Cal-USC postponed over positive COVID-19 tests

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
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BERKELEY, Calif. — California’s game against Southern California was postponed after a series of positive coronavirus tests in the Golden Bears program, the first major college football game to be rescheduled this season because of COVID-19.

Cal played last week at Arizona without starting quarterback Chase Garbers and six other starters because of positive tests that knocked out 24 players and assistant coaches. The Bears lost 10-3 to Arizona.

Cal announced that a few additional players tested positive this week, leaving Cal with not enough players at an unidentified position group, leading to the postponement.

“It left us with an inability to compete safely,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said, leading to what he called the “difficult decision” to move the game.

Coach Justin Wilcox said he was upset for the fans and the players but added there was no choice.

“Postponing this game was a last resort and not an action any of us wanted to take; however, it was not possible for us to field a team on Saturday,” Wilcox said.

The game could have been declared a forfeit under Pac-12 rules, but Cal and USC came to an agreement to move the game to Dec. 4, the day after the Pac-12 championship game.

“We’re excited that both USC and Cal could agree that we still want to play this game,” Knowlton said. “We want to do it for our student-athletes. It’s really important because it’s our last home game and it gives us a chance to celebrate our seniors.”

Knowlton said he anticipates Cal being able to resume practice next week and play the Big Game against rival Stanford as scheduled on Nov. 20.

Cal’s ordeal started last week when a symptomatic player tested positive for COVID-19. Cal had not been regularly testing asymptomatic players throughout the season but began testing close contacts and eventually the entire team, leading to the two dozen positive tests.

Garbers criticized school and Berkeley city officials in a Twitter post, saying they had not been transparent over whether COVID-19 tests for vaccinated players are recommended or mandated.

“We have worked too hard to have someone take this all away from us. It is wrong,” Garbers wrote. “We deserve answers and transparent communication.”

Knowlton said it was ultimately his call based on recommendations from city health officials to require asymptomatic players to test or otherwise be prohibited from playing.

“It couldn’t be any more confusing during these times where you’re trying to figure out how to do the right thing and what is the right thing,” Knowlton said. “I applaud our student-athletes for being vocal and wanting to know what’s going on. The bottom line for us is that (Berkeley health officials) gave us recommendations and we implemented those recommendations to keep our kids safe.”

Cal said 99% of its players are vaccinated but several have tested positive anyway and are required by the city to isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status. Knowlton said he asked whether it was possible to test out of that isolation like some pro teams have done but was told that wasn’t allowed.

Knowlton acknowledged that Cal may be operating under more stringent protocols than other schools because of guidance from Berkeley health officials but didn’t question their advice.

“I don’t think there’s any anyone that would not agree that maybe California has been more conservative and that this area has been more conservative,” Knowlton said. “But it’d be hard to argue with the results. … But again, that’s beyond me. I’m just here to execute and support the guidance that we get.”

USC interim coach Donte Williams said his team found out about the postponement prior to practice on Tuesday. Since the Trojans don’t have to prepare for the Bears, they shortened their workout Tuesday and will spend the rest of the week preparing for their rivalry game against UCLA next Saturday.

At 4-5 overall, 3-4 in Pac-12 play, USC must win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible. Williams said there was no interest in seeking a forfeit by Cal, which would have left USC needing just a win at home against the Bruins or No. 14 BYU on Nov. 27 to reach the postseason.

“We want to play the game, and a forfeit is not the way to go, and that’s not the way you want to qualify for a bowl game,” Williams said. “Our whole thing is fighting on and competing, right, that’s our biggest thing is competing and I’m pretty sure they want to compete against us so we look forward to the opportunity.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.