USC clinches berth in Pac-12 title game even before playing UCLA

USC coach Clay Helton reacts after a touchdown by raising his arms while on the sideline. Players and staff are behind him.
USC coach Clay Helton reacts after a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats on Nov. 14. USC will play in the Pac-12 title game regardless of whether it wins or loses to UCLA on Saturday.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Turns out USC won’t need to beat UCLA to secure a place in the Pac-12 title game.

With Utah’s win over previously undefeated Colorado on Saturday, USC locked up the Pac-12 South Division for the first time since 2017 and earned the right to host the conference championship next week.

Whom the Trojans will face Friday night at the Coliseum remains to be seen. Washington leads the Pac-12 North, by virtue of its 3-1 record within the division. But the Huskies are in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak that forced the cancellation of their matchup this week with Oregon (3-2), the second-place team in the division.


USC’s 2020 reputation for comebacks hit its high mark for the season Saturday in the Trojans’ gutsy 43-38 victory over crosstown rival UCLA.

Dec. 12, 2020

It’s unclear if Washington would even return enough players by Friday to actually face USC. In the event the Huskies can’t play, the conference may have to explore contingency plans outside of the North Division leaders.

That could mean elevating Oregon into their place. It could also give Colorado (4-1) another shot at continuing its surprising first season under new coach Karl Dorrell.

With the California-Washington State game being canceled Saturday, the Pac-12 is one more cancellation away from triggering a contingency plan it set before the season to determine title-game participants. In that scenario, the format of the championship would flip to the best winning percentage in all conference games, regardless of division.

Oregon State is scheduled to host Stanford at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans will play in an empty Rose Bowl on Saturday, with both coaches hoping to continue with the progress their teams have made this season.

Dec. 11, 2020

USC, by nature of its conference-best record, would remain in the title game regardless. Colorado would join the Trojans, shutting the North Division out of the game.

Either way, the stakes for Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl, scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m., are now much lower for the Trojans, who will play for the Pac-12 title for the third time under Clay Helton.

USC beat Stanford in its last appearance in 2017 and secured a spot in the Cotton Bowl, where it lost to Ohio State, 24-7.


A victory next week would presumably earn the Trojans a berth in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.