The Pac 12 woke up Monday with its top football team ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, two slots behind a “Group of 5” team that needed a frenetic rally to get out of Memphis with a one-point win.
The conference is five-alarm, flame-broil with a commissioner under siege as he beats away controversies, FBI probes, scandalous officiating, poison-penned national commentary and the worst plague of all-indifference.
The conference, simply put, got snookered in negotiations in the new College Football Playoff format.
It was like Lucy holding that football for Charlie Brown. And maybe it's time to do something about it.
When the 16-year BCS ended in 2013 and the four-team playoff was introduced, all five power conferences tentatively agreed to level the playing field by eventually moving to nine-game league schedules.
Even Alabama's Nick Saban favored it...and still favors it.
The Pac 12 was already playing nine, the Big Ten signed a promissory note and got there in 2016 and the Big 12, reduced to ten teams after near-fatal realignment, fell naturally into a nine-game round robin.
The SEC and ACC said yes, then said no “we’re fine at eight,” and now sit disproportionately well positioned in the playoff.
If the Pac 12 ever wants to win its fair share of football titles, or even one, it needs to maybe stop being so magnanimous and start getting serious.
If the ACC and SEC aren’t going to play fair, then the Pac 12 needs to go BACK to playing eight-conference games.
That would leave wiggle room in the schedule to best position your teams for November playoff runs.
Ok, then, keep doing it your way.
Last week, No. 7 Washington, the Pac 12 team best positioned for the playoff race, played at Oregon after playing consecutive Pac 12 road games. Oregon was coming off an open week.
The eight-game SEC works it like this: Alabama and LSU, the league’s top teams, are headed for an epic Nov. 3 showdown in Baton Rouge.
Both schools will have open weeks before that game. Then, in November, as “luck” would have it, Alabama will play The Citadel a week before arch-rival Auburn. And LSU will play The Rice the week before a tough game at Texas A&M.
The SEC, when it comes to pain-management scheduling, always gets it right and the Pac 12 always gets it wrong. Only in the miraculous and magic SEC can its two best teams meet, for the first time, in the national championship game (Last year: Alabama vs. Georgia).
The eight-game format may not disadvantage the Pac in any particular year, anecdotally, even this year, but over time it matters.
It also needs to be noted that since the fall of Pete Carroll's empire at USC, the SEC (and ACC) have had superior top-level champions.
But why give those conferences any MORE advantages?
Fact checkers will argue: but USC almost won three straight national titles (2003, 2004, 2005) with a nine-game league schedule.
And that would be wrong—and pokes a stick in the magnanimous, purity argument.
The Pac 10 played an eight-game schedule until 2005. It moved to nine-games in 2006 after the NCAA approved a 12th game.
Here's why it made sense then but doesn't make sense anymore:[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The nine-game made sense then because the Pac, like the Big 12 now, could play a true round-robin format and declare a holistic champion. It also didn't want, in the BCS era, two teams tying for the league title that didn't play each other.
But that notion ended when Colorado and Utah joined in 2011 and forced selected cross-over “misses” in the new divisional format. And when the league added a conference title game.
So why is anybody playing a nine-game schedule when no one has ever won a national title out of that format?
What about Ohio State in 2002 and 2014?
Nope, remember, the Big Ten played eight games until 2016.
Oklahoma in 2000 and Texas in 2005? Eight games.
Miami won the 2001 national championship after going 7-0 in the old Big East.
I’ve asked Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott, on many occasions, why the league continues to compete on an uneven playing field.
His answer is perfectly fine on one level: Pac 12 teams and fans love good games. They don’t want to play Citadel or “hyphen” schools.
USC and UCLA can proudly boast they are two of the three schools (Notre Dame is the other) that have never played a sub-division school.
Scott says, informatively, that Pac 12 scheduling is complicated by the fact USC and UCLA have to play crossover games every year against Stanford and Cal of the North Division.
Scott can be proud of the competitive, tight-knit bond of his schools even if some of us can’t get the Pac 12 Net on our satellite dishes.
So, yeah, if you want to continue down this dialed-down road, stick with the program.
After USC improved to 4-2 after Saturday’s home win over Colorado, Clay Helton said “it’s a win that allows us to control our destiny the rest of the way.”
Helton meant, of course, a Pac 12 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Destiny at USC used to mean national titles.
It was honorable for the Pac 12, Big Ten and Big 12 to want to make the College Football Playoff as fair as possible in a sport where inequity has always prospered and ruled.
That ended when two leagues pulled the chair.
If you can't command change from the SEC and ACC, and want to stay the nine-game course, fine. Just don't complain as the SEC and ACC keep winning national titles at the robust clip they keep winning them, in a system they baited you into. [/membership]