Before getting to the clownish misjudgment about targeting and the near-annual sigh about the College Football Playoff, let’s unleash some perspective: The Pacific-12 is the most awesome damned conference in the damned history of American sports conferences, and it’s not even all that close.
It has 513 national titles unless it just got one in the past few hours, which it may well have. That’s almost double the total of anyone else and includes 12 current titles from seven schools, including one of the more impressive sports achievements: Oregon State, in a sport forever tilted toward the sun-hogging latitudes, just wrung a third national title out of baseball.
According to the College Town Rankings Selection Committee and its one nomadic member — hi — the Pac-12 has the national co-No. 1 town (Boulder, Colo.) and four of the national top 10 (counting Berkeley, Calif.; Eugene, Ore.; and Palo Alto, Calif.). It has the greatest stadium in the United States (Rose Bowl), one of the greatest stadium settings (Colorado), two of the top 10 stadium experiences (Oregon, Washington), two of the greatest cities (Los Angeles, Seattle) and the Great Salt Lake. It has the lush trees of Washington and the fetching cactuses of Arizona.
Nobody should feel sorry for it.
Nobody should feel sorry for the Pac-12 especially while, as first reported by Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, it has bollixed a targeting case from the Southern California-Washington State game of Sept. 21, in which one of the most glaring cases of targeting yet seen somehow got overruled by a third party from the conference office who adjudicated as if stashed giddily in the vineyards of Napa. (One hopes, anyway.) This violated the foremost calling of the whole college sports concoction: protect the athletes. Commissioner Larry Scott announced protocol changes Thursday.
And nobody should feel sorry for the Pac-12 even though, football-wise, five seasons into the College Football Playoff concept, patting it on the head and bidding it an early farewell from the playoff picture has become sort of a budding tradition.
That tradition might reach a few familiar rituals this weekend.
On Saturday night, Colorado (5-0) will play at USC (3-2), and if the Trojans win, the Pac-12 will run out of unbeaten teams. That’s not quite a disqualifier on its own: Of the 16 teams to reach the playoff, only three have been unbeaten; the other 13 have had one loss. The thing is, also on Saturday, Washington (5-1) will play at Oregon (4-1), a contemptuous occasion certain to hurl one of the two into the two-loss pit of the forlorn. Washington State stands 5-1 but still must play Oregon, Stanford, Colorado and, most achingly, Washington, which has mauled it the past three years by 45-10, 45-17 and 41-14.
Further, if Colorado can beat USC, it must celebrate briefly before immediately visiting Washington.
Each time the Pac-12 has missed the playoff (2015, 2017), its concoction of intraleague squabbles yielded zero teams with fewer than two regular season losses. Someday, some year, a two-loss team will make it to the playoff, wreaking rancor, disillusionment, bad vibes and all the thrills that stem from those. This year, with independent Notre Dame looking so stout, does not appear to be that year. Here are the Power Five conference standings in number of teams with fewer than two losses: SEC, five; Big Ten, five; Pac-12, four; Big 12, three; ACC, three. Come Saturday, the Pac-12 and Big Ten (with Michigan playing Wisconsin) are assured to shed one each, and the SEC will shed one if Georgia wins at LSU. Here is a shout-out to the Group of Five: Central Florida, South Florida and Cincinnati remain unbeaten.
Of course, the Big 12 has matched the Pac-12 with the fewest playoff berths of the 16 thus far — two each, next to the Big Ten’s three, the ACC’s four and the SEC’s five. Yet with Texas apparently rising (and blasting USC in the process), the Big 12 landscape looks fresher. Meanwhile, some of the Pac-12’s outlook hinges on Washington’s season-opening, 21-16 loss to Auburn. For venturing all the way to Atlanta to play that, Washington should get some relief from the College Football Playoff selection committee. For Auburn having lost twice since then, Washington could get some harrumphs.
Washington’s remaining schedule: at Oregon, Colorado, at California, Stanford, Oregon State, at Washington State and maybe the conference championship game. If it can climb through those to 12-1, it should get primo consideration for a playoff spot. If it can climb through those to 12-1 in a season with Alabama (6-0), Georgia (6-0), Ohio State (6-0), Clemson (6-0), Notre Dame (6-0) and somebody from the Big 12 at one loss or fewer, the Pac-12 should get primo consideration for commiseration.
At that point, the Pac-12 and its relative parity would have missed the playoff more years than not. College football would seem just a smidgen more of a regional affair, maybe even a portent of a sport set to die out across the next 100 years as parents object, leaving the intensity only in certain regions such as the Southeast.
For now, the Pac-12 always can say it holds down team titles in the world’s most important sport (men’s and women’s soccer) and in its most unforgiving sport (rowing), as well as in women’s tennis, women’s gymnastics, women’s swimming and diving, women’s golf, water polo of both genders and women’s outdoor track and field, beach volleyball and, of course, baseball. All of those things are impressive if not so loud as what happens when 12 knowledgeable people meet in a boardroom in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.