In a busy week of sports, we saw a weekend full of exciting NFL playoff games, LSU claimed the national football championship and Duke basketball had a rare loss in an ACC matchup against unranked Clemson.
After the College Football National Championship Game, the Associated Press released their end of the season polls. The Ducks finished at number five, and the only other Pac12 team to make it into the top 25 was Utah. The Pac-12 finished fourth out of the five power conferences in terms of teams inside the Top 25. To give a little perspective, the Pac-12’s two teams in the top 25 was tied with the Mountain West Conference, two fewer than the American Conference and only one more than the Sun Belt. The ACC brought up the rear, with Clemson being the only team ranked in the polls. Oregon gave the conference a bit of a boost with a Rose Bowl win.
For the past couple of seasons, the Pac-12 has felt like it has been on a never-ending downswing. Commissioner Larry Scott has been making bad into worse, with his 10 am kick-offs and poorly designed television contracts. The officials in the conference are not doing him any favors, either. This was evident from the Pac-12 crew’s officiating in the National Championship game. In a game that felt like it set the record for video reviews, many calls were still missed. Toward the latter half of the fourth quarter, Clemson had a touchdown taken off the board for a controversial offensive pass interference call.
The unfortunate part of this saga is that the poor competition, officiating and low level of excitement don’t end with football. Men’s basketball, Scott’s second-highest money maker, is also on the decline. Unfortunately for Oregon, the poor quality of competition in the conference could affect its ranking later on in the season — it’s a good thing they took care of business against Memphis and Seton Hall. Men’s basketball currently has the Ducks sitting at eighth in the AP poll, but the only other Pac-12 team in the top 25 is the Colorado Buffaloes at 20th. Not great.
However, there is good news: women’s basketball is one sport with competitive play and overall excitement. The Pac-12 has six teams inside the top 25 and four (yes, four) inside the top eight.
Pac-12 women’s basketball has the most exciting women’s player in perhaps the entire world right now in Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, Stanford is receiving number one votes while sitting at third in the AP Poll, with Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State on their coattails. And dare I say, the two Civil War matchups taking place on January 24 and 26, may be some of the most exciting Civil War games we’ve seen since the famous Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff connection.
Matthew Knight Arena and Gill Coliseum have already announced sellouts for both of these games, so if you don’t have your tickets by now you may be out of luck. The Ducks and the Beavers both had shots at being number one last weekend, but both were upset on the road by the Sun Devils. It is also fairly remarkable that the then unranked Sun Devils beat the then second- and third-ranked teams in the country in back-to-back games. That’s competitive ball.
There’s an argument going around that when a conference begins to struggle, all the teams all have to play each other and beat each other in turn. The argument might be valid for teams like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU, because all of those teams are consistently part of the College Football Playoff conversation. But for the Pac-12 it is less so, because the competition isn’t at the same level.
In a time where the Pac-12 is in disarray, women’s basketball has risen from the depths to nearly the top of the mountain. It’s a real testiment to coaches like Kelly Graves and the players who have helped grow the game to this point. Only a few months ago, Oregon beat team USA in front of a sold-out Matthew Knight crowd. Sellouts in women’s basketball only make sense: competitive, good, hard basketball is fun to watch.
Oregon fans do have other things besides women’s basketball to look forward to. Oregon football and men’s basketball are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac-12. All three teams are ranked inside the Top eight nationally, including football’s number-five finish. For the past two years, both women’s and men’s basketball have been pre-season favorites to win the Pac-12, and both are well on their way of doing so this season. Football, in all likelihood, will be a front-runner to repeat as Pac-12 champ.
The state of the flock is good, and the phrase “Take the Pac” is as true as ever.
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Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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