The PAC-12 Championship game is a perfect two-for-two in failing to bring together the top two teams in the conference for a championship showdown. In fact, the formula has yet to produce a competitive game. At the root of the problem are the fiction that the PAC has two divisions and the failure of the southern “division” to produce a viable champion. With prospects of a four-team national playoff looming, the structural division error could come back to haunt the PAC-12.
How does the championship game work for the SEC but not the PAC? First, it doesn’t completely work for the SEC, either. It still fairly routinely fails to match the two top teams, both of whom have lately tended to reside in the SEC West. There are, however, three things that the SEC Championship Game has going for it that the PAC-12 does not. The first is that the SEC, while it still has its creampuffs, has teams from both divisions ranked in the Top 10, so a matchup that is at least viable is inevitable. At this point, the PAC-12 is arguably as strong as the SEC at the very top, but the drop-off after the top two is huge, and lately the top two have been in the same “division.” Of course, all of this is subject to change at any time.
What is not subject to change without administrative action is this: the PAC-12 (the only of three numbered conferences that knows how to count) actually has twelve members and the SEC has fourteen. Further, the PAC plays nine conference games while the SEC plays eight. This means that each PAC team plays all but two of the teams in the conference (with both misses from the other so-called “division”), while each SEC team misses five of seven from the other division. Any two PAC teams playing for the championship game will have played either six or seven common conference opponents, with either only one or two games having been played against conference teams the other did not play. This hardly qualifies as divisions. As an example, the only difference between Oregon’s conference schedule and UCLA’s in 2012 was that Oregon played Washington while UCLA played Utah. Even had Oregon lost to Utah (highly unlikely), Oregon would still have had the better record.
It would be a really, really good idea for the PAC-12 to abandon the idea of divisions that aren’t really divisions at all, and simply match the top two teams for the championship game — regardless of their latitudes on the map. Why? Where only four teams nationally are to be invited to the championship semi-final round, a championship win against a team not even ranked in the top 25 will not count for much. One more win against a Top Ten team could make all the difference. Besides that, should a 6 – 6 team really have a shot at going to the Rose Bowl?