If you equate the fledgling college-football playoff to a political race, then the stumping began Thursday. At least it intensified, as Pac-12 coaches took part in a post-spring teleconference.
Therein, they were asked a whole lot less about who emerged at right guard in the past month than their thoughts on the end run the Southeastern Conference executed on the sport last weekend.
With the long-awaited playoff looming in the fall, the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are on board with nine league games. Most people think the uniformity a good thing. Not the SEC, which voted to stay at eight conference games with the intriguing corollary that its teams must schedule an opponent annually from the power conferences starting in 2016.
It’s the SEC, after all, the league that invented hubris while it was winning seven straight national championships. What it said, essentially, was, we’re so good we don’t have to play by everybody else’s rules, and by the way, would you like to see some of our crystal footballs?
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That’s wadded the panties of a lot of rival coaches, including several from the Pac-12.
“Not taking away from anything that LSU and Alabama and Auburn have accomplished,” said David Shaw of Stanford. “My take is to say, ‘OK, the rest of us are playing conference games nine out of 12, why can’t you do the same thing?’
“You can’t try to color it. You can’t try to explain it away.”
But they do. They’re the SEC, and they annually put more people into the NFL draft, and they win more national titles, and they draw more fans, even if they’re playing Georgia Grocery Checkers College. What else down there would sidetrack fans, other than needing occasionally to stir the moonshine out back?
College football is the SEC’s world and the rest of it is just taking a number. That leads Mike Leach, the Washington State coach, to say, “If I was the SEC, I’d probably keep it that way. They’re fairly clever to do it.”
Shaw says nothing changes for Stanford, but my guess is, the SEC has only added to the angst of the Pac-12 in scheduling. This has always been a league that, if anything, overschedules itself out of conference, owing to all the lifestyle options out there for fans and the need to attract them.
No wonder coaches are edgy. The Pac-12 has never been deeper or, week to week, more demanding. It may not be the SEC, but it’s a loss waiting to happen.
An unprecedented nine teams went to bowl games last season, two years after TV money augured a facilities boom and the watershed coaching turnover that brought Leach, Jim Mora, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez to the league.
So, coincidence or not, the Pac-12 in 2014 is gearing back some. Subjectively, eight of the 12 schools are playing an easier nonconference schedule than they did in 2013.
Washington doesn’t have Boise State, and it has a breezy path to another 4-0 start. Washington State traded a trip to Auburn for a Seattle game against Rutgers. Arizona State swapped out a game with Wisconsin for one against New Mexico. California’s date with Ohio State has become a more tenable matchup with BYU.
Don’t look for that consummate second or third Saturday in September, the one that has often defined the league. It doesn’t exist this year, although Oregon hosts Rose Bowl champion Michigan State on Sept. 6.
Truth be told, I think the SEC vote has a lot of people unnecessarily spooked. Just as the NCAA basketball committee has to decide whether one team’s 19-10 record with a win against Michigan State is better than somebody else’s 23-8 with a win against Elon, the playoff committee ought to be capable of parsing whether a team’s 11-1 record contains a suspicious layer of mush.
In fact, you could consider the SEC move a bit of a gamble. By staying at eight league games, it’s calling attention to itself, and risking a backlash that might take hold if the league happens not to be as good as it thinks.
There’s a concept hard to imagine. For most people, anyway. In Tucson, Rodriguez weighed the gravity of the SEC vote against the fact Arizona isn’t one of the 10 Pac-12 programs returning a starting quarterback.
“Would I like for all of the power conferences to have nine conference games?” RichRod asked. “Yeah, but I’m not worried about that at all. Hell, I’m just worried about how to get a first down right now.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281