November is when everything starts to make sense for Heisman voters. Early December (hopefully) is when voters whittle their candidates down to three and decide the order of placement—the numerical placements can be the most stressful part of filling out the ballot.
I will not fill out and submit my ballot until the last scheduled regular season game has been played. Too many great Heisman moments have been missed by voters who turned in their ballots early. I know of several voters who regretted not waiting until the last day to submit their Heisman ballots.
These players have earned tremendous respect from fans and voters. All are worthy of consideration.
Here are my Heisman contenders, in alphabetical order.
Max Duggan, Texas Christian University
Duggan has been overlooked—even to the point of broadcasters mispronouncing his last name—by many so-called experts but that may change this month. This dual-threat quarterback is the heart and soul of TCU. He has been a game-changer in several contests which is all the more shocking when one considers he was not the Horned Frogs’ starter in week 1’s game against Colorado—Chandler Morris was. Psssst…. his name is pronounced Doug-en.
If the Heisman Trophy were an MVP award, Duggan would win it.
Hendon Hooker, University of Tennessee
Hooker has a ridiculous 21-1 TD-INT ratio and a 191.64 quarterback rating. Oh, and he beat Alabama. As of today, he’s likely the favorite (OK, who doesn’t love this guy?) to win the most prestigious award in college football. If he has another spectacular performance at Georgia on Saturday—barring any serious missteps or injury—he can strike the pose.
Right now, it is his to lose.
C.J. Stroud, the Ohio State University
Stroud has been on my ballot twice, albeit not in the No. 1 slot. It would be something special to have him finally move to the top spot but it all hinges on November 26, when his Buckeyes host Michigan. Stroud’s stats are eye-popping: 71.3 percent completion, 29-4 TD-INT ratio and a 200.16 quarterback rating.
If Hooker stumbles and Stroud does Stroud-like things to beat Michigan, he’s a surprise Heisman winner.
Caleb Williams, University of Southern California
Williams is an incredible talent. His arm strength, particularly throwing across his body, is a highlight reel. The problem for him is that USC’s defense is so porous, it detracts from his performances. USC could win the Pac-12 but the Trojans will have to outscore UCLA and Notre Dame to even get to the conference championship.
A lot of dominoes have to fall for him to be on the majority of ballots.
Drake Maye, University of North Carolina
Bryce Young, University of Alabama
Zach Charbonnet, University of California Los Angeles
Charbonnet is currently the third most productive rusher in college football. He averages 7.53 yards a carry, 137.71 yards a game. Think about that. He’s the go-to-guy when you need at least five yards. A true weapon in the backfield, Charbonnet can also play catch—he has hauled in 20 passees for 232 yards.
Charbonnet should be invited to New York City in December. There, I said it.
Blake Corum, University of Michigan
If anyone can steal Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s thunder on November 26, it is Corum. This running back has great numbers: 1,078 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He averages 6.02 yards per carry and 134.75 yards per game. Corum is a wrecking ball and has started to get more attention from the pundits.
Admit it. Your team looked like a national title contender, looked not-ready-for-prime-time or just plain stunk. For some football fans, the season is already over.
Week one of college football delivered good news, bad news, confusion and a whole lotta shrugs (we hear you, Nebraska). While it is way too early to make conclusive analyses on most teams—the SEC can carry on, as usual—we still can be judgmental, critical and petty.
Honest opinion. No pussy-footing around here.
Let’s get to week one-liners.
Oregon failed to sell itself to the voters and media despite being over confident for its pending debacle against defending National Champion Georgia.
The Oregon Ducks’ story is as old as time. Get all dressed up in flashy threads and get dragged by a traditional school that believes in defense, not fancy-pants schemes.
Oregon was paid $4.5 million to play the game only to get trolled hard at the half by Georgia fans.
The Bulldogs’ 49-3 rout of the Ducks was an indictment of the the Pac-12’s waning swagger. If the Pac-12 cannot sell Oregon to most college football fans, how is Oregon going to sell itself to the Big Ten? Perhaps the Big Ten will negotiate a deal where Oregon gets less revenue sharing than its other member schools. Notre Dame is still every conference’s prime target so Oregon’s exodus to the Midwest’s Promised Land is probably “Nix-ed.”
Oregon could still contend for the conference title but a very pissed-off Utah will be waiting for a mid-November date.
