Washington State will still open the 2020 college football season against a school from the state of Utah, but it won’t be the one it expected a few months ago.
The Pac-12 is targeting Sept. 26 as a new start date for its revised 10-game, conference-only fall schedule, and the conference revealed the contents of that schedule in a press release Friday afternoon.
The balanced 10-game schedule includes five home games and five road games for each team and both a bye week and open week – leaving room for teams to reschedule games in case of COVID-19-related cancellations.
WSU, which had been scheduled to open at Utah State, now opens Nick Rolovich’s first season with a rigorous two-week test against Utah and Oregon, the teams that clashed in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship game, and will play 10 of the 12 teams from its original fall schedule. The revised version adds a 10th game at USC, which returns one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in Kedon Slovis and could be pegged to win the South Division. The Cougars will also play two Friday games, at Stanford and versus Washington, and for the first time since 2008, WSU’s regular season won’t end with the Apple Cup rivalry game against the Huskies.
“It was a pretty amazing process to be a part of and I think the conference really did a real nice job,” Rolovich said in a Zoom call with media members. “It was so fluid and adjusted and it was good dialogue. … I thought there was a good amount of honesty and camaraderie in the room when we talked about scheduling.”
Teams can begin the 20-hour-per-week access period Monday and have the ability to begin training camp as early as Aug. 17, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a media webinar Friday afternoon. It’s still to be seen how county and state health regulations would impact the potential start date of preseason practices.
“I think there’s 25 practice days they get, it’ll be up to each of our coaches to decide whether they’re starting on the 17th or they’re starting on a slightly later date and how they want to manage that,” Scott said. “It’s our expectation sitting here that our programs all will be able to start as early as then, but sitting here today they’re not. … Everyone can start as early as Aug. 17, but it’s not my expectation that everyone will start or manage their 25 the same way.”
If circumstances prevent one or multiple schools from starting on time and squeezing in all 25 practices before Sept. 26, Scott said the conference would reevaluate.
Rolovich said the Cougars have been cleared to begin 20-hour-per-week activities Monday, which include walkthroughs with coaches. He referenced a “treasure map” the program has devised to ensure players are navigating the football operations building safely, and that the team will be following health protocols Monday when it splits up into four groups – two on offense, two on defense – to begin the next phase of the preseason ramp-up.
“I’m pretty proud of the treasure map,” Rolovich said. “There’s a lot of stuff to talk about when you talk about going through what is allowed in a walkthrough. You talk about guys getting changed in the locker room and you need to have a certain amount of time after until the next group gets in. Meeting rooms and where we’re meeting and how’s the meeting space-wise.”
If the Cougars, and the Pac-12 at large, progress through the 20-hour access period and complete preseason camp without any hiccups, they’ll open their season the last Saturday of September – 23 days after they originally planned to begin against Utah State.
The complete 10-game schedule is: vs. Utah (Sept. 26), vs. Oregon (Oct. 3), at UCLA (Oct. 10), vs. California (Oct. 17), Bye (Oct. 24), at Stanford (Oct. 30), at USC (Nov. 7), vs. Arizona State (Nov. 14), at Oregon State (Nov. 21), vs. Washington (Nov. 27), at Colorado (Dec. 5).
With flexibility at the forefront of the new scheduling model, the conference set aside an “open” of Dec. 12 in case the season is pushed back by a week, or in case teams need to make up a game.
The Pac-12 Championship game will be held on Dec. 18 or 19, but will have to wait to make its debut at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Instead, the game will be staged at a campus site the conference will identify at a later date.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans continues to be our guiding principle as we navigate a path to our fall seasons” WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun said in a school release. “We are appreciative of Commissioner Scott, the Pac-12 staff and everyone involved across our 12 institutions for working collaboratively to create these schedules.
“We are optimistic these schedules put us in the best possible position to have our fall seasons.”
Scott offered some of the same sentiment Chun did last week in a conference call with media members when he was asked to gauge his confidence about there being a fall season, amid the unusual and unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know,” Scott said. “I think we’re all trying to take a step at a time. We’re all cautiously optimistic sitting here today.”
The Pac-12’s CEO Group approved conference-only scheduling plans for other fall sports, including men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country. Those sports have permission to begin practice on Aug. 15 and would also begin competition no earlier than the weekend of Sept. 26.
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