LOS ANGELES - No. 13 Southern California became the sixth Pac-12 team to opt out of a bowl game Saturday, citing a recommendation from team doctors and discussions with players due to risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trojans (5-1), who lost 31-24 to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game Friday night, would have been at risk of falling under the conference's minimum number of 53 available scholarship players because of positive tests for COVID-19 and injuries after playing their third game in 13 days. Coach Clay Helton also cited a desire by players to see family and friends during the holidays after being sequestered during the season.
"I am incredibly inspired by our players and the sacrifices they made these past six months to play the game that they love," Helton said. "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. 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."
USC joins Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Washington State in ruling out bowl bids, with the Huskies still dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that prevented them from facing the Trojans in the conference title game.
The Pac-12 is down to four bowl tie-ins, with the Holiday, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Redbox and Sun bowls canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, USC's decision means the Pac-12 will not be able to fill those spots after deciding that its teams needed to be at least .500 to become bowl eligible, overruling NCAA guidelines that will allow teams to play in a bowl game regardless of their record this season.
The Ducks are likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl after earning the conference's automatic berth in the New Year's Six. Colorado also has a winning record and has expressed interest in playing in a bowl, while Arizona State could reach .500 by beating Oregon State on Saturday night.