This year there has been plenty of fanfare around the LA schools, especially with their imminent departure from the Pac-12 in 2024. This season it indeed feels like the LA schools are playing at a much higher level than they have in years.
Lincoln Riley has given new life to USC by his use of the transfer portal, which brought in Caleb Williams and an all star cast of wide receivers. This has made USC a terrifying power in the southern half of the conference for the first time since Pete Carroll was the head coach. Riley and Williams’ hype has been so great that it drove USC into the Top 10 of the AP Poll for the first half of the season despite them not playing anyone of value until Utah, which ended with a loss. Granted, USC barely escaped Corvallis with a win, but that didn’t seem to dent their hype machine.
With USC’s loss, the mantel of the highest ranked Pac-12 team just moved across town to UCLA, who at least has a better record of beating a couple of good teams. UCLA disposed of both Washington and Utah at home with little difficulty. Their win over Washington has lost some of its shine since Washington hasn’t looked too good after their season-opening win streak, which included a win over a bad Michigan State team. Utah looks solid but they are not the team they were last year.
Oregon, meanwhile, got badly beaten in the opening game of the year against Georgia, but has quietly been winning games as the stars of LA have taken the limelight. Oregon climbed the rankings and made it into the Top 10 at precisely the right time. Oregon vs. UCLA was the premier game this last weekend and featured the only Top-10 matchup. This is a bit of luck because if two different Top-10 teams were playing anywhere else in the country, that would have been the premier game instead.
But it was in the Pac-12 and more importantly for the future of the Pac-12, it was going to be played at Oregon. ESPN’s College Game Day was in town and Oregon fans showed up to make the premier pregame College Football show into an event unlike anywhere else in the College Football world. Late Kick with Josh Pate was even in attendance for the game, and for those who don’t know, Pate has a show on YouTube and also a podcast. He is from the south and he is incredibly knowledgeable about College Football, but he has a blind spot when it comes to the Pac-12.
This was the game on Saturday, but there was a subtle question during the game that wasn’t really talked about by any of the pundits (but it has been lingering in the back of everyone’s minds since it was announced over the summer) — that USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac-12 for the B1G.
What is the Pac-12 going to look like without the two schools from LA?
For those who actually focus on the Pac-12 and understand the conference, we know that the two schools from LA haven’t been terribly good at football for more than a decade. Since the Pac expanded from 10 to 12, the LA schools have appeared only three times in the Conference Championship game combined and only one Conference Championship between them. By contrast Oregon has won the Pac-12 Championship four times, alone. Stanford has won the Conference three times, that purple monstrosity in the North has won it twice, and Utah has won it once.
The strength of this conference does not reside in LA, but LA does have the largest media market and the hype train, which will be an ongoing problem.
But for the first time this season, and the second time in two years, all eyes were on the Pac-12 for this one weekend as undefeated UCLA traveled to Oregon for the premier game of the weekend. And Oregon didn’t disappoint; they looked dominant in their win and sent a message to the College Football world that the Pac-12 is not going to die with the departure of UCLA and USC.
Not only was the on-field product good but it was enhanced by the refs calling a good game, there wasn’t a time during the game where the refs threw any needless flags, they let the players play. The whole game experience was an incredible spectacle as Oregon fans turned out and showed many college football viewers in B1G and SEC country that the Pac-12 can fill stadiums, sure Autzen isn’t as big as the stadiums found in those two conferences, but Autzen can be every bit as loud.
This is in juxtaposition to any games at UCLA where the Rose Bowl is half empty and the cameramen try really hard to not pan toward the fans and show off the empty seats. The Rose Bowl has even decorated entire sections of seating to spell out “UCLA” because those sections are devoid of fans. Eugene is home to a college football school that is just as spirited as anywhere in the country, and that passion will not be dictated by the teams in LA.
Sure, maybe our revenue will take a hit when the LA schools leave, but there are still some quality teams in the conference and the team that carries the Pac-12’s standard resides in Oregon.
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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