Pac 12 season comes crashing down

Start to finish, top to bottom, from to Pullman to Tucson, this is the worst Pac 8, 10, 11 or 12 season I can ever remember.


It goes way beyond USC’s dismal Cotton Bowl loss to Ohio State on Friday, Washington's loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and a final Pac 12 bowl record of 1-8--the worst in bowl-game history.

Thank goodness Utah, a last-minute edition to expansion, joined the league in 2011. That's right. Utah was only invited to the Pac 12 after the conference's plan for a Super-16 fell apart.

The bowl record stinks, for sure, but these things go in cycles and are not to be taken that seriously.

In 2014, the top five teams in the SEC West, considered the cream of all college divisions, all lost.

The Big Ten wretchedly rang in 2011 by going 0-5 on New Year’s Day, and nobody called for commissioner Jim Delany’s impeachment.

Bowl records are mostly fodder for ESPN “contest” programming and playful bragging rights.

The Big Ten is hot bowl stuff this year after going 3-7 last year, punctuated by Ohio State’s humiliating 31-0 loss to Clemson in the national semifinals.

Pac 12 football has suffered before. No one partied in 1999, when Stanford won the conference with a record of 8-4. As recently as 2009, the league had no teams finish in the top 10 of the final AP poll.

This year’s Pac 12 failures go beyond football. It seemed to be one public relations disaster after another. The conference continued to lose, nationally, prestige and respect.

It spent the year apologizing for its time-zone and scheduling problems. It went another year putting its two best teams in Friday night road games, at the behest of television, only to see those teams lose and get knocked out of playoff contention.

At the Pac 12 title game, commissioner Larry Scott had to answer for programming that saw a league game get moved to the Fox Business Channel to make room for a truck race.

“I don’t think a Pac 12 football game should ever be delayed for a truck race,” Scott said.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Pac 12 football schools didn’t play much defense this year, but the league office sure did. There were grumblings around the league, expertly reported by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, about growing dissatisfaction among Pac 12 presidents about the direction of the league.

Some are growing disenchanted with a trickling revenue stream known as the Pac 12 Network, which continues to play a “long” game as it financially lags behind the SEC and Big Ten.

Scott took a chance by convincing presidents to take 100% ownership of the Network instead of sharing equity with a partner. Scott is convinced this will pay off over time as new revenue streams are created. The problem is the league’s current contract with ESPN\FOX doesn’t expire until 2023-24.

The Pac 12 Network also continues its standoff with DirecTV, which means the network is still not even seen by millions.

Pac 12 officiating, despite many reboots and overhauls, continues to be disparaged nationally. This notion was not helped this weekend in the Music City Bowl when a Pac 12 official ridiculously ejected Benny Snell, Kentucky’s star running back. The ref tried to help Snell off the ground after a play but was tossed when Snell harmlessly swatted the offer. What?

Pac 12 basketball took a big hit in the fall when two of its schools, USC and Arizona, were implicated in a massive FBI sting operation.

Ah, and then there was China, when three UCLA basketball players were detained for shoplifting on a “goodwill” trip. This was a personal embarrassment to Scott and UCLA chancellor Gene Block, who were on the trip. It was made worse when it appeared the league needed the President of the United States to get the players freed.

A bad bowl season was just the capper to a Pac 12 season of Bad News Bears, Bad News Beavers and Bad News Balls.

What went wrong?

Let’s start with coaching. The Pac 12’s lineup, IMO, just doesn’t stack up to other leagues.

USC Coach Clay Helton has done a fine job but was no match, in a big game, against Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

It was the same story in 2014 when Oregon put Mark Helfrich against Meyer in the national title game.

The conference lacked a superstar leader that can push a program from great to greatest. It then looked a bit slimy when two schools, UCLA and Arizona State, bought off two winning coaches for $12 million each.

Willie Taggart, after one year, walked out on Oregon, which was not a good look for a program that has fought years to build its brand.

David Shaw at Stanford is a treasure, but his conservative mindset seems to cost the Cardinal one or two games a year.

Mike Leach at Washington State continues to be the Pac 12’s most interesting coach and Twitter follow. But his teams simply can not be trusted away from Pullman, or in Holiday Bowls.

Chip Kelly’s return to the league, at UCLA, is a positive step.

--Pac 12 defenses, in general, were horrific.

Go look at the bowl-game scores, and then go look at the defensive fronts at Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. It’s not even close. Five Pac 12 units ranked No. 96 or worse in total defense: Cal (96), Arizona State (108), Colorado (109), Oregon State (119), UCLA (122).

--Quarterback play.

The Pac 12, in order to succeed, needs its signature position to shine. That did not happen this year. The conference’s top two quarterbacks, Sam Darnold (USC) and Josh Rosen (UCLA), underperformed. Darnold’s turnover-fest against Ohio State was a snapshot of his season. Rosen was injured too much to be properly evaluated. Jake Browning was solid at Washington, but not great. Injury cost Justin Herbert, Oregon’s rising star, a good chunk of his season. Washington State’s Luke Falk was so injury-addled or inconsistent he was, on several occasions, benched by Leach.

Khalil Tate and K.J. Costello, for Arizona and Stanford, have bright futures. But they also collapsed at the end of winnable bowl games.

So. there you have it—the lost 2017 season. It was so bad it took this long to mention the Pac 12 actually went 2-0 against the SEC.

Some years that would have meant more. Or, at least something? [/membership]