In recent weeks, the Pac-12 has announced it is moving to a conference-only schedule for all sports and that the football season won’t start until mid-September. What was going to be a crucial 2020 season for USC football will now at least look completely different and may not even happen. Sam Arslanian and Aidan Berg, always ready to argue about any sports topic, discussed whether USC is a winner or loser of the conference-only decision in a Slack thread.

Aidan Berg 9:15 AM

Alright assuming we even have a season at all (which seems like a long shot at this point), do you think the conference-only schedule helps or hurts USC football? I’m excited to see how you’ll be wrong about this.

Sam Arslanian 9:16 AM

Definitely hurts SC

The way I see it

With this roster and a normal schedule, they were expected to win the Pac and go to a Cotton Bowl (Rose Bowl is CFP).

The loss of the non-conf games only limits what more they could have done. They were going to lose to Bama, but a close loss to Bama at the beginning of the szn can be forgiven if you are overwhelmingly convincing in your conference and beat ND.

Aidan Berg 9:21 AM

It's always a good bet that you take the wrong side of whatever argument you're in. USC had one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, and you're fooling yourself if you think the team that got bullied by Iowa in the Holiday Bowl was going to hang with Alabama.

And it's hard for me to believe USC was going to beat ND when the Trojans haven't defeated them in my time at USC.

The non-conference schedule was only going to hurt USC's reputation.

Sam Arslanian 9:22 AM

Okay but even if they got absolutely destroyed. The best they were probably going to do is a Pac-12 championship right?

Aidan Berg 9:23 AM

Sure.

Sam Arslanian 9:23 AM

You really think CFP is going to put in a team who played maybe 2 top 25 teams the whole season?

USC's schedule is too weak now.

They have Oregon and ASU as potential losses. A loss to any other team is detrimental and Helton should get whatever the pandemic equivalent of tarmac'd is.

Not like the school could even afford his buyout right now.

Let me speak your language for a second. If the Patriots only played in-conference games a few years ago, there would be no way to know for sure that they would be able to compete against other teams. Unless they 50-0'd every team. Which with USC we know won't happen.

Aidan Berg 9:29 AM

I think the hopes of a CFP appearance were dashed the moment they put Bama on the schedule. That was a definite loss, and they couldn't afford to lose another game because you have as much chance of making the Playoff with two losses as the Washington Wizards have of making the NBA Playoffs without Bradley Beal.

Sam Arslanian 9:29 AM

Okay but can we at least agree that with a complete non-conference schedule they have no chance of making that playoff spot?

Aidan Berg 9:30 AM

The way I see it, USC's only hope of going that far is to be undefeated, which sure wasn't happening with Bama and ND on the schedule.

Now, they have a much better chance of going undefeated because they're facing weaker competition, and it's hard to deny an undefeated Power 5 school even in a weak P5.

Sam Arslanian 9:31 AM

Okay so you don't agree

Aidan Berg 9:32 AM

It's very unlikely yes, but I think the chance is actually better than if they played that non-conference slate. They were going to end up with at least two losses, and that's a killer for any team hoping to make the Playoff.

But let's move past the pipe dreams for a second

I actually think this change improves their overall bowl standing, too.

Sam Arslanian 9:33 AM

How so?

Aidan Berg 9:35 AM

Bowls are mostly decided by the Selection Committee's ranking of teams within their conference. So, for example, USC was the third-ranked Pac-12 team at the end of the 2019 regular season, and that team was slotted to play in the Holiday Bowl.

That ranking is determined by the team's CFP ranking, not just their conference ranking. So by avoiding these matchups out of conference that would have hurt their overall record, their national ranking is going to improve. And they'll only be competing against the teams with which they will fight for conference supremacy, which happens to include a lot of creampuffs.

Sam Arslanian 9:38 AM

Remind me, how many times has a Pac-12 team made the CFP?

Twice

Aidan Berg 9:39 AM

Yes. And?

Sam Arslanian 9:41 AM

It's not enough for a team in the Pac-12 to prove they are the best in their conference. That's like when Carlos shows up in Benchwarmers. Sure they were the best team in the league, but they were also playing 12-year-olds.

USC has virtually no way of demonstrating they could keep up with Clemson, Oklahoma, LSU or any team the Nation respects no matter the year.

Aidan Berg 9:42 AM

But Sam, I thought that we already established that the CFP was a pipe dream for this team

They just went 8-4 and got destroyed by perennial "good not great" champion Iowa.

Sam Arslanian 9:43 AM

Okay, so what are you saying this does? Because all I see is that they are now worse off even if they got destroyed by Bama

Bro you're essentially saying that if no one sees USC play a nationally regarded team then they will gain more respect since they won't lose any games?

That's the worst logic I've ever heard

Aidan Berg 9:46 AM

Well I'm assuming they'd play Oregon twice including the presumptive Pac-12 Championship Game, so that would be two games against a high-profile team.

But the reason why my logic trumps yours is that losses are the biggest hindrance to a team's national ranking.

Sam Arslanian 9:47 AM

Would that give you enough confidence that they can have a shot over an SEC team?

So are you just gunning for that No. 5 spot?

Aidan Berg 9:48 AM

No it wouldn’t give me that confidence, but if all the good SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten teams beat up on each other and USC is sitting there at the end of the day with an undefeated season AND a conference championship in a Power 5, there’s no way the committee can turn them down.

I'm not saying that's likely to happen, but that's their best shot at making the CFP.

Other than that, as I said before, their overall bowl standing improves because they would have had a much more difficult non-conference schedule than other Pac-12 teams.

And they maintain their ability to go to the Cotton Bowl in both scenarios because that relies solely on conference record and the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Sam Arslanian 9:50 AM

Oregon in Eugene is going to be a tough game.