Oregon is overrated. There. I said it. Time to move on.
U.C.L.A. looked atrocious in its first half against Bowling Green.
Special teams play was horrific—specifically the kick and kick return play. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson started off where he left off last season; an enigma. A running DTR is a Disneyland fireworks display. Breathtaking and beautiful. A passing DTR is a stick of TNT whose fuse keeps going out. Is it a dud or will it go off?
In the second half, it went boom. More of this, please.
Only 27,105 fans were in attendance at the Rose Bowl. The biggest excuse heard for the record low attendance was the scorching heat. Fair enough. But across town at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 60,113 fans showed up. Just sayin’.
The O-line still needs to mesh with some new starters in the mix. DTR was running for his life and forced to make plays he would rather have had back. Zach Charbonnet is one of the most underrated backs in the country—he finished with 21 carries, 111 yards and one touchdown.
The Bruins had a very solid second half by shutting out the Falcons, putting 21 points on the board and snatching victory from defeat. Overall, not a great U.C.L.A. performance but at least the Bruins didn’t fall apart after a bad first half.
USC entered the season with plenty of hype under new head coach Lincoln Riley and delivered.
Quarterback Caleb Williams is a highly-touted Heisman candidate and did not disappoint. He has outstanding pocket awareness and good wheels to get him out of trouble—that rarely happened due to solid pass protection. His arm strength and decision-making are what sets him apart from others. Williams made some filthy throws off-balance or on the run with a ball that had extraordinary velocity on it. He is special.
Speaking of Heisman, USC’s speedster Raleek Brown, the No. 3 prospect out of 2021’s class of running backs, struck the pose after scoring his first touchdown. Sooo…. fans do like to see the kids having fun. And it has been a looooong time since USC’s sidelines have produced smiling, dancing players.
But Arrogant Nation beat Rice, a C-USA team that went 4-8 last year. Next week the Trojans travel to Stanford. Unless USC’s defense figures out how to stuff runs between the tackles and get its back seven into better position on pass plays, E.J. Smith, son of that Emmitt Smith, is going to have a stellar day.
The bitch may be back but hold the applause (and poses), please.
Oregon State deserves more love.
Head coach Jonathan Smith has slowly turned the Beavers around from bottom of the barrel to that team you don’t want to play. Just ask perennial Group of Five Powerhouse Boise State.
The Beavers POUNDED the Broncos 34-17. The defense was ferocious causing five turnovers. The running-back-by-committee approach netted 178 bruising yards on the ground. The fans were completely engaged and the Beavers’ chainsaw was roaring through the stadium throughout the game.
Watch out for Oregon State.
Utah almost put the Pac-12 back in the College Football Playoff conversation. Almost.
Quarterback Cam Rising came up a tad short on a go-ahead touchdown down 29-26, on 2nd-and-goal with 22 ticks left on the clock. Score and the Utes are as special as we thought they were. Lose, and winning the Pac-12 (again) just seems a like a consolation prize. The pass was intercepted and Utah (and the Pac-12) lost.
Taking the next step in Big Boy football means beating a Big Boy from a Big Boy conference. Not almost beating a Big Boy.
Stanford walloped Colgate 41-10 in the Battle of the Almost Ivy League Schools but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Colgate is an FCS school and some FCS schools are up for a Big Boy challenge. Think North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Montana, Eastern Washington or Jacksonville State. Colgate is not in the same league athletically as the previously mentioned and that’s why allowing Colgate to score 10 points is inexcusable.
Yes, a muffed punt that led to a touchdown by Colgate has my dander up. Yes, Stanford may be a good team and did not open up the playbook because it hosts USC on Saturday. But yes, Colgate still scored 10 points on the Cardinal. That’s a big tell.
Speaking of Almost Ivy League schools, Cal struggled to beat FCS non-powerhouse UC Davis.
The Golden Bears are returning just eight starters so (my) expectations are low. With sister school U.C.L.A. becoming a full member of the Big Ten on August, 2, 2024, perhaps Cal is just depressed. The Bears were down 7-0 to the Aggies before taking a 17-7 halftime lead. They get UNLV this Saturday before a road trip to Notre Dame. Buckle up, Bears.
The rest of the Pac:
Washington beat Kent State 45-20. The offense appears to be high octane but until the Huskies play Michigan State, I’m withholding any accolades or criticism.
