USC chooses not to play in bowl game, bringing season to a close

With its undefeated run over, its Pac-12 title dreams dashed, and the COVID-19 pandemic looming large in Los Angeles, USC has decided not to bother with bowling this season.

The Trojans announced on Saturday night that they will turn down a bowl invite, effectively ending an arduous, pandemic-altered campaign which ended in a 31-24 loss Friday to Oregon in the conference title game.

The decision was a collective one between players, coaches, staff and USC’s medical team. It was made Saturday following a recommendation from the medical team, as a variety of factors including injuries and rising COVID-19 cases locally have left the Trojans dangerously close to the 53-player threshold needed to play a game.

Opting out of a bowl game also will give USC players a reprieve from months of isolation. Continuing the season would’ve meant spending the holiday break stuck on campus and separated from their families, all for a brief trip to San Antonio or some other far-flung city.

Already, players spent their Thanksgiving away from home, eating boxed turkey dinners while isolated in their dormitories or apartments. Most haven’t seen their families since September.

Coach Clay Helton said in a statement that he was inspired by his players’ sacrifice over the previous six months and that he shared the desire “to stay healthy and be with loved ones during the holidays.”

“They did everything we asked of them to abide by the challenging guidelines they had to follow to stay safe and well, whether it was daily testing or keeping distant from family and friends or training in less-than-ideal ways,” Helton said. “It has not been easy, and it is hard for anyone outside the program to understand how immensely difficult these past few months have been for them.”

Those difficult months ended in devastating fashion Friday night, as USC’s undefeated season was upended and a Pac-12 title was snatched away by the Ducks. A victory would’ve provided USC a place among the New Year’s Six bowl games, most likely the Fiesta Bowl, offering the Trojans a national showcase.

But in the wake of the loss, it was fair to wonder if the Trojans (5-1) might not have been motivated enough to continue a suddenly disappointing season with a second-tier bowl game.

That same logic has led several other Pac-12 programs to opt out of bowl invites. UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Washington and Washington State all announced they would not extend their seasons.

As it stands Saturday, only Oregon and Colorado are expected to take part in bowl season.

Had it decided to go forth, USC likely would’ve been without several top players. Top wideout Amon-ra St. Brown suffered a shoulder sprain against Oregon and quarterback Kedon Slovis injured his throwing shoulder. The sophomore underwent X-rays on Friday night, but no update has been announced.

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