IMHO Sunday: Shoes begin dropping

Greg Katz08/22/20
shoes 2

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles

So long: You knew it would be only a matter of time that once the Pac-12 had cancelled the 2020 fall football season, the USC football roster would be in serious jeopardy of being reconfigured and not in a good way. The first shoe to drop was this past Tuesday when All-Pac-12 first team defensive tackle Jay Tufele made the unsurprising announcement that he would be leaving the Trojans football program to get ready for next April’s NFL draft.

So long – Part 2: Although he has yet reported to have signed with an agent, impending Jay Tufele’s departure is just the first of potentially a number of Trojans shoes expected to drop. Jay’s decision, IMHO, was a no-brainer. What would be the purpose of playing a potential season in winter-spring when - IMHO - there won’t be any football for the Pac-12 in the winter-spring 2021 academic calendar? Would any mentally balanced athlete risk a full year’s worth of NFL money for a “potential” winter-spring season? This may have been the easiest decision that Jay Tufele will make in his athletic life other than where he would play college ball when he was being recruited.

So long – Part 3:
Now that Jay Tufele has broken the “so long” ice, you can expect other Trojans to follow in Jay’s shoes and for the same good reasons. Who else figures to be on their way out? It certainly wouldn’t be shocking at all to wish best of luck to offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns, and standout safety Talanoa Hufanga. Could there be some extra surprises departures as well? It certainly wouldn’t be shocking. However, the aforementioned names are the most likely to make announcements in the coming days, weeks or months.

Not surprisingly with no fall USC football, All-Pac-12 first team defensive tackle Jay Tufele (photo above) announced last week that he is leaving school early to prepare for next April's NFL draft.

So long – Part 4: I suppose the good news is Tufele and some of his eligible-bound NFL teammates would have played in the fall but were out-of-here anyway if a fall season wasn’t played. If you consider the natural order of a changing roster after a typical fall season, things haven’t really changed. However, there is nothing natural or positive if a spring schedule is played because the Trojans roster, talent level, experience, and odds-on favorites to win the Pac-12 South may be too altered to overcome the potential losses.

The bad news for Trojans head coach Clay Helton – who was very public in hoping that his anticipated 2020 roster would stay intact – is that he could be playing with a roster that doesn’t give him a significant talent advantage. Championship teams generally have more stars than their pursuers. Take away the stars and they're middle of the pack or worse.  

So long – Part 5: As they say – as if this will make you feel better – when one door closes, another opens up. Don’t like that one? Okay, for every rainstorm there’s a rainbow. However, it’s hard to find that next open door and/or rainbow if there is a Pac-12 season next January or February. If the Trojans lose a number of their “stars” as some expect, will there too many glaring holes preventing the Men of Troy from fulfilling the predictions that they are the favorites to win the 2020 Pac-12 South and maybe the conference title game?

So long – Part 6: In the pecking order of potential Trojans roster losses, if all-star offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker also elects to forego “this” season, the already questionable offensive line will be even more challenged than it already was. If you were already concerned about the Trojans’ offensive line, then you might want to reach for an Advil.

Could offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker (photo above) follow Trojans defensive tackle Jay Tufele and head to the NFL now that there will be no fall USC football season?

So long – Part 7: Obviously, Trojans head coach Clay Helton and his staff will continue to build on what is already a very impressive recruiting haul for the Class of 2021, and it could get stronger as recruits continue to look and learn at potential USC roster openings. Unfortunately, for the immediate future and for his own shaky job security Gentleman Clay knows this season was probably the season to reestablish himself as the Trojans head football coach. Don’t be disillusioned that Helton is no longer on the job hot seat. Once games are played, whether it’s the spring and/or fall of 2021, it’s still all about wins and losses.

So long – Part 8: On Friday and taking into account the coronavirus, the NCAA passed roster relief numbers, as the Division I Board of Directors will allow for fall student-athletes in all sports an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it. To prevent a roster numbers problem, the NCAA decreed that “the financial aid of fall sport senior student-athletes who take advantage of the additional year of eligibility and extended clock should not count against team limits in 2021-22.”

