The Pac-12 has never quite gotten it right with regard to the bowl system. If it’s not getting shafted by the BCS (Oregon, 2001; California, 2004), it’s coming up short multiple times of its contracted bowl arrangements.
This year, the conference’s teams are putting a new spin on the postseason. The league is affiliated with seven bowls, and eight teams already are eligible. A betting man would say there will probably be a ninth — either Washington State or Utah — and there’s an outside chance both could make it, ballooning the number to 10.
In other words, too many teams for too few bowls (too few bowls; now there’s a phrase not often written), which could very well leave a couple of league members vying with one another to land in a postseason game.
Think of it: The Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit entertaining bids from athletic directors like Bill Moos of Washington State and Bob DeCarolis of Oregon State to get their teams to idle in the Motor City for a few days before the Dec. 26 game.
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“There’s not a whole lot of specific rules and regulations about what happens,” says one bowl director. “The NCAA prefers to step aside and let the bowls work it out.”
Naturally, the surfeit of teams happens in a season when the Pac-12 appears likely to get only one in the BCS (after three straight years of both Oregon and Stanford making it), which turns loose one more squad to find a postseason home.
And it comes after a decade in which five times the league failed to fill all its obligated bowls — on three occasions, by two of them. Only once in that period, did the league run over (by one).
The depth of the Pac-12 will be most positively felt by the lower-rung Pac-12 bowl affiliates like the Las Vegas, Fight Hunger and New Mexico, which are more likely to get a seven- or even an eight-win team in their games.
Nationally, the picture is much the same. Today, about 65 teams are eligible for 35 bowls, and by my reckoning, the number figures to expand to 76 or 77. Some of the overflow is from low-rent programs in the Sun Belt or Mid-American, but the ACC will be in the market, too.
The Big Ten prospectively has two unfilled spots (in the Little Caesars and Heart of Dallas Jan. 1) and the Big 12 one (the Pinstripe in New York Dec. 28), the likely places for Pac-12 programs to try to alight.
Meanwhile, given the bowls’ buyer’s market and the possibility of an eligible Pac-12 team getting jilted, the campaigning for the last contracted bowls could be unusually intense. Remember, fellas, there’s a reason they call this a “league.”
The Ed Orgeron issue deepens at USC. Athletic director Pat Haden has a decision on his hands: Stick with the interim coach who has invigorated the Trojans with a 5-1 record, or start fresh?
ADs often hire to the image of the school, and the image of a USC coach is a square-jawed, stoic character who might resemble John Wayne (he played there). That would fit the description of Jack Del Rio, who has been an NFL head coach. That doesn’t exactly describe Orgeron, whose endearing Cajun brogue sounds like marbles in his mouth.
But can Del Rio recruit? He’s never been a college coach. Orgeron, spotlighted in Bruce Feldman’s excellent book “Meat Market,” can do that, especially at USC.
Tuesday, when I asked Orgeron on the Pac-12 teleconference about lessons learned at his failed 10-25 tenure at Ole Miss, he said, “I was coaching the team as a defensive line coach would. That’s probably not the best thing to do to a wide receiver or a quarterback, I would imagine.”
If he’s truly torn on Orgeron, Haden must ask himself: Is this the temporary spark that a lot of programs experience, simply from ridding themselves of the last guy? If he hires him, does Orgeron somehow become a different figure than the one who has rallied the Trojans?
Kevin Sumlin, the Texas A&M coach, is the name linked most frequently to the USC search. The guess here is that barring something like a miracle run to the Rose Bowl by Orgeron, Haden wipes the slate clean and starts anew.