The USC Trojans are one of only three FBS programs to not schedule FCS opponents since the Division 1 split in 1978. The other two being the Trojans’ rivals in UCLA and Notre Dame. That list could possibly drop to two. In an interview with the Athletic on Monday morning, USC senior associate AD Steve Lopes stated that USC could schedule games against FCS programs. The comments come in a discussion about the Trojans scheduling methods now and moving forward.
Recently multiple programs such as Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Texas has scheduled big time home and home series. The last Power 5 home and home series USC had was with Texas, however that match up was made back in 2010. The next marque non-conference opponent will be next season when the Trojans travel to Arlington, Texas to face Alabama again. Many wonder why USC is slacking on scheduling Power 5 opponents or home and home series moving forward. The news of USC looking into FCS opponents won’t sit well with those fans, however this maybe a move that could be needed.
USC has dates to fill out in 2021, 2023, 2024, and 2025 and prioritizing playing home games three out of the four years. One of the years being a neutral site game like the one they’re doing with Alabama in 2020. Lopes stated that they would like to have seven home games played at the Coliseum through that time. The issue is that there’s not many opponents available to do that, which means dipping into the FCS pool to achieve that. It’s possible that the Trojans could do a home and home, but based off the scheduling philosophy, don’t expect that to happen.
Many Trojan fans won’t like the idea due to the “tradition” and taking pride being one of only three programs to not schedule an FCS team, however this might not be a bad idea. The College Football Playoff committee has yet to penalize a team for playing an FCS opponent and USC already plays nine conference games which includes Stanford, Utah, and a swaps of the Oregon and Washington schools. Add the Notre Dame rivalry and a possible conference title game. Bringing in an FCS program for a pay day at the Coliseum will fit what USC wants to do schedule wise and give them that “easy” home game. Through 2021 to 2025 the Trojans play Fresno State from the Mountain West and BYU who’s currently Independent. Throwing an FCS team there won’t do much damage to the them.
The downside to this is that USC waited too long to fill their future dates with Power 5 teams or Group of 5 teams. There are very few options with only Northwestern out of the Big Ten being available and fitting the philosophy. The Trojans could workout a deal with one of two Group of 5 programs like UCF, Middle Tennessee State, Navy, Costal Carolina during that time frame. It keeps them from playing a FCS program and allows for them to keep the seven home game philosophy while playing some decent FBS programs. The FCS option could be avoidable if USC do indeed consider this route. Keep in mind that the Trojans could also sacrifice a home game for a neutral site game in that time frame like they’re currently doing (Las Vegas or Hollywood Park Stadium in Los Angeles?).
If the Trojans do indeed join the FCS scheduling crowd then who are some possible programs that could make their way to the Coliseum? There are a good amount of FCS programs that USC could schedule. The first team that comes to mind is FCS power North Dakota State out of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bison have dominated the FCS by winning seven national championships in eight years. They’ve also defeated a few FBS teams along the way. North Dakota State facing the Trojans would be an intriguing match up. They currently have openings in 2021, 2022,2023, and 2024.
Maybe staying out west and scheduling a team from the Big Sky conference with Eastern Washington always being a marquee opponent for FBS programs. Perhaps maybe even inviting the likes of UC Davis, Cal Poly, or Sacramento State.
USC scheduling FCS opponents in the near future will upset some “traditionalist”, but it isn’t the end of the world. It’s interesting given the fact that elite programs are upping their scheduling against other elites and Power 5 schools. USC has always gone out to find the toughest games and would schedule tough games, however this style of scheduling could help the Trojans get into the playoff conversation opposed to eliminating themselves by week 5 of the season. Whether USC actually dips into FCS scheduling to fill dates is something we will have to watch and see. Right now the conversation is there.