How the Pac-12 Wins Seven Straight Titles

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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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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to nroholtfd@gmail.com.

  • Jared Sawyer

    Fun Read Nathan!

  • Doug Mai

    OK, 1st let me say this, the NCAA is the most unfair, I mean Division 1 Football is a Billion Dollar Entity, That make’s Money off names of all the Big name player’s, Big Money. All other Divisions have Playoffs, except Division 1, Let’s get to the point Oregon is at a unfair advantage, Alabama, because they won 2 Championships in a row give’s them the right to play Notre Dame, and they, and they got Shallacked by A@M at Home where we got beat by a better Stanford Team than A@M at Home, and our Team had went to 4 straight BCS Bowl Game’s, So everyone see where I’m going here, Oregon should of played that Game, or Oregon and Bama should of played that Game cause Notre Dame really shouldn’t of been there because in reality their undefeated record in reality, they were actually no better than 10th in the Nation, Oregon would of put 60 point’s on them. They say 2015 they have finally got it right, well I say, they put it back 60 years the other way, because it make’s absolutely NO SENCE, PLease Fish explain to me what a 4 Team Playoff does for anybody in College Football except CONFUSES it more than anything? What they should of started with is a 8 Team Playoff of all the Major Conferences,right ? Better yet 16 Team then you get two of the Teams best of each conferences. I mean it make’s all the right sense and everything the NCAA is doing for next year doesn’t and why isn’t anyone trying to veto it, or saying NO, this will not work, it’s 2014, we are not in 1974 anymore, we need to get with the Time’s, and make this fair for everyone, I mean doesn’t this make sense, and why are they not talking about this Fish? Please explain this to me, even though this year the last year of the BCS will be a phenominal year and a year to remember because the Duck’s are going to win the NATTY finally and Beat Ohio St in the process, and I predicted this in the Spring, So write this down.

  • goducks58

    Good stuff, Nathan. As always.

  • hokieduck

    I have to disagree with you here, Nathan. “What ifs” are fun to dream about, but the SEC deserves everything it has gotten in the past seven years. Until someone goes in and smacks the beast right in the mouth, the beast is still the King. Alabama deserved to play ND last year on that ground alone IMO.

    That said, I fully agree that the early part of this season is looking like the beast is ripe for smacking. I think Oregon would have defeated Bama last year (I was screaming at the teevee in the waning seconds of their game against TAMU because I so wanted a Bama Duck matchup… unfortunately, injuries and a lack of focus joined bad kicking and DAT running in front of Mariota instead of blocking for him for a TD to keep Oregon out of the conversation). Nonetheless, the Ducks look like a team of destiny this year. They need to clean up penalties; Tyner needs to grow up by mid-season; Wogan needs to be a super frosh. But they still look amazing. Fast. Powerful. Deep.

    I have spent a lifetime loving college football. Few people get to enjoy what we Duck fans have gotten to enjoy these past ten years. I am so thankful and appreciative of that.

    Go Ducks. Roll Tide. Pasadena Jan 6.

  • DanLducl

    I really like your thoughts here. Part of being a fan is the “what if” scenarios we get to discuss when we don’t win them all. But the merit of such discussions is only to keep us occupied until the next game!
    The only thing I might add, is that several different teams each won a natty.
    To me, that is the strength of the SEC.
    That is why I am so thrilled to see UCLA, Wash.,ASU, etc improving their
    teams to join Stan., USC, and Oregon in the upper levels.
    Even WSU looks better. I bet they make a bowl game this year!