With Texas A&M Out, Who Should USC Schedule in 2015?


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Haden has some work to do, as word came out late Thursday that Texas A&M and USC were no longer set to play each other in 2015 and 2016. While it’s probably safe to assume that Haden has known for a while that the A&M series was toast, it’s still getting into crunch time in terms of future scheduling, as teams have been filling out their slates left and right.

Just this week, it was announced that LSU and Wisconsin are in talks to play in a two-game series, as are Texas Tech and Arkansas. While both of those series are slated to kick off in 2014, a number of teams already have their 2015 schedule filled to capacity.

So, Pat Haden has five options on filling the void left by Texas A&M. Let’s break them down, listing them in no particular order.

Option A: Hawaii and the 13th Game

On August 29th, the Trojans will kick off the 2013 season in Hawaii, doing so for the third time in eight years. While Norm Chow’s Rainbow Warriors aren’t a major test out of the gate, the game gives USC more than just a trip to paradise.

Due to NCAA rules, teams that travel to Hawaii or Alaska have the opportunity to schedule an additional home game to offset traveling costs, giving them an an extra gate.

The result is more revenue, the recruiting ploy of going to Hawaii and a low-pressure season opener that gives the alumni an opportunity to travel with the team. Everybody wins.

The ‘Bows aren’t likely to be booked for 2015, as they open with Colorado, but they have yet to schedule a home non-conference game in 2016.

Option B: Kickoff Classic

USC has a history of playing in one-off season openers billed as ‘Classics’. They played in the Kickoff Classic six times, the Pigskin Classic three times and in 2004, they opened the season by playing Virginia Tech in the BCA Classic.

With the recent resurgence of classics, namely the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff and the Cowboys Classic, USC immediately becomes a big candidate to play in one of the two, given the time constraints of finding a quality opponent and the demand that USC garners as a national brand.

After Lane Kiffin came to USC in 2010, Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan hastily tried to profit on the Tennessee vs. Kiffin fued, by offering to house both teams in the 2011 Chick-fil-A game in Atlanta. Tennessee declined, though USC would have likely had to drop or parlay Minnesota or Syracuse to accept.

As with the idea of USC facing Tennessee, the opponent in a classic game would likely be either a ranked team and a large program that for all intents and purposes should be ranked. And given the nature of college football and the need to pander to pollsters, early season bouts with elite teams wind up carrying a lot of weight, as seen with LSU’s win over Oregon in 2011 and Alabama’s three victories in them of late.

In 2015, Alabama is to face Wisconsin in the Cowboys Classic, while Auburn and Virginia hook up in Atlanta. Neither game has set participants for the 2016 matchup, and the possibility remains of Chick-fil-A hosting two games in 2015, as they did in 2012, and will do again in 2014.

Who’s available? Ohio State in 2015 and Georgia in 2016.

Option C: Lower-Tier Power Conference Foe or BYU

While USC’s non-conference schedule in the last decade has been known for home and homes with Auburn, Arkansas, Nebraska and Ohio State, don’t forget the more recent tilts with Virginia, Minnesota and Syracuse, along with the scheduled pair against Boston College. These matchups with middle to lower-tier BCS teams provide value in giving USC an early road test with an opponent of moderate difficulty, which comes in handy when prepping for the Pac-12 season.

And the good news for Pat Haden, is that a series with a B-level opponent is manageable, even just 27 months before kickoff. USC has done this before, as they scheduled the 2010-11 home and home series with Minnesota with just one year’s notice, due to Washington State’s series with the Gophers getting canceled.

Potential candidates with open dates in 2015 and/or 2016 include North Carolina, NC State, Illinois, Texas Tech and even TCU. The newly Independent BYU could be a possible opponent as well, though probably not until 2016, as they open with Nebraska, Boise State and Michigan in 2015.

Option D: Mountain West Opponent

Unlike a contract with a BCS foe, scheduling a game with a Mountain West team is not likely to result in a home and home series, as seen with USC’s one-off matchup with Utah State this season, which fills the 13th game granted via the Hawaii trip.

The Pac-12 has recently been on solid terms with the Mountain West, with a slew games being inked between the two conferences, 11 in 2013 alone. With both formidable teams like Boise State and Nevada, and pushovers like UNLV, playing the MWC can be either a supplement for playing a middle of the pack BCS team or playing the FCS.

While both Boise State and Nevada are booked, San Jose State has yet to schedule any non-conference games in 2015.

Then there’s San Diego State, who could potentially be a candidate for a home and home series. USC hasn’t played the Aztecs since 1999 and has only played at Qualcomm Stadium once: a 31-31 tie on the hoof of a 220-yard performance by SDSU’s Marshall Faulk.

Option E: The FCS

The most popular college football trivia question is ‘which three teams have never played an FCS opponent?’ The answer is USC, UCLA and Notre Dame, and it looks to stay that way. Though, with the Pac-12 mulling over an eight-game schedule during offseason meetings in the spirit of ‘competitive advantage with the SEC’, any future change in philosophy is possible, as Washington ended their aversion to the FCS when the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011.

Could the time actually come when USC hosts Cal Poly in front of an exceedingly lackluster crowd? Doubtful but not impossible.

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With just Notre Dame sitting on the schedule in 2015 and 2016, Haden will have to choose two of the options mentioned, barring an out-of-the-blue tilt with a service academy.

But what say you? Vote for two options in our poll and tell us in the comments exactly which team you would like to see USC play.

Who Should USC Schedule in 2015 or 2016?

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