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USC game against Cal rescheduled because of Golden Bears’ COVID-19 issues

The USC Trojans take the field for a game against Arizona at the Coliseum
The USC Trojans take the field for a game against Arizona at the Coliseum on Oct. 30. The Trojans’ next game against Cal has been canceled because of COVID-19 cases among the Golden Bears.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The USC football team’s game at California on Saturday has been rescheduled for Dec. 4 because of COVID-19 cases among the Golden Bears after the Pac-12 granted Cal’s request to avoid a forfeit.

USC agreed to reschedule the game as its season finale after a slew of new positive cases left Cal without enough eligible players available. Under Pac-12 forfeiture rules updated ahead of the season, any game a team is unable to play would be deemed a loss — and a conference win for its opponent, pending the approval of the commissioner.

But for USC, which had a game canceled last season because of COVID, there was no consideration of accepting a win via forfeit, even though the Trojans still need two wins to earn bowl eligibility.

“For them to not get to play would just be a crime,” USC interim coach Donte Williams said of Cal. “We want to play the game, and a forfeit is not the way to go and not the way you want to qualify for a bowl game. Our whole thing is fighting on and competing.”

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Here are takeaways from USC’s 31-16 loss to Arizona State on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.

Saturday’s game is the first COVID-19-related postponement of the season at the Power Five level after the pandemic forced major alterations to college football schedules last season.

The Trojans (4-5, 3-4 Pac-12), losers of three of their last four, were set to face a depleted Golden Bears (3-6, 2-4) team coming off a loss to last-place Arizona. Instead, struggling USC gets a bye before hosting rival UCLA on Nov. 20 at the Coliseum.

USC was supposed to have one more regular-season game after that before settling into the final stretch of its search for a new coach. Instead, it’ll wait until a day after the Pac-12 championship is decided on Dec. 3 before heading to Berkeley to play its season finale.

After that, Williams said, USC plans to accept a bowl bid next month, if eligible.

“That’s why we want to play these games,” Williams said, “to make sure we put our best foot forward and get to a bowl the right way.”

With Cal at 3-6, a forfeit would’ve sealed a bowl-less season for the Golden Bears.

“It was a difficult decision to postpone this Saturday’s game against USC,” Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton said in a news release. “We know how important every one of our games is to our student-athletes, especially our seniors who have been incredible representatives of the program, but it was the right thing to do.”

Cal had to compete without 24 players and five assistant coaches during a 10-3 loss to Arizona last week that broke the Wildcats’ 20-game losing streak after a group of players tested positive for COVID-19 and others were held out under a strict interpretation of city of Berkeley rules regarding quarantining.

Coach Justin Wilcox was visibly frustrated during his postgame news conference addressing the impact his limited roster had on his team’s chance of beating Arizona. Quarterback Chase Garbers, who missed the game, posted a message on Twitter on Monday complaining about testing that was conducted by the city and university even though no local ordinances mandated such enforcement for fully vaccinated players showing no COVID symptoms.

“Our heart goes out to all of the people who enjoy our games in so many ways and especially the players who only get so many chances to go out and play them,” Wilcox said. “Postponing this game was a last resort and not an action any of us wanted to take, however it was not possible for us to field a team on Saturday.”


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