The Pac-12 announced a new opponent for USC in the championship game on Monday, replacing Washington with Oregon after the Huskies informed the league that it will not be able to play on Friday.
"This decision was made under the Pac-12's football game cancellation policy and Football Championship Game policy due to Washington neither having the minimum 53 scholarship student-athletes available for the game nor the minimum number of scholarship student-athletes at a position group, in each case as a result of a number of positive football student-athlete COVID-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols," the league announced in an official statement.
Oregon gets the nod to replace Washington as the team with the next-best record in the Pac-12 North. Oregon and Stanford are currently tied for second place with a 3-2 record, but the Ducks win the tiebreakers as a result of their head-to-head win in the first week of Pac-12 play.
Undefeated at 5-0, USC began to prepare for both Washington and Oregon on Sunday when reports circulated that the Huskies might not be able to meet the requirements to play laid out by the league in its return-to-play protocol. Now Clay Helton and the Trojans coaches can turn their attention fully to the Ducks, and a matchup of the two preseason division favorites.
While Oregon has fallen out of the rankings with two straight losses to Oregon State and Cal, the Ducks are one of the few teams in the Pac-12 with a comparable talent level to the USC roster, so their promotion into the championship game presents no relief for Trojans.
"Let's settle it on the football field. We're unable to play. That's unfortunate obviously for our fans and our staff and our players, but now [Oregon's] the next team in the game," said Washington coach Jimmy Lake on Monday. "If they win the game, they should have the Pac-12 championship trophy. ... Through this crazy, challenging year, they should be viewed as Pac-12 champion."
Despite his team being unavailable for the Pac-12 title game, Lake insisted Monday that trying to play the 2020 season was worth the effort. The Pac-12 played the shortest season of any Power FIve team, starting on Nov. 7.
"I wouldn't change a thing. We want to play. We don't want to be on the sideline," he said.
Washington's "whole team" is in isolation, per Lake. It has not practiced since last Wednesday. There are no offensive linemen currently available to play for the Huskies between COVID-19 positives and contact tracing. For Washington to practice, two days of negative tests would have been necessary. Some football staff have also been impacted.
"The players are completely crushed we could not play last week and devastated we could not play Friday," Lake said.