3-point stance: USC's commitment to Clay Helton comes during ideal time

Stayin' Alive: Who's still in the playoff race

With just one final week left in the season, the playoff field is getting smaller and smaller. Cary Chow breaks down who's still in, and who got eliminated this week.

1. The timing of USC athletic director Pat Haden’s decision to remove the interim from head coach Clay Helton is shrewd. It’s better to name him now, on the wave of emotion after winning the Pac-12 South, than to wait and see how the conference championship game comes out. Helton has brought a sense of calm to the Trojans after the tumult of the Kiffin/Sarkisian years. Helton’s Trojans lost by 10 to Notre Dame and 20 to Oregon, and beat who they should have beaten. But don’t confuse calm with a new direction. Helton has been at USC for six years. Helton didn’t work for Pete Carroll, but this is Haden insisting that his vision for USC is the right one. He stayed within the USC family again.

2. North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is an inkblot test during this hiring season. In one decade, Chizik went from hot national champion coordinator (Texas) to head coach (Iowa State) to national champion head coach (Auburn) to three-wins-and-you’re-out head coach (ditto) to hot national champion-contending coordinator (North Carolina). Chizik is a finalist for his second Broyles Award, 11 years after winning his first. Is he a great coordinator and no more? Would you trust your career as an AD with a head coach who won a national championship yet has a career record of 38-38?

3. My colleague Chris Low wrote an interesting piece looking at all the SEC coaches whose careers hit a wall after a big loss, or repeated losses, to Nick Saban at Alabama. C-Low compared Saban’s SEC dominance with that of Bear Bryant at Alabama. But there’s one critical difference: When Bryant ruled the SEC, Georgia didn’t fire Vince Dooley, LSU didn’t fire Charlie McClendon, and Auburn didn’t fire Shug Jordan. They won a lot of games during Hall of Fame careers. The Mark Richt resignation and the Les Miles soap opera are reflections of our time, and they don’t reflect upon us well.