The Pac-12 on Friday presented its conference-only alignment in full for the 2020 season, a day after the SEC announced it’d move to a conference-only format and two days following an 11-game schedule plan from the ACC. The Pac-12 opted to go with a 10-game model, a one-game expansion from the league’s normal nine-game conference rotation.
Play will kick off the weekend of Sept. 26 and run through Dec. 5 with the Pac-12 title game occurring Dec. 18 or 19 at the highest seed’s home stadium instead of in Las Vegas.
“The schedule and return to play plans provide for maximum flexibility and the best opportunity to play all fall sports in an environment that prioritizes safety,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “At the same time, we will continue to evaluate the best available science, data and advice of public health officials as we make decisions and any required adjustments going forward.”
Here’s a rapid-fire look at what you need to know from the release.
The Pac-12 Pushes the Season Back
We’re going to have a rather disjointed start to the 2020 season. Here’s when the Power Five leagues are expected to start as of now:
Big 12 – Aug. 29
ACC – Sept. 11 (can start as early as Sept. 7)
Big Ten – ?
Pac-12 – Sept. 26
SEC – Sept. 26
You’ll notice there’s almost a full month between the Big 12’s scheduled kickoff date, which still might change, and when the SEC and Pac-12 will begin their seasons. The Pac-12, citing public health officials, opted to take an approach similar to the SEC. This provides the league an opportunity to see how the student population and football players mix when everyone returns to campus. The wait also gives the schools extra time to allow for gathering restrictions that are prevelant across the conference to lift.
Either way, this is going to be a scattered 2020 campaign. These Power Five leagues have dropped any appearances of working together.
Key Rivalry Games Up First To Provide Flexability
One thing that looks a little different with the Pac-12 schedule is key rivalry games. Matchups like USC vs. UCLA and Arizona vs. Arizona State are up first instead of in their usual Week 12 spot. That’s been done for a reason: The league is trying to guarantee those matchups happen and give itself maximum flexibility to move them later in the year if needed.
That plan includes flexibility to move games to a team’s bye week or in Week 12, which is an open week for the league ahead of the Pac-12 championship game.
Given the state of the outbreak nationally, there are many variations with state gathering rules. Paring schools with similar state-mandated restrictions allows them to approach starting in a similar fashion. Just as importantly, during a season in which finishing the campaign is far from a guarantee, scheduling rivalry games first allows them to occur no matter what. If you’re going to end up canceling a subset of games, it might as well be the games that you care about getting in the least.
This is not to say all of these rivalries moved to Week 1. For example, Oregon and Oregon State are scheduled to play Week 4 while Washington and Washington State are scheduled to clash in Week 10 of 11.
This might seem like a bold move from the Pac-12. But it’s a commonsense measure that might find its way to other leagues. For example, there’s been a lot of chatter about the Big Ten playing its divisional games early in the season to make sure those are completed and a champion can be crowned.
New Games Added to The Schedule
Stanford at Arizona State (Oct. 3)
Washington State at USC (Nov. 7)
Cal at Arizona (Nov. 14)
UCLA at Washington (Nov. 21)
Oregon State at Colorado (Nov. 28)
Oregon at Utah (Dec. 5)
At first glance, Oregon is the team with the toughest draw among contenders. The Ducks were already scheduled to draw USC from the Pac-12 South, and they arguably added the division’s second-best team in the Utes. Oregon will still likely be favored in every game ahead of them in the Pac-12. But that’s a tougher draw than most among the additions.
How Does This Impact the Pac-12’s Playoff Hopes?
Look, we already knew the Pac-12 was going conference-only for the 2020 season. So, the league’s playoff calculus doesn’t change much. But we’re not too far removed from an extra data point costing the Big 12 a playoff spot (just ask TCU and Baylor fans if you aren’t familiar with that tale). So adding an extra league game should help the Pac-12.
The other leagues were planning to play more games than the Pac-12 already: Big 12 (12), ACC (11) and SEC (10). I’d still expect that Big 12 number to bump down, but it would have been a blow for the Pac-12 to play nine games when the competition gets one or two additional opportunities.