Pac-12 in the Playoff? Don’t Count on It

Jon Joseph Editorials

[To the tune of “Limbo Rock” by Chubby Checker]

Every Pac-12 player twirl

All around Champagne Larry’s world

Gonna do da limbo rock

Hope da conference won’t be jocked.

North be limbo, North be quick

South go under limbo stick

As the Pac-12’s playoff hopes drop

Hey, let’s do the limbo rock!

Limbo lower now

Limbo lower now

How low can you go?


Has the Pac-12 conference reached its College Football Playoff (“CFP”) peak already? Will the Pac-12 CFP bar continue to drop lower and lower?

At the end of the 2014 season, things looked good for the Ducks, and the rest of the Pac-12. In the first CFP game played, in the Rose Bowl no less, Oregon made Jameis Winston look far less than famous and Jimbo Fisher look like Disneyland’s Dumbo. Will any Duck fan ever forget Kirk Herbstreit’s “FSU has flat out quit” comments, or Winston’s post-game “Y’all get real now, the game could have gone either way” blabbering? (and Winston only wanted to borrow those crab legs, right?)

A half decade ago, did any Pac-12 fan see the conference making it to just two of five CFPs, with a recond of 1-2? Did anyone foresee the conference going 4-10 in its 2017 and 2018 bowl games? Here, with a bullet, are a few of the conference low-lights since 2014.

Pac-12 Low-Lights

1. Since 2014, the Pac-12 has won two non-playoff New Year’s six bowl games, one fewer than the Mountain West Conference.

2. In the last half decade, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have won at least 80% of their conference games and accounted for 70% of the CFP invites. During this same period, Stanford is the only Pac-12 team that has won 70% of its conference games. Larry Scott calls this parity. Me thinks it’s mediocrity. By comparison, in the five seasons prior to the CFP, 2009 – 2013, Oregon led the nation, winning 88.9% of its games. while Stanford came in No. 4, winning 82.2% of its games.

The Ducks were once the team to beat.

3. In the last fiscal year, the B1G contributed $54M to its member teams (slightly less for Maryland and Rutgers). The Pac-12, $30M. The B1G Network has 55 million subscribers. The Pac 12 Network, 19 million.

4. The Pac-12’s highest paid assistant coaches finished fifth out of the Power 5 conferences in remuneration. And this was prior to Jim Leavitt leaving behind $1.7M. The Pac 12’s highest paid strength coach, UW’s Tim Socha, comes in at No. 21 on the Power 5 list. Purdue’s head coach Jeff Brohm, whose teams have come nowhere close to a B1G title, makes more than the Pac 12’s highest paid coach, UW’s Chris Petersen.

5. In 2019, Clemson has 10 full and part-time staffers devoted to recruiting. UCLA has three. Utah has two. In 2018, the Pac-12 finished last in Power 5 recruiting. As 247Sports notes, “USC is now signing guys who never would have received an offer in years past.”

6. In 2018, Wazzu went 10-2. LSU went 9-3. Yet LSU went to the Fiesta Bowl, costing the Pac-12 millions of dollars. And not a single discouraging word leaped from Livin’ Large Larry’s lips.

The Cougars missed out on a NY6 Bowl.

7. In 2018, Scott was paid more individually than SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Sankey’s entire staff and the rent for the Birmingham, Alabama, SEC headquarters.

8. In the CFP era, every third season, the Pac-12 is guaranteed not a single cent of Rose Bowl proceeds. That’s some kind of fine business negotiating, Tom Hansen. Thank you, sir!

9. They’re two fine institutions of higher learning, no doubt, but what have Colorado and Utah done to help the Pac-12’s bottom line? Do NCAA titles in skiing move the national needle?

10. Has a neutral site conference championship game, played in front of thousands of fans disguised as empty seats, done anything to advance the nation’s perception of the conference?

The Pac-12 Championship Game attendance is lacking.

“Okay Jon,” you say, “stop with the bad vibes already; stop beating a dead horse. I’m a Ducks fan! Why should I give a whip about the other Pac-12 teams or the Pac-12 as a whole?”

Well, if the Ducks lose to Auburn in Dallas, even going an unlikely 12-0 thereafter does not assure a seat at the CFP table. Such is the current perception of the conference, which is terribly unfair to the teams in the Pac-12 North Division.

I have yet to see a preseason 2019 Top 25 that does not have Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Washington State ranked, most often with the Ducks on top. The Pac-12 North isn’t the SEC West. But it’s not far behind the SEC East, the B1G East and the top six teams in the Big 12. And its probably stronger than the B1G West and any ACC division, sans Clemson.

So, how can the conference overcome lackluster network and recruiting numbers?

The Pac-12’s Path to Relevance

Should the conference move Utah and Colorado to the north, and Stanford and Cal to the south? The Cardinal already play UCLA and USC every season. So, why not have all of the California schools in the same division?

If there’s no division shift, should the California schools continue to play each other every season? Isn’t this simply a holdover from the Pac-10? In the long run, it would help the conference if, in a given year, the Cardinal played Arizona and Colorado instead of UCLA and USC.

Stanford may be better off switching divisions.

Should Stanford and USC play Notre Dame every year? They’re both great rivalries, no doubt. But why help the Irish with California recruiting? Wouldn’t a home game versus, say, UC Davis, help with the final record, if not gate proceeds?

This wouldn’t help with either team’s strength of schedule, of course. However, to date, the CFP Committee has done little more than parse Ws and Ls, with the second L being the kiss of death. Do you think the CFP Committee is going to give Stanford props for playing B1G West champ Northwestern, AAC champ UCF, Notre Dame and a nine-game conference slate? Heck no!

If a team isn’t willing to schedule a home-and-home with a Pac-12 team, why bother scheduling one-off games against random Power 5 schools? Honestly, Oregon might be better off playing its opener in 2019 against Portland State in Autzen instead of against Auburn in Dallas. Going 12-1, with a conference loss and a Pac-12 champ game win, would set the Ducks up better for the CFP than losing to Auburn and suffering a conference loss, finishing 10-2.

And the millions-of-dollars question: should the Pac-12 play eight and not nine conference games, especially when considering that no school who played nine conference games has won the CFP?

Frankly, considering the current state of affairs, the Pac-12’s crowning CFP achievement may continue to be the Ducks’ 2014 Rose Bowl win over FSU. I hope not. But five years out, it doesn’t look good. As Chubby Checker asks, “Larry, how low can you go?”

Jon Joseph 
Georgetown, Texas                                                                                                            Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Spencer Thomas, the Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.


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