LOS ANGELES—The coach of the team picked to win this year’s Pac 12 title summed it up perfectly at Wednesday’s annual media day.
“We’re trying to get there,” Washington’s Chris Petersen said. “We have not arrived.”
Coach Pete was talking about his Huskies but also could have been talking about his conference.
Pac 12 football is coming off a 1-8 bowl season and there is not enough sugar produced at C&H to coat that. The league reduced its media days this year to “one day” and just for reference, the SEC had four days of festivities.
The Pac 12’s best player, Stanford tailback Bryce Love, was a no show but had a note from his counselor so precious it almost made you want to contribute to a scholarship fund.
Isn’t that the Pac 12 for you, more concerned about kids becoming doctors than promoting the 2018 campaign?
Love is trying to help Stanford win and win the Heisman Trophy, obviously, but he is also a human biology major trying to graduate next December.
“So, that requires,” as he put it, “school commitments and what nots.”
Love was made available to the media via Skype which, based on the way revenue streams are running, could be broadcasting Pac 12 games in 2025.
“I really wanted to be there,” Love insisted and most of us believed him.
Truth be told: I’m trying to get worked up about Pac 12 football this year, but just can’t get any mojo flowing.
I honestly can’t summon or even conjure a reason to think this will be the year the Pac 12 breaks through to the next level.
Despite adding five intriguing coaches to the story lines, I still don’t see a Nick Saban in the bunch, or an Urban Meyer, or a Bobby Bowden, or a Dabo Swinney.
I haven't been this down-in-the-dumps about the Pac since the late 1900s, Tyrone Willingham era. But I also hope that I'm wrong.
Chip Kelly could eventually be the guy at UCLA, but not this year, not with this roster and not with AT Oklahoma in Week 2.
Petersen pushed Washington to the playoff two years ago but the Huskies still seem a half-step slow.
I've already seen how Jake Browning, an excellent quarterback, fared against Alabama in a national playoff game. The final score was 24-7. Browning is back for his senior year but also returning is...Nick Saban.
Washington vs. Auburn on Sept. 1, in Atlanta, is cards-on-the-table for the Pac 12, the most important game in recent conference history. Washington, to me, is the closest thing the Pac has right now to a playoff contender. But if Washington loses, on national television, everyone out West can go back to their gardening.
Clay Helton seems like a fine man and a good coach, but do people really believe he can lead USC to a national title? Not based on what I saw in last year’s Cotton Bowl against a coach who has won three national titles (Meyer).
USC's schedule is also a problem: it's always too good, nine league games plus Notre Dame every year? Athletic Directors in the South get fired for that kind of initiative.
The problem with the Pac in general is that it's hard NOT to lose two games in a system that will rarely reward for that. And the close defeats, the ones that cost you, leave you tossing and turning for months.
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"I still wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning and there is 1:49 on the clock in Pullman, Washington, and we're down three," Helton said of last year's loss. "That haunts me because I know that that game probably held us out of contention for having a chance at a playoff run."
Chip Kelly certainly doesn't help matters in taking over a UCLA program that has never played a Division 1-AA opponent (Notre Dame and USC are the others) and then opens his media day by touting the wisdom of taking on all comers. UCLA has future series against Michigan, LSU and Georgia.
"If you want to be the best you have to beat the best," Kelly said.
That's a fine quote for a t-shirt, or a coffee mug, but hardly the formula to compete in today's playoff environment.
And so it goes: every Pac 12 media day, for the last decade, seems the same to me. It’s like Groundhog Day. I get in my car, sit in traffic for two hours, and listen to commissioner Larry Scott read a grocery list of accomplishments that don’t involve football.
Everything Scott says is true. The Pac 12 is the conference of champions and supports terrific teams in water polo and track.
This year, the Pac 12 even beat the SEC in a major sport (baseball), to win a national title.
And the people who keep tallies on the big scoreboard shrugged their shoulders.
The Pac 12 has won 513 NCAA titles, far more than any other conference, and won 12 NCAA titles last year, twice as many as any other league.
And the silence is deafening. The reality is this. The Pac 12, in the revenue sports, has no ribbons or bows. The league's last title in football was 2004 (USC) and the last one in basketball was Arizona (1997).
Scott, since becoming commissioner almost a decade ago, has yet to produce a championship in the two sports that count most.
Scott doesn’t do social media so he may not be viscerally aware of the mounting criticism, about him, currently floating like flotsam around cyberspace.
I felt I had the professional duty to inform him.
We had a casual lunch visit Wednesday and I didn’t even feel the need to pull out a notebook and pen.
He knows the story and so do I. He understands the criticism.
“I have thick skin,” I clearly remember him saying as he nibbled on a piece of chicken.
We chit-chatted about our kids and things in general, but there really isn’t much new information to report.
No matter how much people talk about lagging revenue, Pac 12 broadcast rights are locked up until 2024. Nobody knows what the landscape will look like then. Scott is still playing the long game, hoping his league’s 100% ownership of the Pac 12 Network will pay dividends in a brave, new, multi-platform world.
Scott may win in the end but can he last that long? Traditional deals are on the skids as people cut the cord on cable. Scott is hoping, by 2025, appliances not-yet-invented will become his surplus and supply chains. Maybe we'll be watching games on our toasters.
Before I nod off, who is to say he is wrong?
He\we can only hope that, by 2025, his league has moved past the narrative of talking down the league's problems while talking up the water sports.