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CFB Overtime: The Pac-12’s fall from relevance comes early

Bleeding into the league’s patented after-dark time slot, Oregon State all but eliminated the Pac-12 from College Football Playoff contention with a 41-38 upset win over No. 15 Oregon. The irony of this finishing blow coming at around 11:30 eastern on a Friday evening in which many were already deep into a food-induced coma is not lost on anyone.

The Pac-12 entered the 2020 campaign later than any other Power Five league with a Nov. 7 start. The Pac-12 also exited playoff contention earlier than any other Power Five league on Nov. 28. Even the American Conference – thanks to Cincinnati– has managed to stick around longer and thrive.

At the risk of a sweeping generalization during a year ripe with fraught circumstances, this is merely a symptom of the Pac-12’s larger issues rather than a one-off, screwy year in the age of of coronavirus. No other league deals with the day-to-day, week-to-week strife that seems to loom over the Pac-12.

The “Conference of Champions” hasn’t won big in football since 2004, the longest wait of any Power Five league.

The Pac-12’s per team revenue, $32.2 million in 2019, is $23.4 million less than the Power Five-best Big Ten’s revenue split. This is largely because of a failing Pac-12 Network, which is carried in fewer than 19 million homes, making channels like Smithsonian (40.3 million) and ESPN Deportes (18.9 million) more widely distributed. So if you’re wondering why Michigan State, a second or third-tier Big Ten team, can just outspend Colorado for Mel Tucker, there’s your answer. Twenty-three million a year adds up over time.

Recruiting is also an issue. The highest-ranking team in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, No. 10 USC, just had a cycle in which it signed the No. 64 overall class. The West Coast’s top talent is leaving California in droves. You don’t win championships without immensely talented programs. Given recent recruiting hauls, next year will likely see Oregon slide into the top 10 of our talent rankings while USC falls out. Current Nos. 19 and 20, Washington and Stanford, could both lose their top-20 standing.

Throw in embarrassing officiating issues, some campuses that prioritize pretty much everything but athletics and more than a few scandals, and the league is fraught with problems. In the greatest of ironies, commissioner Larry Scott gets paid more than any other Power Five commissioner for overseeing this mess.

I suppose there is a tiny bit of hope left for the conference getting a team to the playoff. The Trojans, which had a game canceled this weekend due to COVID-19, are still alive with ESPN giving the Trojans a 13.9% chance. But it’d take maximum chaos for a 6-0 USC to get into the playoff from a current perch of No. 18 spot in the initial rankings. 

The Pac-12 will go on this year and the games should be entertaining as usual. Take Saturday night’s showcase on ABC, in which Washington erased a 21-0 deficit to beat Utah, 24-21 — the first good primetime ABC match all season. I’ll keep watching. So will many college football fans. The committee? Once again, it won’t have to. 

In honor of our most gluttonous of all holidays, let’s move onto a more condensed and haphazard leftover edition of CFB Overtime.

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