Pac-12 South Division: WORST in the Power Five?

Mike Merrell Editorials

Everywhere you look, you see another article about how the Pac-12 sucks.

But this isn’t about the entire Pac-12. The Pac-12 North has nothing to be embarrassed about, at least not in the high-profile worlds of football and basketball. Five of the six Pac-12 North members made bowl games this academic year, and three of them won. Going 3-2 in bowl games isn’t exactly sterling, but it’s over .500.

The North has sent a team to the College Football Playoff twice in five years. Again, that’s not sterling, but it’s not flat-lining. Know what? It’s exactly on par. Four teams times five years equals 20 opportunities. Divide by five conferences and then divide by two divisions, and you get two … exactly the number of times the North has come through.

The North had a top-10 team in the 2019 football recruiting class (Oregon finished seventh) and two more in the top 25 (Washington was 15th and Stanford 23rd). (Recruiting rankings per Again, for half a conference, it’s a pretty good show. The “average” for half of a Power Five Conference would be three in the top 30, and that’s assuming only Power Five teams made the top 30. So, three in the top 23 is a little better than average.

In men’s basketball, two North teams played for the conference tournament championship and made it to the Big Dance. One (our beloved Ducks) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and gave eventual champion Virginia all it could handle in a four-point loss.

Eugene Johnson

The Pac-12 North did a standout job in football and basketball this academic year.

In women’s basketball, the final two participants in the Pac-12 Tournament were from the North. Both advanced to the Elite Eight, and one (our beloved Ducks again) advanced to the Final Four. And three of the past six winners of the women’s Wooden Award are from the Pac-12 North! How many from the Pac-12 South? Zero.

Let’s look at the past five years. The Pac-12 North has produced the only program nationally to (1) make the Final Four in men’s basketball, (2) make the Final Four in women’s basketball, (3) make it to the National Championship in football, (4) win a Heisman Trophy and (5) win a Wooden Award. Again, those were achieved by our beloved Oregon Ducks.

The Pac-12 North is a solid Power Five athletic conference division, by any standard. But that seems to have escaped attention.

In a recent OregonLive article, John Canzano gave a pat on the back to a reader who came up with this little tidbit:

A (sic) astute reader pointed out that there were only 10 Power Five Conference universities that didn’t qualify for a college football bowl game and also failed to make the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Five of them (USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona, Colorado) hail from the Pac-12.

Well, here’s an even more astute observation.

One of them is not like the others, and it’s not Colorado for starting with a consonant. It’s the one that’s associated with the North. That leaves four of the 10 most hapless in the Power Five coming from the Pac-12 South.

So, What’s Up with the Pac-12 South?

Not much. The South did okay in women’s basketball, but its postseason acumen in football and men’s basketball was limited to Fresno State’s disposing of Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Utah’s bowl loss to Northwestern and the Sun Devils’ loss in the round of 64 in the Big Dance. That’s all. Period.

The best Pac-12 South football record last fall (Utah, 9-5) would have been fifth-best in the Pac-12 North.

Harry Caston

Utah was the best in the South in 2018 … but only fifth-best mark in Pac-12 North.

But this is not a one-year issue. The North is 7-1 against the South in conference championship games. UCLA and Arizona have fallen from the pedestal in basketball. USC has done the same in football. Here’s the biggest sting of all: Nobody from the South is stepping up.

Yet, even otherwise intelligent people continue to sleep through the fact that at least athletically it’s the Pac-12 North that has the juice. In a recent OregonLive article, recruiting guru Andrew Nemec had this to say about Oregon State:

“The current ‘best college town in the Pac-12’ pitch works with alumni and boosters, but it’s a tough sell to high school kids, who are more enamored with Los Angeles, Seattle and the weather in Arizona.”

In naming one city (Los Angeles) and one state (Arizona), Nemec has placed four members of the nation’s most hapless Power Five conference division on a pedestal. Granted, it is in the context of “compared to Oregon State,” but still! The only football/basketball postseason achievement among the four this academic year was ASU’s cameo appearance in the Big Dance. If high school kids are enamored, they’re leaving it at the prom.

From Twitter

USC football has fallen from powerhouse to national afterthought.

It’s high time to quit pretending that the table tilts in favor of the Pac-12 South. That proposition simply defies reality.

