Ole Miss/USC Cancellation: A New Future of Scheduling?

To many people’s disappointment, Ole Miss and USC won’t be sharing a football field anytime soon. Initially, back in 2020, the two programs agreed to a home-and-home series set for 2025 and 2026. Earlier this week, the two schools announced that the deal was no longer in place.

For Ole Miss, it was going to be a chance to give their fans an excuse to travel to Los Angeles. For USC, it was set to be an opportunity for their fans to experience The Grove in Oxford. Now, neither one of those will be happening (at least not for football purposes.)

While the game may no longer be scheduled, it was a matchup that was going to have a variety of storylines. One of which was the fact that these two teams have never faced off against each other. Despite USC starting its football program in 1888, with the Rebels starting in 1893, they’ve never seen each other head-to-head. That goes for regular season and bowl games.

The other main storyline surrounding the series announcement was a much bigger one.

Lane Kiffin Was Set to Have Chance at Revenge

For Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, you can be assured this series was one that he had kept an eye on since its announcement. After all, USC is where he had arguably his most embarrassing moment as a coach. Sure, he sent Sebastian Janikowski out to attempt a 76-yard field goal while he was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. But he was all but fired anyway, so it was simply a shot in the dark.

And sure we’ve all seen him get absolutely ripped by Nick Saban on the sideline while serving as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. But that’s Saban, it essentially happened to all of his assistants at one point or another.

But his firing at USC, and the way it went down, with the famous “firing on the tarmac”, is almost certainly the worst moment in his coaching career. This was set to be a series that Kiffin was going to have the chance to have the last laugh against his former team. Now, he won’t have that chance. At least it won’t come during the regular season in the coming seasons.

Why Was the Series Cancelled?

While no word has come out about the rationale for the cancellation, the masses are still speculating. For many Ole Miss fans, the clear answer is that USC head coach Lincoln Riley is simply scared of the SEC. While there’s obviously no hard evidence of this, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that could lead credence to this theory.

One piece of evidence was his leaving Oklahoma to head to USC, soon after the future Oklahoma to SEC move was announced. With both the Sooners and Trojans being huge brands in college football, it seemed like a lateral move to many. Then, there were reports that he tried to get out of USC’s opener this season. The Trojan’s opener just so happens to be against LSU. While it could be nothing but coincidence, the optics surrounding it certainly don’t help his cause.

In reality, it’s probably largely due to conference realignment and the expansion of the College Football Playoff. With USC joining the Big Ten this season, there’s no denying that their conference schedule is getting much tougher. And as Kiffin turns the Rebels into an SEC contender, does USC want to play a tough conference schedule, with a heavyweight non-conference matchup, as well? Seemingly, the answer is no. And it’s tough to blame them.

Joining the Big Ten, the Trojan’s schedule will always be good enough to get them into the playoff. So the focus first and foremost is naturally wins and losses. Regardless of who they play non-conference, if they win their games, they will get in. The same goes for Ole Miss. Being in the SEC, it doesn’t matter what the non-conference schedule looks like. If they finish with less than two losses, they’re in. Even with two losses, they’d likely still get in.

The Bottom Line

While Ole Miss, Kiffin, and USC fans should both be disappointed by this decision, they certainly aren’t the only ones. All football fans should be upset. Because this won’t be the only big non-conference series that gets the axe. This is going to become a far more prominent reality with realignment and playoff expansion.

And for college football fans everywhere, no part of this is a good thing. The allure of huge non-conference matchups early in the season is what makes the offseason so manageable. We know about the conference matchups we’re going to see. It’s the same opponents every year, with a few alternating, rotating opponents. Now, we’re losing a lot of the intriguing matchups that we don’t see very often. In the case of Ole Miss and USC, we’re losing a matchup that we’ve never seen before.

It’s unfortunate, but there’s a good chance it’s going to become a far more common occurrence in the new landscape of college football.

Photo Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

 

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