USC’s Clay Helton: Pac-12-only college football season schedule a possibility

USC Coach Clay Helton explained in a Zoom webinar on Monday that the “all-conference” schedule was one of many scenarios discussed in recent days as a possible path forward for college football in 2020.
USC coach Clay Helton said Monday that the “all-conference” schedule was one of many scenarios discussed in recent days as a possible path forward for college football in 2020.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Los Angeles Times)

As college football considers how best to proceed amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19, a conference-only schedule in 2020 is one possible option that’s elicited “viable discussions” among coaches and conference officials, according to USC coach Clay Helton.

Helton explained in a Zoom webinar Monday that the “all-conference” schedule was one of many scenarios discussed in recent days as a possible path forward for college football in 2020. Those discussions have been largely hypothetical thus far, but Helton said he and the rest of the Pac-12 Conference coaches are still optimistic about the upcoming college football season.

“We’re glass-half-full people,” Helton said. “We’re optimistic about a season. We don’t know what the timing is, and we don’t know the structure. But we’ve been talking about all different scenarios. About the opportunity of maybe starting on time. The opportunity where maybe it’s pushed back. The opportunity where maybe it’s more of an abbreviated conference schedule. All those discussions are being had.”

Answers to any looming questions about the upcoming season aren’t expected for another six to eight weeks, Helton said.

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For now, USC is scheduled to open the season on Sept. 5 against Alabama. But that marquee matchup, held at AT&T Stadium in Texas, could be in serious flux if the season was delayed or teams were contained to their respective conferences.

In that conference-only scenario, USC would play 11 games, forgoing out-of-conference matchups with Alabama, New Mexico and Notre Dame, while presumably adding Washington State and Oregon State, the only two Pac-12 teams not currently on its schedule.

Those two teams were a combined 11-14 last season, while both Alabama and Notre Dame each won 11 games.

But with teams confined to their conferences, the most pressing question across college football wouldn’t be the structure of the regular season, but what would come next.

“If we’re in a conference-only schedule, how do you compare conference to conference?” asked Stanford coach David Shaw. “There have been a lot of discussions this year about if we expand the playoff because we’re not going to know how to whittle this down to four. Whoever wins the conference gets an automatic bid?

“If we’re able to play 12 games, great, it’ll work its way out. But there’s so many unknowns. Talking through all the scenarios is really the only way we’ll have any idea, but if we’re able to play 12, and we can stay status quo, that’s great. Many of us believe it’s not going to be 12, and it may not start on time.”

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Those discussions are still hypothetical for the time being. Still, they’ve left Helton feeling hopeful.

“I think we’re all going to have tremendous gratitude, whatever the structure is, to play the game we love, to be fortunate enough in that scenario that this virus, this crisis has been put a little further behind us,” Helton said. “We’ll find out probably six to eight weeks from now what a clearer picture is of that start date, that structure, how the end-of-season is, that relationship with the NFL and their timeline and calendar, but right now, there’s a lot of unknown. The discussions are happening weekly, if not hourly, about what that looks like.”