Pac-12 Football Is Singing the Summertime Blues

Jon Joseph Editorials

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in his shoes. Then, when you start criticizing him, you’re a mile away and he has to try and catch you in his socks.”

– First uttered by either Will Rogers or Nick Saban. I can’t remember.

We’re in the dog days of summer. It’s hot, I’m old, and I’m grumpy! My golf balls are flying sideways, my dentures are slipping south, there’s too much starch in my shorts, and I’m fed up with the college football off-season being so damn long.

But my summer has been a fantasy compared to the recent state of affairs in the Conference of Champions. Do the dog days have you feeling down? Let’s take a look at recent happenings in our favorite conference to remind us that things could always be worse!

The Pac-12 Fiasco

Larry Scott is still the commish of the Pac-12. That in and of itself has me singing the blues. But allow me to elaborate on the sorry state of Mr. Scott’s crumbling conference.

The infamous Pac-12 Network continues to be but a rumor across much of the good ol’ US of A. And Champagne Larry is still livin’ large in the 415, making four times the bank of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. But hey, the SEC hasn’t accomplished anything of significance recently, right?

As for the Pac-12’s golden boys, USC, the summer has been anything but fun in the sun. It seems USC athletic directors have the anit-Midas touch; everything they touch turns to cow manure. Most recently, the Trojans landed a bright offensive mind, Kliff Kingsbury, to groom a talented offense in 2019. Kingsbury’s stay was little more than a vacation in LA, as he soon bolted for the NFL.

Kingsbury (left) bolted for the NFL just after being hired by USC.

Before that, former AD Pat Haden chose not to promote interim head coach Ed Orgeron to the full-time gig, and now Orgeron’s leading LSU to New Year’s Six bowl games while USC watches from the couch. But they don’t speak Cajun at LA Country Club, so Coach O wouldn’t have been a good fit anyway …

And who could forget the debacle that was the Steve Sarkisian fiasco? The hire was a questionable one from the start, and it ended horribly, with lawsuits and losses aplenty.

Things were looking up when the Trojans hired Clay Helton (aka Gomer). But it was fools’ gold. Helton won a Rose Bowl when Sam Darnold fell into his lap, but last season, Helton showed his true colors when he took USC to the depths of 5-7. What’s worse, he’s recruiting more akin to Southern Utah than Southern Cal.

If that isn’t bad enough, current AD Lynn Swann then stopped long enough between the front and back nine at Augusta to phone home and re-up Helton, giving new meaning to ‘The Terrible Towel.” Apparently, great Super Bowl catches don’t necessarily equate to great hiring decisions. Who’d have thought?

As a whole, the Conference of Champions is solidly holding up the rear in Power 5 recruiting. The best West Coast recruits are doing a 180 on Horace Greely’s advice to “head west, young man.” Of the top 22 recruits in the West, according to the 247Sports Composite, Ohio State has three commits and one lean. The USC Gomers: one commit and one lean. Come back Pete, come back! The Pac-12 as a whole has five commits and two leans. It ain’t leaning the Pac 12’s way.

Kendall Milton, a five-star running back from California, recently committed to Georgia.

Oregon and Washington are holding their own recruiting wise, but where are Chip Kelly, “all-world recruiter” Kevin Sumlin, David Shaw and “You Play to Win the GameHerm Edwards? With Arizona high school studs fleeing the state, it appears that Herm hasn’t yet figured out that in CFB, you recruit to win the game. Maybe Jeff Tedford’s Fresno State Bulldogs can give him another lesson.

I get that today’s recruits are media savvy and want to go where they can play in front of many the eyeball in the stands and on TV. But we are also living in an age of scholarship limitations. Bear Bryant can no longer sign Forrest Gump and 99 other guys. Pac-12 coaches, up your game! I’ve been to Tuscaloosa and Boulder; Boulder is better. The time for excuses is gone. It’s time for results.

But fear not, Scott has come up with the solution! 9 AM keggers-and-eggs kick-offs. Of course, late kick-offs is what was holding the conference back. It’s no wonder they pay Scott the big bucks … At least the traffic on the I-5 from Portland to Eugene should be manageable.

But here’s the kicker. Despite the Pac-12’s laundry list of issues, the conference is actually very competitive. According to ESPN’s FPI strength of schedule rankings, the SEC leads the Power 5, with 10 of its teams having schedules that ranked among the top 20 in terms of difficulty. The conference that ranked second: the Pac-12, with seven teams in the top 20.

Teams like Utah make for a tough out in the Pac-12.

Folks rightfully ask that if Mario Cristobal keeps-on-keepin’-on with elite recruiting classes, why can’t the Ducks be the big bird in the Pac-12, just like the big cat Tigers in today’s down, ACC?

First, Clemson is in fertile recruiting territory. Second, the number of ACC teams with schedules in the top 25 of ESPN’s FPI strength of schedule rankings? Zero, nil, goose egg, nada, nudge, zip. Take out Clemson, and the Pac-12 is the superior conference. And Clemson plays eight conference games, Oregon nine. To date, no team that played nine conference games has won a CFP title.

Playing BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State out of conference, and a very deep Pac-12 is a far more difficult task than playing eight ACC games. Think the folks back east have an understanding of this? Think the Playoff Committee has an understanding of this? Me neither.

But when you’re going under, why not sit back and enjoy the ride? The Pac-12 is a mess; this much is clear. But maybe the changing of the weather will mean a changing of the guard in the CFB landscape. Oregon’s on the come up, and someone has to dethrone Alabama and Clemson, right? Who knows, maybe this summertime sadness will make way for a Christmas miracle by the time the Playoffs come around.

Or perhaps I best go back to being grumpy. It’s better than being delusional, I suppose.

Jon Joseph 
Georgetown, Texas                                                                                                                                                                                      Top Photo by Kevin Cline


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