For Jets fans only 1 date that matters: UCLA vs. USC on Nov. 18

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The UCLA-USC game in November will be just as important to the Jets future as their own games.

The UCLA-USC game in November will be just as important to the Jets future as their own games against the just-as-bad Browns, Bills and Jaguars that they are better off losing.

The Jets season is all about the road to the 2018 draft and the overall No. 1 pick.

USC’s Sam Darnold is the favorite to be the top choice in the Suck For Sam draft and the Jets are clearly the favorites along with the Browns, Bills, Jaguars and 49ers to earn the No. 1 pick . Darnold has to hold off UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen through the 2017 college football season, the scouting combine and the long evaluation process, and the Jets have to avoid winning more than one or two games.

Then they must hope Darnold doesn’t duplicate what Peyton Manning did to them 20 years ago and stay in college for another year.

Darnold is a redshirt sophomore with two more years of eligibility after this season. Rosen and Allen are juniors and could go back to school in 2018.

Now chances are all three will declare for the draft. The money is too great and the risk of injury too high. In fact, Allen nearly declared for this year’s draft.

Really big game for Jets fans: Nov. 18. UCLA at USC. Rosen vs. Darnold. Southern Cal is No. 4 in the preseason polls. UCLA is not ranked. The Jets will be keeping a close watch on all three quarterbacks every week of the season.

But wouldn’t it be the Jets luck if Darnold completely separates himself from Rosen and Allen and then decides he loves college too much and wants to play another season. He was just 20 years old in June. Or how about if the Jets finish 1-15 but lose the tiebreaker to the 49ers or the Browns finish 0-16?

If all three players are in the draft and there is a split among the GM and scout community who projects to be the best NFL player, there is going to be enormous pressure on Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, if he has the first pick, to pick the right one. This will be a franchise-altering decision.

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Sam Darnold

Could Darnold actually stay in school when he would be the first pick in the draft?

Well, remember Peyton Manning.

He went through his junior year at Tennessee with his mind made up to enter the 1997 draft. The Jets were 1-15 and hired Bill Parcells after the season. The combination of Parcells and Peyton sounded pretty damn good. The problem was Manning loved college then just as Darnold does now and was undecided what to do.

Archie Manning called Parcells twice asking him if he planned to pick his son.

“Peyton wanted me to call him,” Archie told me a couple of years ago.

Parcells, who had studied every throw Manning made as a junior, told him he was still evaluating the team and that the NFL forbid clubs from encouraging underclassmen to come out. Parcells lived by his own rules 99% of the time but he claimed he couldn’t tell Archie, an old friend, if he planned to pick his son.

Here is what Archie told me he said to Parcells: “I’m telling you, he’s pretty torn. He’d like to be the first pick in the draft; he’s got no problem with the New York Jets. At the same time, he wants to play his senior year.”

Here is what Parcells said to me in 2014: “The league was very adamant about not making any commentary about what players should do. They were on your ass about it. They were watching the Jets. They were watching us like hawks.”

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Circle the date, Jets fans

Peyton didn’t want to declare for the draft if he didn’t know where he was going. He had no desire to watch Parcells pass him up or trade the pick. He wanted to play for the Jets. He wanted to play for Parcells. But without any assurance, it convinced him to return to Tennessee.

It was the greatest tactical mistake of Parcells’ Hall of Fame career. One of my sources said Parcells wasn’t completely sold on Manning and thought he would be better off trading the pick for multiple picks. That’s what he did.

On March 5, 1997, one month ahead of the deadline, Manning announced he was staying in school. Even if Parcells had told him he planned to take him, Manning still might not have come out. We’ll never know for sure. “He was committed to staying in school,” Parcells said. “That’s what he wanted to do. He enjoyed college. Nothing I can do about it.”

Now let’s look ahead to mid-January, which is now the deadline for underclassmen to declare. If Darnold is clearly the No. 1 guy and the Jets have the overall No. 1 pick, then Maccagnan must get word to Darnold that he is unquestionably their pick. It won’t be easy to turn down the chance to be the face of a New York franchise.

One bit of warning about Darnold. The last USC quarterback the Jets had a crush on: Mark Sanchez.

BLISTER ROGER

Roger Goodell was pretty sneaky showing up unannounced in Foxborough for the Patriots preseason opener on Aug. 10. He was in town and decided to take in the game. He spent time in Robert Kraft’s box and even took some pictures with Patriots fans that the NFL public relations staff made sure to post in an attempt to show all is forgiven in Deflategateville.

Well, that is not necessarily the case.

Goodell is keeping his promise and will be at the Patriots opener Thursday night against the Chiefs. He also will take part in kickoff events in New England. It’s uncertain where he will sit, but he is more likely to be with Kraft than in the stands, which he often does. He enjoys sitting with the fans, but maybe not Thursday night.

GONE GREEN

Jets gone since the end of last season: Darrelle Revis, Mick Mangold, David Harris, Sheldon Richardson, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Folk and Marcus Gilchrist…Zeke Elliott’s appeal hearing of his six-game suspension started on Tuesday last week and went through Thursday. That eliminated any possibility arbitrator Harold Henderson could make his ruling Friday. So now he’s up against the clock to rule by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Elliott’s suspension was due to start after the last preseason weekend, but all suspensions are put on hold during the appeal process. The cut off for a player being suspended for the following week’s game is Tuesday at 4 p.m. If Henderson doesn’t rule by then, Elliott will be eligible to play against the Giants. In the event he rules against Elliott — I think a reduction to three or four games is the best the back can expect — his legal team already filed a lawsuit against the NFL Thursday night in Plano, Tex., a few miles from the Cowboys training facility in Frisco, and is seeking a temporary restraining order until the case can be heard. The Cowboys then filed papers supporting the NFLPA case, which sets up Jerry Jones vs. Goodell. If Elliott loses his appeal but gets the restraining order, which is not a given, he will play against the Giants. The risk for Elliott is losing in court late in the season and then serving his suspension and miss crucial games or potential playoff games…NBC has the best game of the opening weekend with the Sunday night matchup of the Giants at the Cowboys. But the ratings might take a dip if Odell Beckham is out with his ankle injury and Elliott is suspended. ... OBJ is going to blow away DeAndre Hopkins’ five-year $81 million extension with the Texans that included $49 million guaranteed, the most ever for a wide receiver. Hopkins is in his fifth season. OBJ, in his fourth, will get a new deal before his fifth-year option at $8.4 million kicks in. I expect him to get a five-year contract averaging $20 million a year with $50 million guaranteed. OBJ is into flash so hitting $100 million is going to be a special number. ... Raiders QB Derek Carr had the biggest per year contract in NFL history (5 years, $125 million) for about two minutes. Detroit last week signed Matthew Stafford to a five-year $135 million contract. Stafford’s $50 million signing bonus is the largest in NFL history. Just wondering how much Stafford would have received if he had ever won a playoff game. He’s 0-3 in his first eight seasons, losing in the wild-card round each time…Joe Haden wasn’t out of work long after the Browns cut him. He signed a three-year $27 million deal with the Steelers. It shows you how far Revis has fallen that his hometown Steelers, who needed corners before signing Haden, hadn’t even worked him out.

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