It might be convenient to blame all of this on Larry Scott and the largess of the Pac-12 administration. But if that were the case, wouldn’t the North be equally affected? Perhaps even more so. The average Pac-12 South football stadium has 65,454 seats. The North? Only 52,215. It seems that if anybody would rely more heavily on conference revenues, it would be the North.

Why Is This Happening?

The South has Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the beaches, Sunset Boulevard, Malibu, the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, USC, UCLA and freaking Disneyland! And I guess we need to throw in all that wonderful weather in Arizona, too. Never mind that playing football in hundred-degree weather probably isn’t much fun. Shall we extol the attraction of skiing in Utah and Colorado and make it unanimous for the South?

How can anything in the Northwest compete with all the Pac-12 South has to offer?

That’s what we’ve been led to believe over the years, and I know that I wasn’t the only one who thought the Northwest got the short end of the stick when the North and South Divisions were drawn up: a scheduled game in Los Angeles only once every two years, less exposure in the most important market. Small stadiums vs. big stadiums. Rainy weather vs. sunshine.

But it’s time to wake up to the fact that that’s not the way it panned out. Despite what everyone seems to believe, does the North actually provide a better athletic environment, and the poor South just can’t compete? Is it just a circumstantial “everything goes in cycles”? Or is it the perfect storm?

Kevin Cline

Northern schools have a “family environment” and not glitz and glam of the South.

Perhaps the wonderful distractions just get in the way. Are the fans a little less rabid because of more entertainment choices? Do the athletes lose focus? Is the cooler climate of the North more conducive to athletics? Does the North have better coaches? All in all, I’d label that a safe bet on all counts. But why, if the South is so much more attractive?

Does the North have better venues, especially compared to the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of them all? Well, this is how Google Earth tells you to get from UCLA to the Rose Bowl for a Bruins home game:

1. Head Northwest on Bellagio Drive toward Sunset Blvd. (Bellagio! Sunset Blvd.! Count me in!)
2. Turn left on Sunset Blvd. (77 Sunset Strip! Wow, am I really here?)
3. Slight right onto Sepulveda Way. (Sounds harmless enough.)
4. Turn left to merge onto I-405 North. (Wait a minute. Isn’t that a freeway?)
5. Merge onto I-405 North and drive 5.1 miles. (Are we there yet?)
6. Take the exit onto US 101 South toward Los Angeles for 5.5 miles. (But I was going north, and now I’m supposed to go south?)
7. Keep left to continue on CA 134 East, follow signs 12.6 miles to Burbank/Pasadena exit (Another freeway?)
8. Take exit 12…

And in another eight turns, you’re there.

My eyes glaze over, and the dream of joining the fans crossing the Willamette footbridge to Autzen dances in my head. This might be an isolated and unfair example of the North’s superiority to the South, but perhaps it’s one of many reasons why the North has the juice and the South does not.

Then there are the circumstantial possibilities. Does the South really have a stronger structure, and it’s just a matter of time before the world rights itself and the South dominates the North?

John Sperry

USC is too prestigious to be down forever, but when will the tide turn?

It’s certainly arguable that the Pac-12 South has shown tremendous talent at shooting itself in the foot. Granted, Arizona has had a few issues in basketball and football. And of course there’s the USC Reggie Bush scandal, but that really needs to stop being an excuse one of these decades.

But what better example than (former) Full House and Hallmark-Channel darling Lori Laughlin getting a selfie of her daughter on a rowing machine at LA Fitness or wherever, then coughing up half a million so her daughter could go to USC as a walk-on for the rowing team instead of having to go to Arizona State?

I don’t know who should be more embarrassed: ASU or USC?

But it certainly demonstrates the plight of the Pac-12 South. Everybody knows that when your football season goes bottoms-up in November, there’s always the Hallmark Christmas romances to turn to for a feel-good fix. But obviously, this ship has sailed for USC and ASU fans. They won’t be able to watch a single episode without thinking about Laughlin. And they won’t be able to think of Laughlin without thinking about how screwed up they are, along with the rest of the “S-word” Division.

Perhaps it’s time to start chanting “Pac-12 North … Pac-12 North” every time any team in the North gives the South another black eye. I would hate to identify with the dogs of the North on that level, but it’s time to get the point across to the world that this mess isn’t about the Pac-12.

It’s about the Pac-12 South.

Mike Merrell
Sandpoint, Idaho                                                                                                                                                                                Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Chris Metteer, the Editor for this article, is a retired sports journalist for The Denver Post, Eugene Register-Guard and other top media outlets in the West.


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