Aidan Berg 9:50 AM

Definitely

But if they were going to be the CFP contender you're pitching, they were going to have to win that game regardless of the move to conference-only schedules.

Sam Arslanian 9:52 AM

Yeah, I know I'm just pointing out that things aren't a lock now either

Aidan Berg 9:53 AM

Well

Things are never a lock with USC, we know that much.

Sam Arslanian 9:54 AM

I think it's worth mentioning that Ore had a hard start too with Ohio State week 2

Aidan Berg 9:55 AM

Yeah, I count them as the other winner. I just think this benefits the two teams that analysts believe are the cream of the crop in the conference.

Sam Arslanian 9:56 AM

Well I think the Ohio State game would have legitimized Oregon. So if USC was able to beat Oregon twice it would legitimize them as a team that can compete against B10 teams

Aidan Berg 9:57 AM

That's a fair point. It also helped that that game was in Eugene.

Maybe I'll flip it so that USC is my only Pac-12 winner of this. Silver linings of a horrible pandemic!

Sam Arslanian 9:58 AM

I just think seeing USC as a winner of this is shortsighted

The winners of this are teams that don't have to prove anything. I.e. Ohio State doesn't have to worry about dropping a game to Oregon.

They can put up wins over teams like Iowa, PSU and Mich

All decently respected teams but teams they won't lose to

The same can't be said for Ore or USC

Aidan Berg 10:01 AM

OK, but we know Ohio State drops a game in-conference that they should have won nearly every single year. And the same was true of Oregon last season and has been more than true of USC for a while.

But I keep coming back to my perception that losses are the biggest blemish on a team’s resume. That blowout loss at Purdue was the only reason Ohio State didn’t make it in 2018 when they otherwise had the CFP resume. And with how it helps their overall bowl standing, I can’t help but think that avoiding two games that they had the highest chance of losing is a good thing for USC.

Sam Arslanian 10:05 AM

I'm just saying 12-1 records make CFP all the time but you have to play good teams. 12-1 with a Bama loss and ND win looks better to me than 9-0 with Oregon being the only really respectable team.

There's never been a CFP without a one loss team

You know what that shows is that if you want to make a CFP you need to play good teams even if there's a loss

Aidan Berg 10:08 AM

Well it's true that the two previous Pac-12 Playoff participants were 12-1. But I challenge you to show me all the Power 5 schools that missed the Playoff with an undefeated record, regardless of who they played.

Sam Arslanian 10:09 AM

UCF

Western Michigan

Aidan Berg 10:10 AM

I said Power 5

Sam Arslanian 10:10 AM

Fair

Aidan Berg 10:11 AM

And that 12-1 doesn't look more respectable if that Bama loss is anything like it was in 2016. A blowout loss like that in the first game of the season sinks your reputation for the rest of the campaign. USC needed Sam Darnold to step in just to get a fresh enough restart that they could make the Rose Bowl.

Sam Arslanian 10:11 AM

Bama is not the same powerhouse they usually are

Tua is gone and they didn't have a super great season last year

Aidan Berg 10:13 AM

I'll believe that when I see it. Bama is like the Hydra, every time you cut off one head it grows two more in its place.

Sam Arslanian 10:14 AM

I'd rather take the chance that they aren't ready for game one.

Aidan Berg 10:14 AM

Plus they could have the guy USC fans previously thought was the savior under center in Bryce Young.

Yeah, a Nick Saban team unprepared

That happens a lot

Sam Arslanian 10:15 AM

Okay and JT Daniels was the savior for USC? Bryce Young could be the same for Bama.

I don't put a lot of money on a true freshman QB

Especially with USC's D Line

Aidan Berg 10:16 AM

I think it's a tad too optimistic to think USC's D line, as good as it is, could dominate Bama, which always seems to have a few linemen go in the draft.

But this isn't an Alabama discussion. Let's get back to the matter at hand.

Whether or not you think the conference-only change helps or hurts, it's going to be the only way we see USC football this season. So at this point, what are your expectations for this team?

Sam Arslanian 10:18 AM

Expectations or predictions?

Aidan Berg 10:19 AM

Predictions is too binding at this point in the most uncertain offseason of all time. I just want some rough expectations.

Sam Arslanian 10:19 AM

I expect them to win the Pac-12 championship

Anything less than that is a disappointment. This is a really good team and if they don't it's proof that Helton cannot win with a good team and good coaching staff

Aidan Berg 10:20 AM

I think my expectations lag a little bit behind yours, but not by much.

Sam Arslanian 10:21 AM

I didn't say undefeated. I think they can drop Oregon or ASU during the szn.

Aidan Berg 10:22 AM

If they have more than two losses that would be a definite disappointment. I set the number at two because they have that road game at Oregon, they have to go to Utah which is always a tough place to play as long as there is some amount of fans and they play at Stanford, who I expect to bounce back this season.

And ASU is talented too, yes.

Sam Arslanian 10:23 AM

Utah is not good

Aidan Berg 10:23 AM

So my expectation is no more than two losses and an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game at least. I think I have more respect for Oregon's talent level than you do.

Sam Arslanian 10:23 AM

I just don't think they can lose two games and make the championship

I mean I think we are at the same level here.

Aidan Berg 10:24 AM

Pretty much. And yet we managed to spend over an hour arguing about this.

Sam Arslanian 10:24 AM

If they get that head to head on ASU they should be locked

Aidan Berg 10:25 AM

Agreed. That's the crucial matchup in the Pac-12 South.

Sam Arslanian 10:25 AM

Glad we could agree on one thing. I gotta go now, wiffle ball game on the schedule.