Canceled season deprives fans of USC-Alabama game

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

I was so looking forward to USC playing Alabama Sept. 5 to kick off the college football season.

Most USC fans I know were dreading the game, visions of Alabama’s 52-6 trouncing of the Trojans four years ago still fresh in their mind. That was Clay Helton’s first game as the Trojans head coach after serving as interim coach the previous year after Steve Sarkisian was fired.

Most fans haven’t forgiven Helton for the poor job he did preparing the Trojans that day. My viewpoint was and is that the Trojans got overwhelmed by a vastly superior football team that day and John McKay couldn’t have changed the way that day went.

I wanted to see how much Helton had closed the gap with Alabama in the ensuing four years. Also, Alabama’s standout quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is now in the NFL, so Alabama coach Nick Saban would have been breaking in a new quarterback, something else in USC’s favor.

Unfortunately, the USC-Alabama game was canceled when both schools canceled their non-conference schedule. Then the Pac 12 schools canceled all fall sports until January and there went Trojan football for 2020.

Alabama and the rest of the Southeastern Conference, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 Conference and a bunch of smaller conferences, will get to playing in a couple of weeks and we will have some semblance of a college season.

The Big 10 might even rejoin the party. The Big 10 and Pac 12 announced at the same time they were canceling their football seasons with hopes to play in the spring.

At the time, I thought that was a good idea. The winners of each conference could meet in the Rose Bowl right around the Fourth of July, with the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in each conference facing each other in other “bowl” games leading up to the Rose Bowl.

But now it looks like the Big 10 is trying to restart its football season with a target date of Oct. 10. That’s because Ohio State wants a shot at the college football championship this year and Ohio State usually gets what it wants.

Whether the Buckeyes will be good enough is anyone’s guess at this point, but let the games begin.

People watched the Austin Peay game against Central Arkansas Aug. 29 on ESPN.

This weekend there are more games to watch, including Army and Middle Tennessee Sept. 5 and BYU versus Navy Sept. 7.

If it’s football, some people will watch anything.

SECOND-ROUND ACTION: The Clippers open the second round of the NBA Playoffs Sept. 3 against Denver, which defeated Utah in a hard-fought, seven-game series to advance.

The Clippers have never gotten out of the second round of the playoffs in franchise history, even in the 1970s when they were the Buffalo Braves and had Robert McAdoo, one of the best players in the league at the time.

The Clippers took too long eliminating the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, but they are more rested that the Nuggets and have a better all-around team.

But Jamal Murray is on fire for the Nuggets and this is the playoffs, the time one extremely hot hand can make all the difference in the world.

Murray is averaging 47 points a game for his last three outings. The Clippers have to hope Patrick Beverley is healthy and can slow Murray down.

The Clippers also need a more confident Paul George. George was up and down in the series with the Mavericks. He needs to be able to take some of the heat off Kawhi Leonard, who was a steadying influence on teammates against Dallas.

The Lakers still don’t know who they will be playing in the second round. The Oklahoma City Thunder took the Houston Rockets to a game seven in their first-round matchup and that series didn’t end until Sept. 2. The Lakers play the winner of game 7 at 6 p.m. Sept. 4.

An Oklahoma City win would be a shocker. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Thunder after they traded Russell Westbrook to Houston last summer.

But Westbrook has never really meshed well with another former South Los Angeles prep star, James Harden, and the Rockets version of small ball (no starter is taller than 6-7) is not suited to the playoffs where everyone slows down on offense and turns up the heat on defense.

The Rockets also could be playing for Mike D’antoni’s coaching career. He figures to get the blame if the Rockets don’t make it to the conference finals this year.

Either way, the Lakers will have a handful against the Thunder or the Rockets, but I will take their two best players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, against Harden and Westbrook.

Who knows what is happening in the Eastern Conference where the Celtics lead the Raptors, 2-0, without one of their top players, Gordon Heyward. That just shows how good a coach Brad Stevens is.

The other Eastern Conference matchup, Milwaukee versus Miami, also will be fund to watch.

ON CRUISE CONTROL: The Dodgers have 23 more games to finish their regular season schedule and get to the playoffs. They have more wins and fewer losses than any other team in baseball and hit 57 home runs during the month of August, an all-time record for team home runs in a month.

And at the trade deadline Aug. 31, the Dodgers got better by trading one of their starting pitchers. The Dodgers shipped Ross Stripling to the Toronto Blue Jays for two minor league players to be named later.

Stripling started the season in the Dodgers rotation, but his last three starts were not very good and it was obvious he was slowing the growth of young starters Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, who are younger and have more upside than Stripling.

Stripling would probably be an improvement for most pitching staffs, but he is just another arm on the Dodgers.

Dodgers President Andrew Friedman didn’t try too hard to find someone to strengthen the bullpen so the team must be satisfied with what they have seen in Kenley Jansen and company in this 37-game sample size.

The Dodgers will go as far as their bats take them. When they are hitting home runs they are hard to beat. When they hit two or more home runs in a game they are almost impossible to beat.

When they fail to hit in the clutch and advance base runners, they struggle offensively.

Friedman has built a solid team. But the Dodgers still need to prove it in the playoffs, which are about four weeks away.

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