From the press box…

What if: Talanoa Hufanga, who when healthy might have been the Trojans best defensive player, elects to go to the NFL as many expect, who fills his spot? The Trojans defense would be considerably – on paper –weakened if it loses both Hufanga and Jay Tufele. They are easily the Trojans top defenders on the 2020 Trojans. Also, keep an eye on safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, who could also jump to the NFL, and where would the Trojans be losing both their two top safeties with tons of experience. 

Much speculation has been on Trojans star safety Talanoa Hufanga leaving to the NFL early, but some believe that his safety teammate Isaiah Pola-Mao (photo above) could also be a candidate to leave school early with no fall USC football.

Interesting: With Jay Tufele apparently departed, could that have a major dominoes effect in the recruiting of 5-star defensive lineman Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial)? Although unlikely, but what if the Trojans move Foreman’s former high school teammate and best friend Drake Jackson from defensive end into Jay Tufele’s former position, which would open up a spot for Foreman to line up next to his former high school teammate and buddy either in early January or February? Perhaps that subject has already been broached by all parties involved. 

Just wondering:  Do you think that Trojans offensive line coach Tim Drevno is a little more than uncomfortable regarding the prospect of losing tackle/guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to the NFL draft? 

More dominoes: With good reason, all recruiting eyes continue to watch what Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei linebacker Raesjon Davis is going to do, and on Friday the talented linebacker let it be known he will not enroll early at LSU but will play his senior season for Mater Dei. Give the kid plenty of credit for deciding to stay put for the moment and play for his beloved Monarchs, and, yes, in the short picture it’s probably a good sign for the Trojans. However, keep in mind that Raejon is still committed to the Tigers.

LSU commit and still USC recruit, linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above) has announced that he will play his senior year for Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei rather than leave early for college.

Good move: In a rare positive Pac-12 football occurrence, the conference announced the hiring of former NFL performer and Conference USA exec Merton Hanks as its senior associate commissioner for football operations, which means that Hanks will oversee Pac-12 scheduling, officiating, replay command center, operations, the conference championship game and bowl relationships. He also will be the primary contact for Pac-12 athletic directors and football coaches, bowl partners and NCAA administrators regarding football issues. In other words, Merton will be the man in charge of Pac-12 football, something the conference has never had but has needed.

Former NFL player and Conference USA exec Merton Hanks (photo above) has been named by the Pac-12 Conference to oversee football.

Good move – Part 2: Merton Hanks’s Pac-12 responsibilities will also involve working with the College Football Officiating Board of Managers, College Football Officiating Competition Committee and the NCAA football rules committee.

The post-game show…

Voting booth: USC has announced that student-athletes will not have athletic activities on 2020 election day (Tuesday, Nov. 3) so they can vote. “The impetus for the action came from USC’s United Black Student-Athlete Association, Trojan Athletic Senate, and the USC Black Lives Matter Action Team and advisory committee. Sounds like a good idea to me.   

Not for long: Many joke in seriousness that NFL really stands for “Not For Long.”That could apply to former Trojans inside linebacker John Houston, who was recently released by the Pittsburgh Steelers after being signed as a free agent when he wasn’t drafted back in April. We wish John the best.

Former Trojans inside linebacker John Houston (photo above) was recently released by the Pittsburgh Steelers after being signed as a free agent last April. Houston is now free to pursue other NFL teams.

Speedy recovery:
According to Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, former Trojans corner Iman Marshall, who plays for the Ravens, suffered a major knee injury last weekend and apparently tore several ligaments including his ACL. Iman will miss the Ravens’ 2020 season but is expected back in 2021.

In memory: If you hadn’t heard, former Trojans assistant coach Dick Coury, who also was once the head coach at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High, recently passed away at 90. Coach passed away on Aug. 15 from complications of surgery, and he will always be remembered as a superior coach, good enough that he was hired by Trojans’ legendary head coach John McKay, and that pretty much sums it up

Off the air: Mike Yam, once a broadcasting staple of the Pac-12 Networks’, has left the conference networks after eight years of anchoring both studio and other Pac-12 shows. Some thought Yam was not suited for his anchor position, but I found him to be knowledgeable of the conference and displayed plenty of enthusiasm for his position.

Veteran Pac-12 Networks studio host Mike Yam (photo above) was released recently from the Pac-12 for cost-cutting measures.