Washington State beat Idaho 24-17. It’s almost an in-state rivalry so maybe that’s an excuse that’ll satisfy Coug Nation. Bourbon helps.
Colorado lost to TCU 38-13. The Buffs gave up 275 rushing yards (avg 9.2 yards per carry!) so the key to beating Colorado is running the ball.
Arizona beat San Diego State 38-20. Before we jump on the Wildcat bandwagon, a reminder: the Aztecs are notorious slow starters. In 2019 they beat Weber State 6-0 and last year beat New Mexico State 28-10.
Arizona State beat Northern Arizona 40-3. Next week the Sun Devils play at Oklahoma State. Good feeling gone?
Ok, we readily admit that (for the most part) being in a stadium, beer and hot dog in hands, marching band playing and cheerleaders, well… cheerleading is the best place to watch college football.
But what if… life gets in the way?
Your BFF decides to get married in September. Sigh. Your clueless cousin decides that November is a great time to host a family reunion. Wrong! Your colleague wants to do a road trip in August. Get that resume updated!
I’ve been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt and hat (thank you, Kenny Chesney) and have concluded that college football does not sit in the corner for anybody.
The die-hard fan will not be denied.
So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and there is a place for you to watch your football. No matter who or what tries to stop you. Just make sure you have access to satellite TV or an app that delivers the goods.
And some understanding friends and family.
A dive bar in the Tropics
I’m a fan of funky, tropical dive bars. And no, “dive bar” is not necessarily a place where the carpets get squeegeed after last call. It is “a coveted badge of honor bestowed by aficionados looking for authenticity in such establishments,” according to Google search. To recap, dive bars are cool and location, location, location makes them more swaggy.
Drinking a Hemingway’s Mojito watching the Florida Gators play the Miami Hurricanes at the end of the world, aka Sloppy Joes in Key West? Yes, thank you. Sipping a Mai Tai at Arnold’s Beach Bar in Waikiki watching any football game? Hell, yes. Pass the free popcorn popped in bacon grease, please.
If your team is winning, you get to celebrate with all the beautiful people. If your team is losing, drowning your sorrows in a Pacific archipelago isn’t all that bad.
Hey, if you can get away with it, go for it. Just remember you paid a premium for that eight-hour traffic school so your insurance premiums don’t go up. Do not mess this up.
You will not fly under the radar if you wear your team’s jersey, eye black and some Bose headphones to class. But an 11-99 Foundation tee, khaki Dockers and a secret ear piece should get you teacher’s pet points while the rest of the class feels like felons. You get bonus points galore for going to Saturday school, watching the game, nixing insurance/DMV penalties and proving yes, you really can have it all.
In an RV at a national park
Picture this: You’ve got an RV all tricked out with a widescreen TV attached to the outside of the vehicle. Your captain’s chair and remote control are beckoning as a camp fire crackles. A frosty, cold beer(s) sits in a cooler as your pulled pork slowly cooks in a tin pot. Leaves rustle in the distance. An owl hoots nearby.
Nobody can hear you scream. It’s perfect for those fans who root, root, root for the home team (sing along, everybody!), no matter how badly it sucks.
Highly recommended: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
This one is a bit tricky. First, you actually have to do something physical while watching your game. It’s called golf. But golf carts can be your saving grace.
Slap your cell phone on the seat or rent a cart that has a TV screen already installed. Now go play the most frustrating sport in the world. Lining up your birdie putt may take a wee bit longer than normal if your team is facing 4th-and-1 at the 1-yard line, down four points with a minute left in regulation.
Did you make a great shot? Throw your club in a sand trap or into the water hazard. The time it takes to fish it out allows you time to dry off and watch instant replays of that glorious touchdown or pick 6.
Golf is literally the perfect sport to watch… other sports. The 19th hole awaits.
Las Vegas casino
Hear me out. I once watched LSU v Alabama (2011’s Game of the Century) at the Orleans Hotel and was given free food and alcohol, including sub-zero tequila shots. There was actually a Patron machine there. Anyway, the casino’s sports book had that game on its big screen. The entire area in front of that screen (see above) was divided down the middle into two sections via theater rope.
Gotta keep the proverbial Hatfields and McCoys separated, right? Free hot dogs and pizza were flying. If you were sitting at slot machines, watching the game while pretending to gamble, your drinks were free. It was loud, bawdy and Southern. Best experience ever.
