When Larry Scott took over the (then) Pac-10 in 2009, he talked vividly about rebranding the conference, and making it competitive with the big boys down south.
In just three years, he’s added two schools, inked a multi-million dollar TV contract, and seen one of his babies in the BCS title game. On November 3rd, however, Scott could get the biggest boost so far. To understand the magnitude of that day, however, we need to back up a bit and change sports. And, ironically, head down south.
It was April 10, 2005, when the world’s most polarizing and popular athlete, Tiger Woods, hit this generation’s “shot heard-round-the-world.” Woods’ infamous chip trickled slowly towards the pin on the 16th hole at famed Augusta National, stopping momentarily by the cup, with the signature Nike swoosh for the whole world to see, before gracefully falling in. That split second before the ball hit the cup became a marketing bonanza for Nike, and a free one at that. Moments like that are rare, and cannot be scripted. Any other athlete, any other time, and the effect would not have been the same. When Oregon and USC meet in the Coliseum this season, it could provide the Conference the same endorsement that Tiger gave Nike.
November 3rd, 2012 could be a landmark day in college football. Aside from the Coliseum clash, there’s a little rematch in the SEC that could draw some eyeballs as well when LSU heads into Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide. Assuming that all four teams make it to this date undefeated, it will likely be the top four teams in the country involved, the closest college football has ever seen to a playoff.
The SEC has won six straight championships. They are head-and-shoulders above every other conference in the country, and every year they load up NFL rosters with bigger, faster and stronger athletes. The love fest over the SEC is not only immense…it’s deserving. As much as Big 12 fans jump up and down about Oklahoma and OSU, no matter how hard Oregon fans hold up their “O’s”, it will be irrelevant until someone steps up to the plate and does something about it.
November 3rd, 2012. There will never be a better time for the Pac-12 to say “here we are, come and get us.” This is the type of day when football fans close themselves off from the world, buckle up in front of their TVs, and dive headfirst into what will surely be the most memorable day of the season. For Larry Scott and the Pac-12, they need a Tiger Woods-esque moment.
The Pac-12 has made major strides over the past decade. Oregon State has won two championships in baseball. UCLA went through a wonderful stretch in the early Ben Howland days, and we all know what Pete Carroll and the men of Troy meant in the mid-2000s. The overall perception, from a football standpoint, however, has been just that…it’s USC and everyone else.
What Oregon has accomplished since Chip Kelly took over has been impressive, yes, but the conference still has not seen a different school rise up and claim a national title since UW in 1991. When Oregon and USC meet on November 3, they have an opportunity to change the perception of the conference for the better. While LSU-Alabama will certainly be the featured matchup, the battle in LA will not be far behind, and will almost undoubtedly be a much more entertaining game, or at least will result in more points than the 9-6 yawning spree the Tigers and Tide mustered last year.
Oregon and USC have tremendous athletes. They will display speed all over the field, all night long. Matt Barkley and DeAnthony Thomas are leading Heisman candidates. And if the game is close (as it should be, with both teams being so evenly matched), these two teams have a chance to give Mr. Scott the kind of marketing you can’t pay for. There’s no amount of flashy logos, TV networks, or trips to New York that can compete with a riveting, classic matchup of top-5 teams on national TV…and the fact that the boring, defensive slugfest in Alabama will be taking place mere hours before? It would all be set up perfectly for either USC or Oregon to take control of the polls.
The main story line of last season was the over-exposure of the SEC. Fans outside of the bible belt were sick of the attention the conference was getting. An LSU-Alabama rematch for the title? Wake me when it’s over. What this country needs is a fast-paced, high-scoring affair between fresh schools that haven’t had their time in the sun. Oregon-USC can ignite that fire, and give the conference a major jolt towards not only respectability, but being viewed as a top flight conference. This game would mean just as much for Washington State or Arizona State as it does for the Ducks and Trojans.
November 3, 2012. The ball is in your court, Trojans. The time is now, Ducks. Capitalize, captivate, and capture the spotlight. Let the chip shot roll slowly and dramatically towards the cup. Then smile as it falls in gracefully, and reap the rewards that will follow.