18 Jul 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Reaction to news, quasi-news and occasional non-news across the Pac-12, both on the field (and court) and off
The Trojans haven’t set foot on the field since early April but recently took a significant step toward long-haul improvement with an adjusted approach to scheduling.
They announced UC Davis as an opponent in 2021.
The move leaves UCLA and Notre Dame as the only major college programs to never schedule a team from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
(More on the Bruins below.)
We don’t know how often the Trojans will slot FCS opponents into future schedules, but the option will lighten their load when deemed necessary.
And it’s necessary.
USC’s path into the College Football Playoff – a path it has yet to navigate successfully – currently features 10 opponents from the Pac-12 (including the championship game), plus Notre Dame and two other FBS foes.
That’s 11 Power Five opponents, and sometimes 12, with a selection process that has not looked kindly on contenders with two losses.
Swap FBS for FCS – or Power Five for FCS – and USC’s prospects for 13-0/12-1 would brighten without materially damaging the strength-of-schedule.
But that’s not the only benefit to USC’s revamped approach.
The Pac-12 is loosening restrictions on the dates of nonconference games in future years, allowing teams to step out of league in October and November.
The change, in theory, will add balance to the 12-game schedule and provide a respite from the weekly grind when it’s most needed: during the stretch run.
But the vast majority of Power Five and Group of Five programs are locked into conference games at that point in the season.
FCS teams, on the other hand, have more flexibility, especially if the price is right.
If the Trojans want relief on the first Saturday of November, for example, they’re more likely to find a willing opponent in the FCS.
We won’t say the shift is overdue, because a program of USC’s stature should aim high.
But the realities of college football are different, with the conference championship game and the playoff, than they were a decade ago.
Rising: Oregon basketball
Not surprisingly, Coach Dana Altman has rounded up a handful of transfers to bolster his depleted roster and transform the outlook for the Ducks in 2020.
* Forward Shakur Juiston, who averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds for UNLV in two seasons ago, when he was last healthy.
• Guard Chris Duarte, the National Junior College Player of the Year from Northwest Florida State College.
• Guard Anthony Mathis, a grad transfer from New Mexico who averaged 14 points for the Lobos (and was a prep teammate of Payton Pritchard).
Add that trio to Pritchard, Will Richardson and Francis Okoro — plus heralded recruit C.J. Walker — and the Ducks have a core that could compete for a top-tier finish.
Altman does an exceptional job not only attracting but assimilating newcomers, using an offensive system that can be easily grasped and quickly tweaked to fit his personnel.
The Hotline isn’t planning to update our order-of-finish projections until the fall, but Oregon assuredly will move into the top half.
Altman’s latest merry band of transfers should carry a wallop.
Falling: Washington State football.
The list of Pac-12 teams that can afford to lose all-conference defensive backs unexpectedly is, well, nonexistent.
The back line is more important than any unit, with the possible exception of edge rushers, given the offensive schemes that dominate the sport.
And WSU lost a good one recently – one of the best, in fact.
In late June, just before the Hotline headed out on vacation, WSU announced safety Jalen Thompson would enter the NFL supplemental draft after being declared ineligible for his final season in Pullman.
He purchased an over-the-counter supplement at a local nutrition store, according to the Spokesman-Review, and that supplement apparently was on the NCAA’s no-no list. (It was not a steroid, the S-R added.)
An honorable mention all-conference selection last season and a second-team pick in 2017, Thompson’s departure is a major blow to a defense already thumped by attrition.
(In the secondary alone, the Cougars must replace starting cornerbacks Darrien Molton and Sean Harper, nickelback Hunter Dale and now Thompson, the anchor.)
Mike Leach has infused the roster with a level of quality depth that few could have imagined five or six years ago, and his shrewd coordinator hires (Alex Grinch and Tracy Claeys) have maximized the personnel.
The Cougars faced a significant challenge on defense in 2019 prior to Thompson’s departure.
Now, his task looks daunting.
Falling: UCLA football.
As noted above in the USC section, the Bruins and Notre Dame are the last teams standing in the FCS no-play category.
Their philosophy – a sound one, we should add – has always been that fans want to see quality opponents in the Rose Bowl and that UCLA should have the personnel to compete against anyone.
And to a certain extent, pride was part of the calculation.
But given the realities of the sport, the Bruins should swallow hard and open their schedule to FCS opponents.
Then: The Rose Bowl was the ultimate goal, and nonconference games played no role in that pursuit.
Now: Every loss counts in the CFP era, with the conference championship providing an added challenge.
And in our view, fans don’t differentiate between UC Davis and San Jose State, or Northern Arizona and Utah State, when contemplating a ticket purchase and drive to the stadium.
The Bruins, for the reasons stated in the USC section, should change their strategy.
And they can always say USC caved first.
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