So here is how this works: dress like a ski bum recovering from a horrible ski accident that tore up your meniscus. Wear the awesome clothes (and a cane), but have a portable TV/smart phone nearby to watch your team play.
Park yourself behind the main lodge’s window. Order some chili con carne in a sourdough bowl, a frosty beer or Irish coffee and chill with your injured leg propped up. Your new found friends will join you shortly. During the TV commercials you have a splendid view of your fellow skiers skiing/crashing/cursing/being rescued by ski patrol in a sled.
The motive behind planning family reunions is pure. The reality of family reunions is a mixed bag of flowers and manure. Sure, it is nice to meet your wife’s second cousin but these meetings can be so awkward. Throwing complete strangers together and expecting them all to have something to talk about beside sex, politics and religion is impossible.
These reunions are usually planned over a weekend when football is being played. The nerve of these people! So run around and shake hands with everyone—the wife will be happy with your boyish charm. But bring a large TV and set up your man cave next to Aunt Ethel’s homemade potato salad and Cousin Betty’s cheese curds. You will find out quickly which relatives are the coolest—they will be the ones trying to sit next to you.
Just how good of friends are these people inviting you to a fall wedding, anyway? Clearly, they do not know you very well. I do. My friends have all been briefed and understand that any invite to a wedding held on any Saturday from late-August to early-January will promptly get a “nay” from me on the cutesy, RSVP card and sent off in the self-addressed, stamped envelope—but I’ll send a nice gift, OK?
I have attended one fall wedding. Since it was my first (and last), I remember it well. I spent the entire reception/dinner time in the bar, cheering on my team. I was perfectly content skipping the rubber-like chicken dinner and instead, noshing on martini olives and pineapple wedges. This experience led to the birth of my personal personal hashtag #StopFallWeddings and a date with the bartender later that week. Just sayin’.
You could get lucky and go to a football themed wedding but unless you live in SEC Country (see above), that isn’t happening.
If you have to go, bring your portable TV. In less time than you can blink, your entire table will be crowded with football fans. Free drinks—unless it’s a cash bar in which case why are you seriously even there?—and food aren’t so bad when you can watch football with all of your new BFFs.
If you know your team is going to lose, why not go to a place where you can stare at beautiful scenery and drink like a fish? Listen, if my team loses while I am in Paso Robles, sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the valley while drinking DAOU’s Soul of Lion Bordeaux blend, things aren’t necessarily DEFCON 1.
Watching a tight game at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, sipping a big red [tip of the hat to 2015’s Fay] while navigating through an epic charcuterie board seems pretty on point, doesn’t it?
On a cruise ship in the Caribbean
College football’s week one used to start the Thursday before Labor Day. Now it starts the week prior and is nicknamed week zero. With only 11 games scheduled Saturday, August 27, the pickins’ are slim. There can/will be some bad football games, although for the football-starved fan, no game is technically bad—it just never reaches its potential.
In any case, laying in a lounger on the Lido Deck, watching a football game on a big screen while a Jamaican steel drum band plays near you can ease the pain of bad officiating. Maybe that targeting call was not such a bad call? Maybe the sun glaring on your glistening, tan/burned skin distorted your vision?
“A drink will make your eyesight better,” the Caribbean Queen Fairy whispers in your ear.
With smooth, white sand beaches in the distance and the palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes, the bad play-calling becomes less cringey. Hmmm, you think. Maybe this really is a good time to try out that Statue of Liberty play while inside your own 15.
“Imbibe in a Goombay Smash,” you hear CQF say.
Crystal clear turquoise water slaps the hull of your ship. Colorfully dressed servers twirl tall pineapples/short coconuts filled with cold concoctions. Their little umbrellas and plastic monkeys hanging on for dear life will make you forget… well… damn, what was I supposed to be doing here? Pickleball?
Come to think of it, watch the game if you can. But DVR it at home just in case you get lost in Paradise on August 27.
PS- I’ll be in the Southern Caribbean when the first football game of the 2022 season kicks off on my birthday. I’ll be on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas watching football with some of the best human beings on this planet: my husband—the coolest person I know beside my twin—and our dear friends Mike (go K State!) and Cindy (go K State too!)
Los Angeles—Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff kicked off Pac-12 Football Media Day at the Novo Theater on Friday with a salty question-and-answer session with the media. Why, you ask, was he salty?
Well, there’s still that elephant in the room. And it seems to have grown since its last sighting.
Kliavkoff knew that the majority of the questions were going to be about expansion. And USC. And U.C.L.A. Because … duh.
Yet, he still expressed impatience and annoyance when those questions were asked. A couple of nervous laughs and smirks were also observed.
When asked about the Big XII’s comment about it being “open for business,” Kliavkoff pulled out his quiver and delivered a first of several arrows.
“I haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not,” he responded.
Kliavkoff also talked about weapons of mass destruction. “I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend grenades from every corner of the Big 12,” he said.
“I get why they’re scared. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us.”
If “awkward” and “spicy” were on your Pac-12 Media Day bingo card, congrats. It was all that and more. It had that SEC-type vibe to it. Without the standing-room-only screaming fans, championship banners, rings and trophies, of course.
After I described the media room’s tone as a spicy hotdog, a reporter sitting next to me, Chris Karpman, replied, “Not a lot of meat on the bones. A lot of condiments though.”
Kliavkoff is clearly ticked at USC and U.C.L.A.—officially he is “disappointed”—but he also said he would “welcome [U.C.L.A.] back.”
“I personally have instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12,” he added.
Translation: Be nice, fellas. I’m trying to keep this family together even though we had a meeting with 10 schools yesterday and we didn’t invite them (because it was about the future of the conference), according to SI’s Ross Dellenger.
That really happened. But no hard feelings, right?
Once the Commish left—OK, fled—the stage, the coaches were put in the spotlight.
Pesky expansion and defection questions were being asked and the coaches were not too excited about that. They wanted to talk about their own schools, not those other two schools. Go figure.
It was like watching a hamster fight. To be fair, I’ve never seen one. But after this afternoon’s follies, I think I’ve got the picture.
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell described the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten as “shocking… but I wish them the very best.” His team was picked to finish last by the media. But he’s still No. 1 in politeness.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was the big dog in the morning—sorry, Oregon—because Utah was picked by the media to repeat as conference champion. He ended up talking a lot about the Rose Bowl and the Florida Gators, the Utes’ first opponent of the season.
Whittingham is intense and a coach’s coach. The media know better than to push his buttons. He wants to play football. And win. Everything else is minutia.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was a fresh, bright face. He was exuberant, positive and effusive at his first Pac-12 Media Day. He also spent a lot of time talking Oregon’s brand and its highly-rated games.
“Since 2010 there’s been nine teams that have played for a national championship,” Lanning said, a mere 15 seconds after being introduced by the moderator.
“Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously we had 2.57 million viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference.”
How many coaches know their per-game-average of TV ratings? Seriously?
It really sounded like Phil Knight wrote his sale pitch to the Big Ten.
“I’m excited about the direction of our program, excited about being part of the fastest-growing brand in college football,” Lanning said.
How does he feel about playing his former team, Georgia? Lanning complimented the SEC, of course. Then he went back to pitching Oregon.
“Oregon, like I said, is a national brand. It’s fun to be in a place where you get to play premier opponents like Georgia.”
Wait, there’s more.
When asked if USC and UCLA’s future move has become part of the recruiting conversation, Lanning continued to hit those selling points.
“Oregon has been always a premier team in college football. I think we’ll continue to be. Our fans are extremely passionate. Being a top-10 team when it comes to views in homes this last year, the ability to compete for championships year in and year out with coaching changes and different things.”
Phil Knight must be pleased. “Brand” was mentioned more than once and television ratings weren’t touched upon by Lanning. They were molested.
If Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was watching, well, Oregon should give Lanning a raise and a new pair of sneakers every holiday.
Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch opened up his podium speech by talking about… wait for it… the LA Rams and their Super Bowl win. When you go 1-11 your first year, sometimes you have to go back a few years to when you were a coach on a winning team—even though it was in the N.F.L.
Fisch gets Charlie Weis’s seal of approval.
Fisch was a delight. He even inner-channelled former Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
“Other coaches are telling recruits that we’re an off-season team, and we appreciate them pointing out our great off-season, but we feel like we’re going to be a really good in-season team too.”
A college football coach’s humor is so underrated.
Stanford head coach David Shaw provided his usual sportsmanship and class. But he also dropped some dog humor on us.