The connection: Four-star athlete Dasan McCullough (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley North) recently announced his commitment to Ohio State. It is of interest because McCullough (6-5, 220) is the son of former Trojans running back coach Deland McCullough. IMHO, Deland – although only at Troy for one season – was perhaps as good an assistant coach as Clay Helton has hired.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, any second thoughts after you wrote and predicted last week that there be no Pac-12 football in the winter-spring?

Nope. Nothing has changed. I understand the virus could be different by the new year, but I don’t think it will be enough to warrant having a “second” season. If I am wrong, I am wrong. But I will say this, the team that Trojans fans were expecting in the fall does not figure to be as strong in the winter-spring if – as expected – more 2020 stars depart to the NFL.

Caller No. 2: G-boy, aren’t you giving a little too much negative hyperbole about the offensive line if Alijah Vera-Tucker elects to go to the NFL early?

Based on the last two seasons of offensive line recruiting, I might be too conservative and sensitive in my comments. Look, when you recruit offensive linemen, you are first recruiting athletes. In today’s recruiting, it just seems like all the linemen coming out of high school are 265 pounds or more. Players are taller than they’ve been. So, it gets down to athletic ability. The difference between two 6-5 tackles that weight 270 pounds each is athletic ability.

If the Trojans have some offensive line defections to the NFL, the Trojans could turn to young offensive lineman Jason Rodriguez (photo above).

In the old days, USC had bigger and better athletes than their opponents. Size is now more equitable but not necessarily as it pertains to athletic ability. You can coach and train athletes to be better athletes, but you can only go so far. It’s certainly a great help if the athlete that needs to get better has an ambitious attitude. These players are called projects or 3-stars.

You could argue that there have been some highly-ranked offensive linemen that SC has recruited that although they were great athletically, they didn’t have the motivation. Perhaps all the three-star offensive linemen will develop through their own personal motivation. For USC fans, there is always that hope.     

Many Trojan fans remember the days when the Trojans would routinely recruit 5-star offensive linemen like Anthony Munoz (photo above on left) and Brad Budde (photo above on right).

Caller No. 3: GK, what do you think will happen if the Big 12, ACC, and SEC play this fall, and the Pac-12 and Big Ten play in the winter-spring?

Good question. If there is a playoff and not everybody is on the same schedule page, the playoff could include only teams that played in the fall. The three conferences playing in the fall will argue they should not be penalized because the two other conferences aren’t participating until spring. I already consider 2020 a lost season, so emotionally I am not all that affected.

Caller No. 4: Katzer, do you think some Pac-12 players that want to play this fall could transfer to play somewhere else to showcase their skills?

It’s getting a little late in the game to transfer because a number of schools are already into practice. That being said, anything is possible as you probably already know. All it takes is a couple of Pac-12 players to transfer, and you know how that goes. I don’t expect a lot of changes. If players are going to leave their schools, it would be to train for the NFL draft.  

USC head coach Clay Helton (photo above) said recently to the media that while he wishes that nobody on his 2020 would go to the NFL, he said that he and his staff have discussed plans in case players depart.

Caller No. 5: Greg, I know you don’t really want to go the political route, but I am going to ask anyway. Mask or no mask?

I have no problem answering this question honestly because I don’t see this as a political issue. First, I admit I don’t like wearing a mask because it feels stuffy, and I feel like somebody put a paper or plastic bag over my face. Now, that being said, I do wear a mask out in public – although I don’t go out much - because I don’t want to give anybody my potential germs, and I don’t want to get any germs from them, as well. And, I don’t think you can wear a mask without social distancing.

I find wearing a mask and social distancing a necessary evil to help protect the public and one's general family. Wearing a mask is certainly not a political statement on my part, and I look to lose no friends over a mask. I do, however, listen to science. If I have an artery heart issue, do I listen to a plumber or a cardiologist? I’ll listen to the medical scientists. You certainly have the right to disagree. Again, I don’t see this as a political issue but a health issue. And on that note…    

The final word: It’s the breathtaking sign of the times when the University of Notre Dame school newspaper, The Observer, deeply concerned with the outbreak of coronavirus on the Irish campus, pleaded with students to follow the health guidelines. The Observer’s headline (gulp): Don’t make us write obituaries.