The streak had been scheduled to end on Sept. 4, 2021. For the first time in program history, USC would welcome an opponent from outside the Football Bowl Subdivision, paying UC Davis to come to the Coliseum, in exchange for a seventh home game and — the Trojans hoped — a smooth, season-opening victory.
The scheduling decision was met with immediate discontent from an already frustrated fan base. While other top programs often scheduled teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, only USC’s most bitter rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame, also remained a part of that exclusive club, holding tight to their refusal to host a lower-division opponent.
But with new decision-makers at the helm of USC’s athletic department, the decision to play an FCS program has been reversed.
USC has informed Davis that their Sept. 2021 matchup will be canceled, while a deal to schedule an FBS opponent in its place is being finalized.
Athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed the news Wednesday in a podcast with 247Sports, citing the strong reaction from USC’s fan base as one of the primary reasons for voiding the contract with Davis.
“I have to give our donors and fans a lot of the credit,” Bohn said on the podcast. “When I arrived, I committed to listening and learning, and the feedback from our fans was clear. Preserving our history is critically important to us and to our fans, so we worked to make that happen.”
According to the original game contract, USC must pay $725,000 to cancel its game with Davis. If the contract had been canceled before Jan. 1, the department would have saved $225,000.
Bohn didn’t reveal who might fill that vacant date next September, but recent shifts in college football scheduling have made a familiar opponent available.
Clemson and Georgia recently announced plans for a neutral-site matchup in Charlotte, N.C., on the same date. But to make that game happen, both needed to cancel their own game contracts. For Georgia, that meant paying $1.8 million to San Jose State, which had been scheduled to come to Athens on Sept. 4, 2021.
USC and San Jose State have played four times and have a game scheduled for 2024. With so few teams still searching for schedule help in 2021, there does not seem to be many other FBS options available.
It’s the same problem USC said it was facing last May, two months before the Davis game was announced. At the time, former CFO Steve Lopes told the Athletic that he didn’t believe scheduling an FCS team was “that big of a deal.”
“We may get criticized if and when we do it, but everybody does it,” Lopes said, eight months before he was fired by the university. “Are you going to die on that sword? You can play very good FCS schools that are better than some of the FBS schools you’ll play, the directional schools you’ll play.”
Not long after the game was announced, Trojans coach Clay Helton offered his support at Pac-12 media day, while pointing to the perceived strength of USC’s first-ever FCS opponent.
“I think scheduling is hard for athletic administration,” Helton said in July. “I know our athletic administration is always going to do what’s best for our fan base and our great university. One of the things you look at in today’s time is UC Davis is a great football team.”
As it turned out, Davis was far from great last season. The Aggies finished 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference.