Pac Tracks: How a terrible news week for the Pac 12 didn't get worse--and maybe got better

It was a tough week for Larry’s League.

Stanford and UCLA got written up for level-two NCAA violations just in time for Sanction Saturday’s show-down at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA had been bracing for the bad news involving recruiting-hound assistant Adrian Klemm and was, thus, able to immediately hit the spin cycle.

UCLA and Klemm seemed shocked giving players $2,400 for housing and private lessons was wrong and vowed to use the experience as a teachable moment.

You know, like when your dog makes a do-do on the carpet.

“This was a good lesson for our coaches and staff,” Coach Jim Mora said. “We must know every single NCAA rule and adhere to them, period.”

Yes, Jim, every single rule, and go ahead and start with the big ones.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The Stanford news was a shock because the school is held up as a beacon of innovative virtue, not to mention being the No.1 exporter of medalists to the U.S. Olympic team.

Stanford taking a NCAA hit is like Ruth Bader Ginsburg getting picked up for shoplifting. Rankman is so embarrassed and ashamed he has vowed his children will never attend school there.

The Stanford infractions involved softball, that evil pit of money laundering and racketeering, and a former football player getting a $3,000 loan for a bike.

Not a motorcycle, a bike.

Typical Stanford, though, the kid repaid the loan before the crime was even discovered.

There was more serious news at USC, where a player was charged with rape, and at Washington State, where coach Mike Leach accused the media and police for unfairly targeting his boy scouts while they tried to make peace at fraternity parties.

The beat goes on: USC, the conference’s standard bearer, already has absorbed two losses and is looking at a third Friday night in Utah.

Some have already deemed the promotion of Clay Helton a possible mistake. Even superstar L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who championed the Helton hire, had to wonder as he typed out the ugly truth of Saturday’s 27-10 loss at Stanford.

Helton is 1-4 since Plaschke gave his decision a blessing. “What’s the Trojans’ deal?” he wrote. “Who knows?”

Helton is anything if not positive. USC has lost to Stanford three times in a year in which Christian McCaffrey has accumulated 970 total yards (also not a bad SAT score).

“We hope to face that team again, I really do,” Helton said of a possible rematch in the Pac 12 title game.

Oregon’s in-house hire of Mark Helfrich isn’t going that much better after the Ducks blew a decent chance to win at Nebraska on Saturday. Oregon fell by three points because the Ducks failed on four-out-of-five, two-point conversion attempts.

John Canzano, lead columnist for the Oregonian, wrote from Lincoln: “The University of Oregon’s PAT strategy is a jumbled, arrogant, mess.”

Promoting from within is always the easiest thing to do. And the players always love it!

But is it the best thing?

All this bad news, only three weeks deep into the season, leaves the Pac 12 in very, very…decent shape?

Actually, yes.

“Debbie Downer” Rankman didn’t see much four-team playoff hope for a league that insists on scheduling itself out of contention every year with match-ups like Oregon at Nebraska and UCLA at Texas A&M.

The problem is there are only four playoff spots to be divvied up among five power conferences and Notre Dame.

Last year, two-loss Stanford, a terrific team, got left out.

The national landscape, however, has already shifted dramatically since Labor Day.

The Big 12, which almost took two playoff spots two years ago, may already be out of it. The only undefeated teams left are Baylor, which hasn’t played anyone, and West Virginia. Oklahoma has lost twice, while Texas, Texas Christian and Oklahoma State also have defeat dings.

The Southeastern Conference is also not in its usual rock-solid shape. The USA Today coaches are doing everything they can to keep the SEC relevant, voting Georgia No. 11 this week after the Bulldogs followed up a two-point win over Nicholls State with a one-point win over Missouri.

But even the coaches could find room for only one SEC team, top-ranked Alabama, in their top 10.

Notre Dame, always a threat to steal a playoff spot, has two losses.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has two serious threats but one of them is not Florida State, which will be hard-pressed to recover from a 63-20 drubbing at Louisville.

Houston’s “Group of 5” hopes are hinged to a weak schedule and hoping two-loss Oklahoma not finishing with six-losses. Houston has only one big game left, against Louisville.

What it means: the Big Ten and ACC could take two playoff bids, but all this early jumbling also puts the Pac 12 in a stronger position.

It’s possible, this year, that a two-loss champion could get in.

Stanford and Washington are both undefeated, in the top 10, and bracing for a huge game in Seattle on Sept. 30.

The league, other than a few blips, is showing well. Cal and Colorado have already exceeded lowered expectations. Cal just knocked off No. 11 Texas while Colorado might have defeated Michigan had quarterback Sefo Liufau not gotten injured.

Utah is undefeated and the two Arizona schools are a combined 5-1, even if nobody really knows the Five Ws of journalism of it: Who, What, When, Where and Why?

So while there is hard work ahead in the Pac 12, things aren’t as bleak as they seemed last Friday when the weekly conference release could have been a police report.

Sometimes, the only thing that beats bad news in your league is worse news elsewhere.[/membership]

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