Pac-12 teams negotiating a high-wire act to get a season finished
With so much uncertainty ahead, Pac-12 football teams are doing everything they can to make sure they get enough games in to legitimately be considered for a bowl. Any bowl.
UCLA and California even got together and scheduled their own Sunday morning game last week at the Rose Bowl. But time is not on the Pac-12’s side as the league enters its third weekend with coronavirus cases spiking across the nation.
No Pac-12 team has had it worse than Utah. The Utes have seen their first two games of the shortened season canceled because of COVID-19 outbreaks, but on Saturday night they’re set to host No. 20 Southern California (2-0).
Asked what Utah can accomplish this season, coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes just want to play at this point.
“I think we’re the only Power Five team that hasn’t played yet, so that's first and foremost — just get on the field and getting an actual game, see what we’ve got,” he said.
Whittingham didn’t rule out on-the-fly scheduling to get in games, similar to what the Bruins and Cal pulled off.
“As long as it’s not a health and safety factor for our players, we’re good to go,” he said.
Whittingham added that it would not be ideal to prepare for one team, then at the last minute switch gears and prepare for another opponent. “But this is a unique year, unique circumstances, and you’ve to be ready to adapt and make changes,” he said.
Four Pac-12 teams — Cal, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State — have played just once this season. Five games have been canceled, including Colorado’s meeting with the Sun Devils on Saturday. An outbreak at Arizona State left the team without enough available players.
Buffaloes coach Karl Dorrell then spent the week seeing if another Pac-12 game got canceled, so that Colorado (2-0) could potentially play the unaffected team.
“We are on high alert for anything and everything that could happen in this given week,” Dorrell said. “It’s a year where everything can change day to day.”
The possibility remains that division games could be made up the final weekend of the season (Dec. 18-19) for the teams that are not in the Pac-12 championship game. The NCAA already has ruled that teams do not have to finish at .500 to be eligible for bowl games.
Bowl prospects could shrink further, too. The Pac-12 initially had eight bowl partners, but is now down to six because the Redbox Bowl and the Holiday Bowl have been canceled for this season.
Under pressure to get games in, Cal and UCLA threw together their impromptu Sunday game in less than 48 hours. The Bruins emerged with a 34-10 victory.
“I don’t know what the future holds, so every opportunity that you get to play football in a safe environment, and that is the one thing that we ask all the time, as long as it is going to be safe, then we’ll go play,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said.
“Our players (are) appreciative of the fact they get an opportunity. We’ve got two games in so far and there are teams in our league — I feel for Kyle Whittingham and Utah. I feel for that group.”
So far, USC and No. 11 Oregon (2-0) appear to be in the best shape for a bowl bid, after what is likely to be a meeting between the two for the league championship.
Oregon, which hosts UCLA on Saturday, has perhaps the most to lose from canceled games. The Ducks need to win all seven games to be considered for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff. It doesn’t help Oregon if the rest of the league struggles.
The San Jose Mercury News reported this week that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott asked the College Football Playoff management committee to consider pushing back the playoffs, but the idea was nixed Wednesday. The semifinals are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, with the national championship game set for Jan. 11.
“Everything has to be on the table, right? Since no one wrote a handbook for this thing,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “As time goes on and scenarios pop up, everybody’s got to put their heads together to try to figure out what the best scenario is for the players, for the sake of the season and the guys that have actually opted in and gone all in and played.”