Another weekend of college football has come and gone and, as usual, there is plenty of chaos and intrigue. Michigan and Clemson narrowly escaped upsets, West Virginia continues to race up the polls after a ranked road win, Ohio State topped Penn State in a wild comeback … and the Pac-12 continues to muddle on as a relative afterthought.
While the rest of the Power 5 conferences, and even group of five teams like UCF, strengthen title bids and draw huge national audiences, the Pac-12’s apparent playoff favorite, Stanford, was blown out by Notre Dame to the tune of a 38-17 loss. The Pac-12 left the diminished viewing audience unimpressed at best, after a top-10 matchup that played second fiddle to the contest in Happy Valley.
In a year where other Pac-12 playoff hopefuls such as Washington and USC have also fallen short to elite talent in nationally broadcasted games, it is an especially disappointing result for the “conference of champions.” For a conference that saw all but one team lose during the 2017 bowl season, however, this is a dangerous, unforgivable trend.
As long as the Pac-12 elite fail to step up against premiere nonconference opponents, the conference will continue to extend its streak of seasons without a team in the College Football Playoff. Additionally, these teams will continue to get less quality air time on Saturdays.
Outside of the Stanford game, the other conference matchups were either restricted to the regional Pac-12 Network or relegated to the “after dark” timeslots, which are seldom viewed by compelling national audiences.
Take, for example, the Cal and Oregon game. Although it is possibly as compelling a matchup as the earlier West Virginia-Texas Tech game, due to its 10 p.m. EDT start time, it got nowhere near the same audience.
This game was played in tandem with what barely passed as a football game between the Trojans and Wildcats, an utterly forgettable late night offering for the West Coast. In a contest filled with penalties, bad turnovers and a general lack of execution on both sides, the USC-Arizona game is all someone needs to see to understand what separates Pac-12 blue chip programs from those everywhere else in the country. As a general rule, their games are often worse.
To a certain degree, the Pac-12 has unavoidable problems due to its location and later time zones. At the end of the day, some games will have to be played while the rest of the nation sleeps. With that said, the conference still can and should do a better job marketing their best matchups. In fact, it should look no further than last week’s game between Stanford and Oregon.
While the conference certainly benefited from the game being selected for ESPN College Gameday, they also capitalized on a nationally appealing timeslot. Playing at 5 p.m. PDT, a highly competitive matchup between the Cardinal and Ducks was a great look for the conference, in spite of the expected lapses in judgment by the referees. This literally drove the stock of the conference up as both teams managed to climb in the polls following the game.
In order to maintain pace with other Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 needs to find ways, like this, to better showcase their own games. While teams such as Washington, Stanford and USC also need to hold up their end of the bargain by competing with and defeating elite non-conference squads, there is much that the Pac-12 can do to help market their own schools.
Luckily for the Pac-12, there are still some very appealing in-conference competitions remaining in this season. With Washington playing the Ducks in Eugene, Colorado traveling to Seattle to play the Huskies and USC hosting Notre Dame on the last week of the season, there is plenty of opportunity for the Pac-12 to get back into the national spotlight.
Until the conference can find a way to more consistently keep its teams in the limelight and out of the graveyard hour, the blue chips of the Midwest and East Coast will continue to dominate ratings, dominate recruiting and, in turn, dominate teams up and down the West Coast.
Jimmy Goodman is a junior majoring in communication. His column, “The Point After,” runs every other Tuesday.