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Pac-12 football plans remain in holding pattern

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The Pac-12 took a significant step toward joining the Big Ten in playing football in the fall, getting clearance to hold full-fledged practices from the states of California and Oregon.

Early Wednesday, the Big Ten grabbed headlines by changing course and agreeing to set an an eight-game football schedule that would start the weekend of Oct. 24.

The Pac-12 also has reconsidered starting its football season this fall, but it has more hurdles to clear. Half of its schools have been unable to ramp up preparation for the season because of restrictions put in place by state and local authorities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Later Wednesday, the Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced a breakthrough with the California and Oregon governors that was helped along by the conference’s plans to soon begin testing athletes daily for the virus.

“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing,” Scott said.

He added: “Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition.”

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 announced a partnership that would give the conference’s schools the capacity to perform daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes. Scott has called the testing a “game-changer” and it certainly proved to be so in the Big Ten. That league’s university presidents unanimously voted to return to competition in all fall sports and said their schools will begin daily antigen testing on Sept. 30.

The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference’s options. Because of the restrictions, it might take the teams that had been limited, including conference favorites Oregon and Southern California, more than a month to be ready to play. An Oct. 24 start, lined up with the Big Ten, could be challenging.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Scott spoke Wednesday. While there was some confusion about how the state’s rule limiting athletic activities to groups of no more than 12 could allow for football practice, ultimately things landed in a good place for the conference.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesman said the two Pac-12 schools in that state met with the the Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday to discuss COVID-19 heath and safety plans for football and ask for a exemption to current sports guidance. An exemption has already be given to Oregon professional sports teams.

“We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval,” Charles Boyle said in a statement.

Boyle said no plans had been received yet from the Pac-12.

“We want Oregon and Oregon State players to be able to focus on football while protecting their health and safety,” Boyle said. “We also want to ensure that team practices will not be derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak that would threaten the health not only of the players and coaches, but of their university communities and the wide communities of Eugene and Corvallis.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided Aug. 11 to postpone all fall sports until January due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Football in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 started last week, with the Southeastern Conference set to kick off its season on Sept. 26.

President Donald Trump pushed for the Big Ten to get back to football and had a similar sentiment for the Pac-12.

“I want to recommend Pac-12, you’re the only one now,” Trump said. “Open up, open up Pac-12.”

Smart: Georgia’s starting QB likely a game-time decision

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ATLANTA — Georgia still hasn’t decided on a new starting quarterback, and coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday he Will Likely wait until the season opener to reveal who earned the job.

JT Daniels, a transfer from Southern Cal who was granted permission by the NCAA to play right away, is the most notable contender to take over for three-year starter Jake Fromm.

But Daniels has yet to be fully cleared from a season-ending knee injury sustained in 2019. Redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis put on an impressive showing with the first team during a scrimmage last weekend at Sanford Stadium, leading to speculation that he’s got the upper hand for the starting spot.

“As far as I can tell, it’s probably going to be a game-time decision,” Smart said.

The No. 4 Bulldogs open the season Sept. 26 at Arkansas.

Smart is used to this sort of quandary. In his first season at Georgia in 2016, senior Grayson Lambert started the opener but freshman Jacob Eason came in early, got the start the following week and held the job the rest of the season.

In 2017, Eason started the opener but was injured, clearing the way for Fromm to take over the job. He led the Bulldogs to the national championship game, prompting Eason to transfer to Washington.

That didn’t end the quarterback debate. Georgia landed another highly rated recruit, Justin Fields, who got some playing time in 2018 but never beat out Fromm. Fields moved on to Ohio State, where he put up much better numbers than Fromm while leading the Buckeyes to the 2019 College Football Playoff.

Now, the Bulldogs have another QB battle on their hands – one that took an unexpected twist two weeks ago when transfer Jamie Newman, who started last year at Wake Forest, opted out of the season because of COVID-19.

“It’s not a problem for me,” Smart said. “It’s getting to be the norm around here. We’ve had it before. It’s not a concern among the staff or the organization or the kids. We talk a lot with the kids about it to make sure they understand where we are.”

Mathis went through a scary ordeal after enrolling at Georgia, requiring brain surgery to remove a cyst. He returned to the scout team late last season and is fully recovered.

“I remember going to see him in the hospital. All his family members were there. It was a scary, scary moment,” Smart said. “But he pushed through that.”

Daniels tore up a knee in the opener of his sophomore season with the Trojans, and Smart revealed that he also needed follow-up surgery late in the year to clean up some additional issues. He is able to practice but can’t have any contact.

“JT is not completely cleared yet,” Smart said. “If we didn’t think he would be cleared (for the opener), we wouldn’t be practicing him.”

Daniels is by far the most experienced of the four quarterbacks on the roster. He was only the second quarterback in Southern Cal history to start the opener as a true freshman and went on to pass for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2018.

Mathis has never played in a college game. Neither has freshman Carson Beck.

Junior Stetson Bennett played a handful of snaps last season in a mop-up role behind Fromm, but it looks like the starting job is down to a two-man race between Mathis and Daniels.

USC pauses workouts

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Southern California has paused the workouts of its football and men’s water polo teams until at least Monday after a combined eight positive COVID-19 tests in the programs.

The school claims it determined through contact tracing that all eight athletes contracted the virus off campus. The athletes have been isolated.

USC will conduct another round of COVID-19 testing for both programs this week.

During the school’s previous five weeks of testing, the football, men’s water polo, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball programs had returned just one combined positive test.