What would life as a USC football fan have been like if the COVID-19 pandemic had not emerged?
Chances are everyone has spent some time over the last year pondering the impact of the pandemic on their lives. How different would our existences have been if that particular wrench hadn't thrown everything out of whack?
There's a relatively clear what-if concerning USC football. It has to do with head coach Clay Helton.
"COVID probably saved Clay Helton's job," according to an unnamed recruiting insider quoted by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.
"If USC plays Alabama [on the original schedule], they probably lose by 40. They probably lose to Notre Dame by 30," the insider said. "All the sudden the season goes downhill."
COVID-19 had a huge impact on coaching and recruiting for USC football
Football seasons are unpredictable, so labeling games that were never played wins and losses is an inexact science. However, given Alabama and Notre Dame's playoff credentials, defeats would have been likely to bookend the season.
Everything in between would have been a muddle. Since USC beat ASU, Utah, Arizona and UCLA on the field, it's fair to give them credit for those games, even if circumstances might have been very different.
By the same logic, Oregon bested USC at the Coliseum. Presuming their victory at Autzen is only right.
That's three losses, but there could have been more. USC would have been expected to beat Stanford and Cal, but Colorado and Washington look like toss ups knowing the Huskies won the North and the Buffaloes had a respectable 4-2 record in Karl Dorrell's first season.
Would a best-case scenario 9-3 record have been enough to spare Helton the ax? Would another 8-4 regular season have convinced Mike Bohn to move on? Only he knows.
Still, it's incredible to consider the narrow window of opportunity USC took advantage of in 2020. Had they played a complete season, the head coach might have been fired and a new regime might have been installed.
On the flip side, it was essential for USC to play some football in 2020. Spencer Harris, USC's director of player personnel, admitted as much on the recruiting front.
"I think if we didn't play in 2020 it would have significantly hurt our chances. I don't think Korey Foreman would have signed with us," Harris said via CBS Sports.
Going 5-1 set USC up to haul in a Top 10 recruiting class in 2021 including the No. 1 player in the country.
Those are fine margins, ones that will define USC's 2021 and beyond, for better or worse.