and tour the facility while adhering to those health and safety protocols they’ve set for the players–especially in light of the growing demands from players across the country related to coronavirus concerns.
Q: Do you think we have to go 10-0 for Foreman to commit?
A: I think it would help, but I don’t think a loss guarantees he’ll head somewhere else. But I would guess that three losses could be a magic number. With this schedule, two losses is probably a worst-case outcome if head coach Clay Helton is going to state absolutely that the team is much improved from last season. But Foreman will want to see a major step forward from the defense and how well he’ll fit there.
Q: It appears that a few states in the West have caught up to California when it comes to top tier offensive linemen. Why do you think that is? Is it the style of football the state plays?
A: A: I think it’s a little big cyclical, but it’s definitely concerning to see the numbers of elite offensive linemen in California dwindle to this point. If you watch film of the guys in Arizona, Utah and Washington, it’s not as if those programs are going with run-first, power offenses. The spread and Air Raid is everywhere now.
Q: Is there still a possibility of an OT transfer through the portal? What about transfers-in at other positions?
Can the football team conduct workouts using a football or is conditioning all that is allowed at this point?
Are the coaching/support staff positions filled for the season? I only see 3 GAs listed on the team roster of the 4 allowed. Any insight into who the remaining GA will be?
A: There’s always the possibility of a transfer coming through the portal because there’s always a chance of a name popping up in there at any point. But at this point, I haven’t seen USC going hard after anybody in there.
USC isn’t allowed to use a football with conditioning right now.
You’re right that there is still an opening for a defensive graduate assistant, though I haven’t heard any specific names floated as possibilities.
Q: Will media be allowed to watch fall camp?
A: We haven’t heard anything yet on media availability for fall camp or practices yet. I don’t like saying it, but it would probably alleviate a lot of potential headaches for the athletic department to keep things closed to media and spectators this fall.
Q: What do you project will be USC’s 2020 record (assuming it gets through a full schedule) with the new Pac-12 only schedule? Do they make the Pac-12 championship? If so, then win or lose?
A: I think there is the potential for this team to go 10-1. Arizona State and Stanford could both be games to watch in terms of swinging the season. I can see USC splitting the season series with Oregon, one during the regular season and one in the championship game, provided USC can get the championship game at the Coliseum.
Of course, that’s all based on watching one spring ball practice, but there are some quarterback questions with a lot of other programs and I think USC will be demonstrably better this year than last year.
Q: Surprisingly recruiting seems to have taken an uptick. Can you explain why?
A: This staff is now full of assistant coaches who love to recruit and there’s a better plan as to how to go about recruiting. USC simply wasn’t recruiting at full strength the past few years and it’s much closer to that now, if not at full capacity. This staff is competitive when it comes to everything, and that includes signing the best players.
Q: Any chance the season opener featuring two L.A. teams could be played elsewhere, like in Vegas at Raider stadium?
A: I think it’s far more likely that the two teams push the game back to December 12 and keep it at the Rose Bowl.
Q: There is no doubt in my mind the offense will be elite Graham Harrell is doing a fantastic job.
My question is do you see the defense improving in 2020 under Todd Orlando? Last year USC finished 78th in total defense. Texas not much better at 65th.
I’m my opinion:
A top 25 total defense is the benchmark for a NC contender.
How close can this team get to that?
A: If Todd Orlando has proven anything, it’s that he can get immediate improvement in his first year with a veteran defense. A top-25 defense doesn’t sound realistic based on what we saw last year, but with new quarterbacks at a few places in the Pac-12, there’s an outside chance at it.
Q: Erik, please look into your crystal ball and tell us how you think this WeAreUnited thing is going to play out? Will it be a different story if the season is moved or cancelled? How do you think it will effect SC’s recruiting?
A: I think it was striking that there were so many demands that covered so many topics. Now that it’s on the table, I think a discussion between the players and conference can continue. There is absolutely no way all of those points can be met by the start of the season, so the players will likely need to make a decision as to whether an ongoing discussion counts as the conference meeting their demands, or if they’re willing to sit out. I think the movement will have tons of support from players in the conference, but far fewer willing to actually take that step of sitting out in order to support it.
I think the Pac-12 overall and USC specifically will be helpful in finding ways to address all of the concerns raised in the statement. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be met, but I don’t see this as something that gets dismissed out of hand.
USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn has been upfront from the very beginning in his stance as a student-athlete-first athletic director and I think he’s going to be as involved as possible in making sure the student-athletes are heard. Head coach Clay Helton has also consistently stood behind his players when it comes to issues like this, and I think the combination of those two leading the way from the university’s side will help recruiting when it comes to this situation.
Q: Given the early results of adults playing Major League Baseball and covid results, do you honestly think that college kids will behave in such a manner to enable completion of (the already truncated) season? Do you think the “follow the money” pressure will push the season forward at almost any cause?
A: I’m actually getting more confident that student-athletes will behave in a manner that allows for a complete season (if that is the only measure that makes the season happen or not). They’ve seen the positive tests in other sports and what that’s done to the teams and the seasons, and I think starting after professional baseball and basketball is a benefit to college football–though it likely would be even better to follow professional football as well. With the way they have to quarantine and be removed from practice/competition following a positive test, I think many of the players know how seriously they need to take this–and that’s been represented by the Pac-12 players and now Big Ten players who have voiced their concerns about health and safety protocols.
I still think it’s questionable as to whether we see a full season play out exactly as scheduled, but I think there will be a major push to play it by all involved.