On July 1, the day the Pac-10 officially became the Pac-12, the change seemed like a great idea.
Commissioner Larry Scott welcomed new members Colorado and Utah, saying the two schools “instantly enhance the strength of our conference both academically and athletically.”
The additions helped Scott secure a 12-year, $3-billion television deal with ESPN and Fox, creating a national Pac-12 network that would greatly increase exposure of member schools’ athletic programs.
Four months later, the Buffs and Utes are a combined 1-9 in Pac-12 play, and with schools like Texas A&M, TCU and Boise State switching conferences, Scott’s expansion choices are looking more short-sighted by the day.
To be fair, Utah couldn’t have been expected to struggle this mightily. The Utes had won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons, including a 13-0 mark in 2008 capped off by a 31-17 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
A season-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn and a banged-up receiving corps have caused Utah’s passing game, ranked 100th in the nation, to suffer. Its next four opponents have a combined record of 10-23, which means the Utes could still qualify for a decent bowl game.
Colorado’s results have been more in line with the program’s recent history. The Buffaloes haven’t won more than seven games in a season since 2005, finished the season ranked since 2002 or won a bowl game since 2004. Colorado went a combined 6-18 in its final three seasons in the Big 12.
For many traveling USC fans, Friday night’s game against the 1-8 Buffaloes is not a must-see matchup, but rather a convenient excuse to take a weekend ski trip to the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado has lost its last four games by 41, 28, 43 and 34 points. The Buffaloes only win came at home back in September against now 3-5 Colorado State.
The Buffaloes rank last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, rushing offense, red zone offense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense efficiency, red zone defense, sacks against, opponents’ first downs, interceptions and kickoff returns.
In short, this is one bad football team.
The newcomers’ struggles haven’t been contained to the gridiron either.
Colorado’s women’s volleyball team is 0-15 in Pac-12 play. The Buffaloes have won only three sets in conference play this season. Utah, meanwhile, has posted a 4-11 record, good for 10th place in the Pac-12.
Utah sits in sixth place in the conference in women’s soccer, while 1-8-1 Colorado is in 11th.
The Pac-12 preseason basketball polls predict Colorado to finish 10th on the men’s side and 11th on the women’s. The Utah women’s team is slated to finish a respectable sixth, but the men have been picked to finish dead last in the conference.
The Buffaloes did just sweep the men’s and women’s cross country championships last week, but for the self-titled “Conference of Champions,” surely a school has to do more than dominate long-distance running to earn admission.
Though the Pac-12 hasn’t dominated the modern football landscape like the SEC or stacked up to the ACC and Big East on the basketball court recently, the conference stands out nationally for the all-around strength of its athletic programs.
The Pac-12 has led all conferences in national titles in 45 of the past 51 years and its 442 all-time national championships are nearly 200 more than its closest competitor.
Just last season alone, the conference won national titles in men’s tennis and men’s water polo (USC), men’s and women’s swimming (California), women’s water polo and men’s gymnastics (Stanford), women’s indoor track and field (Oregon), softball (Arizona State), and women’s golf (UCLA).
Things could still turn around for Colorado and Utah. The schools have combined for 42 NCAA national titles in their history.
From 2001 to 2005, Colorado’s football team played in four Big 12 championship games. They finished their season ranked in the top five nationally four times between 1989 and 1994, including when they split the national title with Georgia Tech in 1990.
Utah’s men’s basketball team won the Mountain West title in 2009 and has a history of success. They finished in the top 10 nationally from 1997 to 1999, including a trip to the national title game in 1998.
Their membership in the Pac-12 alone, along with the increase in television revenue and prestige that go along with it, will help both schools in recruiting top athletes.
First impressions are powerful and the Utes and Buffaloes have done little so far to win over critics.
The “we need time to adjust to a higher level of competition” excuses won’t fly for long.
If Colorado and Utah don’t get it together soon, Scott will have some serious explaining to do. A combined record of 1-9 is not going to cut it in the Conference of Champions.
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