If everything had gone as planned, USC football would have had a relaxing Saturday, basking in the glow of a Pac-12 championship as the players and coaches watched and waited to see who their Fiesta Bowl opponent would be.

But nothing went according to the Trojans’ plan in Friday’s Pac-12 title game. USC (5-1) fell behind by two touchdowns early and was never able to draw even in a 31-24 loss to Oregon.

And instead of having its fate sealed, USC (5-1) has a decision to make regarding whether it wants to participate in the bowl season.

A Pac-12 championship would have guaranteed USC a spot in the New Year’s Six, the elite slate of bowl games that serve as a national showcase against one of the best teams in the country. With the Rose Bowl set to serve as a College Football Playoff semifinal – for the time being, anyway – the Pac-12 winner seems likely to go to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl.

But that Pac-12 participant will be Oregon (4-2), not the Trojans. Which would, theoretically, in a normal season, relegate USC to the Alamo Bowl, the Pac-12’s second-tier bowl game.

But there’s nothing normal about 2020. Like other teams across the country, USC’s players have made countless sacrifices to make this football season happen.

Since arriving on campus in July, the Trojans have had to live by a spartan regimen: COVID-19 testing every morning, practices in the afternoon, boxed meals eaten in solitude due to concerns about virus spread, and few if any opportunities to socialize in person with family or friends.

Last month, even the local USC players could not go home for Thanksgiving. They had to eat a boxed turkey dinner, not in a group setting, but alone once they got back to their dorms or apartments.

So signing up for a bowl game with limited significance would mean volunteering to spend Christmas and New Year’s away from family again.

And it’s not as if this would be a typical bowl experience. Last year at the Holiday Bowl, the Trojans were taken to an aircraft carrier and got to experience some of what San Diego had to offer. Given the COVID-19 precautions, USC would likely fly to San Antonio the day before the Alamo Bowl, just like any other road trip.

These factors are why several teams across the country have decided to opt out of bowl games, including USC’s Pac-12 fellows UCLA, Stanford and Utah.

USC had yet to consider its options as of Friday night after the loss to Oregon.

“I haven’t thought one second past this game. Those are things to talk about in the future,” head coach Clay Helton said in his postgame press conference. “Right now, we have a bunch of kids that just gave their absolute heart and soul that are hurt, and I’m gonna focus on that.”

There are certainly reasons to play, too. USC has talked all season about treasuring any and all opportunities to take the field. And there are several upperclassmen who might be considering leaving for the NFL who might want one last opportunity to play as a Trojan.

But do those considerations outweigh the reasons to call it a season after six games? That’s for USC’s coaches and players to decide.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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