COVID-19 questions loom over USC football’s scheduled game with Utah – Press Enterprise
Sunday afternoon, USC’s Clay Helton sent a text message to two members of the Pac-12 coaching fraternity, UCLA’s Chip Kelly and Cal’s Justin Wilcox. Helton wanted to congratulate the pair for making the best out of a bad situation and playing each other on less than two days’ notice following COVID-19 cancellations of their previously-scheduled appointments.
Could Helton’s 20th-ranked Trojans be the next team to make the quick pivot to a new opponent? Given USC’s upcoming opponent, Utah, has already had to cancel its first two games this year, it’s a real possibility.
“In today’s time, I don’t know if there’s any assurances anymore,” Helton said, chuckling through the chaos. “It does look like it’s trending in the right direction, from what I’ve heard. So we’ve got our fingers crossed.”
Things were trending positively for Utah’s date with UCLA this weekend, too. Then on Friday, a new positive COVID-19 test arose, causing another round of contact tracing and quarantines that caused the cancellation one day prior to kickoff.
And that’s when the Pac-12 had to schedule the in-state rivalry between the Bruins and Golden Bears out of thin air. Helton praised the conference for its “proactiveness” in making sure games get played.
If Utah’s unfortunate history were to repeat itself, Helton says USC (2-0) would happily change its plans at a moment’s notice, likening it to agreeing to play at 9 a.m. in the season opener.
“If something doesn’t work out and it’s postponed or canceled and there’s another opportunity, our kids just want to play,” Helton said. “And it doesn’t matter how much time it is before the game, as long as the pads can get there and we can get a plane to go some place.”
There has already been one cancellation in the Pac-12 this week. The conference announced on Sunday that the Arizona State-Colorado game would not go on as the Sun Devils continue to deal with a coronavirus outbreak within their program.
So that could raise the possibility of USC and the Buffaloes playing each other on short notice. Helton isn’t sure that would be the case, given that the division rivals already have a game on the schedule this season. As he noted, Arizona and Washington didn’t play each other in short notice in Week 1 because of that practicality.
But the schedule is in theory aligned for commissioner Larry Scott and Pac-12 football operations guru Merton Hanks to get even more creative.
As fate would have it, USC is scheduled to play Colorado on Nov. 28, the same date that Utah is supposed to play Arizona State. So if the Utes could not play this week, in theory, USC could play Colorado this weekend, and the Trojans and Utes could make up their game the following week while Arizona State faces the Buffaloes.
It’s a surreal possibility in a sport that likes to schedule games a decade in advance. But that’s what playing a season in the middle of a pandemic will do to you.
“I think we would go anywhere to have the opportunity to play,” Helton said. “I love the mentality of our kids right now. They just want to get to the next game and have the opportunity to play the next one.”
USC third-string quarterback Mo Hasan had surgery last week for compartment syndrome, Helton said. He is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.