It’s not easy being Nostradamus and projecting the fortunes and fates of left coast conferences led by commissioners named “Larry.”
Rankman remembers sitting with commissioner Larry Scott at Pac 12 Media Day, in July, at a lunch table at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.
Give it to him straight is what I did, telling Scott how unpopular he was with the general masses. He said he didn't use social media and that, to me, seemed very Harvard smart.
“I haven’t been this down in the dumps about the Pac 12 since the late 1900s,” I told Scott I was going to write about his annual glam-fest media day, specifically referring to USC teams led by Paul Hackett.
Scott seemed to understand.
I basically nailed it. The conference, coming off a 1-8 bowl season, was limping into a mishmash season with “Washington” as the only playoff contender.
I just had the wrong Washington.
Chip Kelly in his first year at UCLA? No way. USC after Sam Darnold?
Too many teams of equal quality, not enough separation, plus a nine-game league schedule. It just didn’t add up.
It was written here in July: “it’s hard not to lose two games in a system that will rarely reward for that.”
So here we sit, in early November, and it almost all came true. The Pac 12 had only two schools ranked in the first College Football Playoff ranking.
Utah was No. 15 and the fastest-emerging team in the South, but is now in trouble after losing quarterback Tyler Huntley to a broken collarbone.
The South Division is jammed up like the 405 Freeway at rush hour, which is all hours.
A three-or-four loss champion could emerge from the South, including USC, which needs “only” Arizona State and Utah to lose while the Trojans close with wins over Cal and UCLA.
USC could even lose to (nonconference) Notre Dame and still pop out as the second five-loss team in history to make the Rose Bowl. The Trojans would match Wisconsin’s 2012 train wreck trip west. Remember that one?
Wisconsin finished third in its Big Ten division but, with Ohio State and Penn State both on probation, the U of Madison advanced to the title game and defeated Nebraska.
To make things worse, coach Brett Bielema thought taking the Arkansas job was better than taking his team to the Rose Bowl. AD Barry Alvarez showed Brett the early door, took over the team and then dueled Stanford Coach David Shaw to a sumo-wrestling standoff at midfield.
Rose purists recoiled at the thought of an 8-5 team soiling precious Pasadena turf. We called it the “Wisky Rebellion.”
People may scream again if a 7-5 "Trojan Hearse" pulls into the Rose Parade. That's barely better than the 6-4-1 team UCLA team sent after the 1983 season.
I remember feeling embarrassed, before the 2008 game, at the thought of Pete Carroll's USC (10-2) having to play three-loss Illinois.
The Rose is praying for Washington State to win out but not make the college football playoff, a plausible scenario. The more perfect scenario is one-loss Michigan also getting shut out by one-loss Alabama and Notre Dame for the final playoff spots.
Washington State-Michigan, at this point, would be a dream Rose Bowl.
The flip side is a multi-loss collision between the Pac South and Big Ten West.
Washington State, obviously, has been the Pac 12 story of the year—but how long can it last? Mike Leach teams have a history of fading.
His best team at Texas Tech, in 2008, started 10-0 but lost two of its last three. His 2007 team went from 6-1 to 9-4 and his 2006 team started 6-0 before a 3-3 finish.
Last year, in Pullman, his Cougars started 6-0 before a 3-3 finish and, in 2016, an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season ended with three straight defeats.
That said, these 8-1 Cougars seem almost magical after consecutive pull-out wins against Stanford and Cal.
Wazzu plays at Colorado, then closes at home against Arizona and Washington.
The pressure is mounting: “It’s hard to line up and do it over and over when folks are gunning for you,” Leach said after Saturday’s 19-13 home hold against Cal.
If, by some chance, Wazzu did out it would still need help to make the four-team finale--a combination of Notre Dame losing (little help, USC?) and the Big Ten and\or Big 12 champions having two losses.
It’s a down year for the Pac, as predicted, but the most shocking thing is this: it's early November and you can't officially call Larry's League out of it. Scott, last July, would have gladly taken that sentence. In fact, that sentence is as almost as convoluted as Scott's conference is...