It really does keep getting worse.
When Oregon’s Troy Dye intercepted Utah’s Tyler Huntley on Friday night, it didn’t just seal a victory, it buried a conference. Call it a pick six-feet-under.
Not only did that play ensure that the Pac-12 would miss out on the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive season — it fulfilled all the (non) expectations that the league has been shouldering year after year.
The perception is that these programs can’t hang with the top-tier schools — that they are basically the Bottom of the Pac-12. And, unfortunately, they haven’t done much to shake that image.
Where do you want to start? The nonconference schedule? If you can find an impressive win against a Power 5 school this year, first round is on me.
Arizona beat 4-8 Texas Tech. Arizona State beat 6-6 Michigan State, which lost by a combined 119 points in its games against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Cal beat 4-8 Ole Miss, whose signature moment this season came via a player pretending to be a dog relieving himself after a touchdown. Stanford beat 3-9 Northwestern, Colorado beat 5-7 Nebraska, and well…it’s getting depressing.
The conference’s best shot to shine came when Oregon was just a couple minutes from taking down Auburn, which beat Washington in the previous August, until the Tigers came back to win 27-21. UCLA had lost to Cincinnati a few days earlier, Hawaii beat Arizona a few days before that, and thus the conference seemed to earn an also-ran label it still wears more than three months later.
Huskies football coach Jimmy Lake, who was the team’s defensive coordinator at the time, objected to any generalizing of the Pac-12 when asked about it after Week 1. He said, having lived on the East Coast for a while, that there was a bias as tens of millions couldn’t stay awake for the West Coast games. He also mentioned all the SEC teams’ losses that week, and concluded his defense of the conference by saying, “I think you’ll see as we move forward here that it’s more media-contrived than actual facts.”
Hey, it was a great pitch, and the tweet quoting him got huge traffic. But I think even Lake knows the facts aren’t there.
The Pac-12 went 3-4 in bowl games last year — highlighted by the Huskies’ 28-23 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl — and were 1-8 the year before. That 1-8 showing marked the worst postseason performance in any Power 5 conference’s history.
Some might want to blame the three-year CFP skid on the Pac-12 parity — how everyone in the conference has the ability to beat each other up. But you could say the same about soccer teams in relegation leagues, and this conference is moving closer to looking like one of those.
Money is obviously part of it. After all five of the Power 5 conferences released their tax returns, the order for per-school distribution went as follows.
1) Big Ten, $54 million.
2) SEC: $43.7 million
3) Big 12: $34.7 million
T4) Pac-12 and ACC: $29.5 million each.
But there were also physical characteristics holding the conference back — like, you know … the players being too small.
“The size disparity was ridiculous,” former Washington coach Rick Neuheisel told the Oregonian last year. “We, as a conference, have to get bigger. We play in this league that is small, skilled and make all kinds of plays, but we don’t look the part physically. We don’t have the ability to recruit and have the bells and whistles because the money isn’t coming in as it should.”
Not much has seemed to have gotten better. We’ll see if they will. But as of now, no school from the Pac-12 is among 24/7 sports’ top 10 teams in the recruiting rankings.
During his riff in September, Lake noted that “everything comes in cycles.” Maybe so. But for the Pac-12, it seems more like a tumble — and not one that might end soon.