How the Pac-12 Wins Seven Straight Titles

Amazing Moments

Last Monday, I addressed the cracks that were beginning to form in the SEC’s mantle atop college football.  Saturday’s games helped to widen those cracks, as the conference saw member schools challenged by programs such as North Texas and lose a game to Rutgers.  The conference that had enjoyed a long-standing reputation as college football’s best now has a 6-6 record against AQ non-conference opponents.  They may still be the nation’s best conference, with strength at the top again this year in programs such as Alabama and LSU, but the league lacks enough depth to avoid taking the topic of “best conference in college football” off the table.

How did they get to the top?  That reputation was built largely on the back of its seven consecutive national championships, an accomplishment requiring a conference to have quality teams and a little bit of luck.

But what if a ball bounced differently here or there?  Could another conference have won seven straight titles, like say, the Pac-12?  It’s closer than you think:

2006

USC turned their backs on another title in 2006

From Video

USC turned their backs on another title in 2006.

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: USC

What Would Have Had to Happen: Coming into a season in which it gave away a national championship the year prior, the Trojans were as good as ever during their run, but appeared to miss their chance to return to the title game following a 33-31 loss to Oregon State in late October.

Yet in another chaotic season, even with a loss, USC found itself in the driver’s seat, ranked second in the BCS going into the season’s final weekend.  But instead of a third straight National Championship Game appearance, a 13-9 loss to rival UCLA in the season’s final weekend, sent SEC champion Florida to the title game instead.

That loss ended the way so many others did during that run by the Trojans, driving down the field in the closing moments with a chance to win the game, but instead, an interception by UCLA’s Eric McNeal preserved the victory for the Bruins.

Had USC won that UCLA game, it likely would have finished second in the BCS rankings, and gone on to play an Ohio State team that was dominated by Florida in the title game.  Florida made the title game by beating Arkansas 38-28 to win the SEC Championship, the same Arkansas team the Trojans throttled in Fayetteville 50-14 earlier in the year.  While the transitive property of games can be a flawed logic, it serves notice that the Trojans would have had just as great a chance, if not greater, than that Florida team did that dominated Ohio State to win the national championship.

2007

Never Forget

From Video

Never Forget.

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: Oregon

What Would Have Had to Happen: I don’t think it’s necessary to go into specifics on this one.

2008

USC was the only 1-loss AQ team left out of the title game in 2008

From Video

USC was the only 1-loss AQ team left out of the title game in 2008.

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All:  USC

What Would Have Had to Happen: Another year, another bad pass by a Trojans’ quarterback to derail their season.  In 2006, it was John David Booty getting a two-point conversion swatted down, again at Oregon State, and an interception against UCLA (see above).  USC was driving with a chance to tie the game against Oregon in 2007, but Matthew Harper stopped in front of a pass that was supposed to change the power structure in the conference.

Then there was 2008.  The Trojans were considered the best to never play for a title during Pete Carroll’s time at USC, lost only a single game all year and did so on a horrendous interception by Mark Sanchez in the conference opener against Oregon State.

The loss was punctuated by the famous image of Mark Sanchez tossing his mouthpiece, and marked the first time the Beavers had defeated a top-ranked team in 41 years.  USC would finish the season in the Rose Bowl, the last time the Trojans would finish atop the Pac-12.

2009

Ducks could have played a different game in Pasadena in 2009

From Video

The Ducks could have played a different game in Pasadena in 2009.

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: Oregon (Maybe?)

What Would Have Had to Happen:  I will admit this one is the thinnest case.  For Oregon to have even played in the national championship, they would have had to:

  • Defeat both Boise State and Stanford
  • Play well enough to distinguish itself amongst the five FBS unbeatens that season to be selected in the top two
  • Somehow get selected as a top-two team over historical bluebloods such as Alabama or Texas

Probably not happening.

More amazingly, how were there no viable national championship contenders in conference in 2009, despite having Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, and Chip Kelly all as head coaches?  Those three now make up nearly 20% of the current head coaches in the NFC.

2010

Thiiiiis Close

From Video

Thiiiiis Close . . .

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: Oregon

What Would Have Had to Happen: Much like 2007, do I really need to re-hash this one?  Does anyone have any difficulty imagining the circumstances that would have given Oregon a title?

2011

What could Stanford have done in 2011 without the Oregon game?

Amazing Moments

What could Stanford have done in 2011 without the Oregon game?

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: Stanford

What Would Have Had to Happen: Sure, it is hard to say that a team who lost to the eventual conference champion by 23 points at home was “this close” to playing for a national championship.  But what if what happened in 2012, where Stanford played its best game the same week as Oregon’s greatest struggle, had happened a year earlier?  The game resulted in Stanford’s only loss of the season, meaning a different outcome would have left college football with only two undefeateds that season: Stanford and LSU.

Now, while the transitive property of winning might indicate that the Cardinal would have been vastly overmatched – given LSU’s dominating performance over Oregon – who later dominated Stanford —  but that would also assume that LSU could beat Alabama in the National Championship Game since it already defeated . . . Alabama.

Yet LSU’s offense failed to cross midfield until the middle of the fourth quarter in the title game, and while that’s largely attributable to Alabama’s terrific defense, Stanford’s defense that season was nothing to sneeze at, either.  Stanford’s one kryptonite in its bowl game that season was its kicking, which likely wouldn’t have mattered against the Tigers.  Here’s guessing Andrew Luck could have gotten in the end zone at least once in that theoretical matchup.

2012

Marcus Mariota's dynamic run was one of the highlights of Oregon's 2012 contest against Stanford

Kevin Cline

Marcus Mariota’s dynamic run was one of the highlights of Oregon’s 2012 contest against Stanford.

Pac-12 Team That Could Have Won It All: Oregon

What Would Have Had to Happen: The most heartbreaking of the three seasons listed here.  While some revisionist history was formed by Alabama’s dominance in the title game has allowed people to put the potential outcome of a title game between Alabama and Oregon in doubt, many forget that Oregon would have played Notre Dame, not Alabama, had they finished undefeated.  Given the performance we saw from Notre Dame, it is hard not to assume Oregon would have been successful in defeating the Irish.


Give credit where credit is due.  Seven titles in a row is impressive; even with the right bounces of the ball, the Pac-12 still could only have won six of the last seven titles.  If the Pac-12 were to win one this year, then the case could still be made for the possibility that the right bounces produces seven titles in eight years.  That would be the same number the SEC would have if it doesn’t win it all this year, and such a result would go a long way toward equalizing the conferences.

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