Pac 12 football is bigger, better and quieter than ever

Commissioner Larry Scott almost did a spit take when he was asked, by me, whether his conference lost the off-season because it lacked a quality scandal people could rally around.

Seriously, though, the Pac 12 sat idly by while everyone else grabbed our attention, ignoring that age-old adage: there is no such thing as bad publicity.

“I don’t agree with THAT,” Scott answered in mid-July, at Pac 12 media day, not far from the Hollywood Bowl, which this year pits the Pac 12’s No. 8 band against the brass section of the Boston Pops.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Members of the other Power 5 conferences could have been arrested for the number of headlines they stole while the Pac was stocking the U.S. Olympic team in non-revenue sports:

--The Big 12 nearly imploded with the Baylor scandal followed by news it would expand to 12, or 14, schools.

--The Southeastern Conference dealt with one mess after another: Ole Miss got served NCAA papers while Tennessee settled a Title IX case, for millions, to avoid distraction during the Vols' anticipated march to the SEC East title. The University of Florida appointed a Gator booster to adjudicate a sexual assault case involving two football players. And Alabama Coach Nick Saban took on cops in Louisiana and blocked the transfer of a player who was set to graduate for the Crimson Tide.

--The Big Ten announced record revenues and set Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh loose on Twitter against the SEC, while the Atlantic Coast Conference dealt with North Carolina as Tar Heel nation braced for the biggest academic scandal in history.

The big news at Pac 12 headquarters was the man from Arrowhead coming to replenish the water cooler.

“We’re happy not having any scandals, or bad publicity,” said Police Commissioner Scott.

The perception was left, though, that the Pac 12 was only out there crowning NCAA men’s golf champions (congratulations, Oregon).

The last team not named USC to win a national title in football remains Washington in 1991.

The Pac 12 did nothing wrong and lost ground game.

On Jan. 13, Stanford was 14-1 to win the 2016 national title in odds set by in Las Vegas. This week, those odds are 25-1. UCLA went from 40-1 to 50-1, Utah from 66-1 to 100-1, Oregon from 22-1 to 33-1. USC held steady at 33-1 while only Washington gained betting momentum (66-1 to 40-1). Cal is now 500-1 after being 100-1.

Stanford star Christian McCaffrey, who finished second in last year’s Heisman balloting BEFORE one of the greatest Rose Bowl performances in history, watched his 2016 trophy-winning odds drop from 5-1 to 11-2. He’s third in the Bovada chase behind Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson.

The Pac 12 faces football, perception and financial issues. Scott blew everybody’s socks off when he negotiated a $3 billion network deal with ESPN and Fox.

Since, though, the Big Ten and SEC have re-opened the money gap with huge dividends gained on their network deals. Pac 12 Net, conversely, continues to financially lag with its “long view” plan and failure to ink a deal with DirecTV.

Scott insists money is overrated, he said.

“You’ve got to have enough to be competitive,” he said. “I’m very confident our conference has the resources to win.”

The overall quality of his league is top-notch—the Pac 12 North might be this year's deepest division--yet the conference once again starts on the defensive.

Scott is still answering questions why McCaffrey couldn’t win the Heisman last year despite having, arguably, the greatest individual season in the history of college football.

“Can you imagine a credible Heisman voter not having McCaffrey on your ballot?” Scott wondered.

Apparently, we can.

The Pac 12 missed the playoff last year in part because of its ambitious scheduling strategy—as if you get brownie points for that.

Stanford won the nation’s second-best conference and missed the playoff because it elected to schedule a tough opener at Northwestern.

The league should be very solid again, yet is also replacing starting quarterbacks at USC, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State and Cal.

USC, loaded to the gills with talent and nearly back to 85 scholarships, plays the toughest schedule in the nation. Stanford plays Kansas State and Notre Dame, UCLA opens at Texas A&M and Oregon plays at Nebraska.

“I think that that probably tells you all you need to know,” Scott said. “That Stanford wants to schedule Northwestern. USC wants to schedule Alabama in addition to Notre Dame. They don’t have to. But they do. I think the philosophy of our schools is they want to take on all comers.”

Unlike the SEC, where football is oxygen, and this year’s motto is “It just means more,” the Pac 12 likes to fancy itself as a shampoo with a nice PH balance.

Making the playoff is not the end-all. Scott says considerations for scheduling include filling stadiums, branding, recruiting and other things.

“There’s a lot that goes into that decision and, you know, making the College Football Playoff is a consideration,” Scott said. “But I just ticked off four other things that our schools think about beyond whether you make the CFP or not, that are more important.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey might get fired for making that statement.

There is something magnanimous about wanting to be the best without shamelessly selling your brand or your soul.

Scott claims he is not worried about getting his thunder stolen.

“There is no shortage of attention we will get if we perform,” he said. “So I’m not worried about that at all.”

Pac 12 football will be good again, but probably not good enough.

How does any school get out with fewer than two losses?

Scott maintains his league will be in the running for the big prize.

There is another sense, though, that his conference has to keep running just to stand still.[/membership]