When asked if losing the two L.A. teams would diminish Stanford’s strength of schedule, he answered, “First of all, that’s two years from now.”
“That’s 14 years… regular people years… two college football seasons.”
With half the day’s events over, a break was in order. Lunch was an excruciating experience.
I give you my play-by-play:
We are told that lunch will be served on the fifth level terrace. We pile into the elevators after a *helpful* Pac-12 info person yells, “lunch is on the fifth floor” every 10 seconds. Everyone is uncomfortable because we had to wait awhile for an empty elevator while listening to her repeatedly tell us where to go.
We get off at the fifth level. We walk to the other side of the building and run into a dead end. A *helpful* Pac-12 info person tells us, “Yes, lunch is on the fifth level, but you have to go back to the elevators, go down to level four, then go across the building and take the elevator up to the fifth level.”
Did you get all that?
As we go back down to the fourth level, another Pac-12 info person is yelling about the fifth level lunch terrace.
Now I know why USC and U.C.L.A. are leaving. It all makes sense.
We finally make it to the terrace on the fifth floor (achievement unlocked!) and discover there are not enough tables to seat everyone. I find a fun-looking table with two open seats, sit down and pick at my salad. I chatted with a nice, young man for 30 minutes before he introduces himself as Washington State’s new head coach, Jake Dickert. [Insert sheepish look here]
I had a terrific time talking with with him (and his players) and started feeling pretty good when I headed back to the elevators.
Good feeling… gone.
We went down to the third floor. Big mistake. What were we thinking taking the most direct route back to our work stations?
We have to go back to the fourth floor, walk to the other side of the building, then take the elevator down to the third floor and enter the Novo Theater. I sit down and decide if I should take a nap or watch the pending—if you’re a pessimist, looming—speeches/comedy/fireworks/paparazzi about to take place. Wisely, I chose the latter.
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards was at the podium.
“Next thing I’m going to comment on before I open it up for questions, I’ve never taken so many elevators in a day,” he said. “I’m elevatored out right now. I don’t know what button to push, what floor I’m going to, but I know there’s a lot in this building, and they all work.”
Herm Edwards is my hero.
When he exited stage right he muttered, “Gotta go catch an elevator.”
As expected, U.C.L.A and USC were the last two schools on the schedule. Ostensibly, this is done to keep everyone here until the end so they can fight Friday traffic at its worst.
Bruins’ head coach Chip Kelly was worth the wait. The quips were fast and furious.
He was asked how far it is from his campus to Piscataway, New Jersey (Rutgers’ campus).
“It’s 2,765 miles,” he replied grinning.
“Four-and-a-half-hour flight. If you’re going west to east it’s longer because the weather goes across the country. Coming back would be a little bit longer, so… we hope that we win because then you don’t worry about how long the ride is on the way back.”
A Canadian reporter from Quebec started to ask him a question and Chip couldn’t help himself.
“We’re not going to Quebec,” he laughed.
USC’s Lincoln Riley was last man up and his presence conjured up images from the Pete Carroll era. Photographers rushed up to the stage. Shutters were clicking and lights were flashing. Just like the good old days.
Riley didn’t mess around. He made some bold statements.
“We expect to have a national championship-caliber defense here at USC,” he proclaimed. USC fans must have swarmed the ticket office website after that statement.
“The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second, he said.
“We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”
A reporter followed that up with, “What is your expectation for this year?”
“To win the championship,” Riley responded, without hesitation.
USC has its coach. U.C.L.A. has its coach. And for the next two years, it looks like the two defectors of the Pac-12 will be not only running L.A., but the entire conference. The swagger was there on display.
Overall, the day was as expected. Awkward. There were also some bizarre moments.
Between coaches’ media sessions we were “treated” to some interesting music choices. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Express” was on a loop. But instead of Mars we got dueling violins.
There were two unidentifiable, fake plants set at each side of the stage. They stood out like a rack of ribs at a Vegan brunch. One of my Twitter followers suggested it was Cannabis. That would have been the most LA-thing ever.
Finally, the Internet is apparently a newfangled thing that this conference still has not figured out. “Spotty” does not even begin to describe this mess.
Was it a coincidence that as soon as the Pac-12 Commissioner began his opening remarks, the Wifi was non-existent?
Every Pac-12 Media Day has had this problem. I’ve never experienced a Wifi problem-free Media Day.
Maybe the Big Ten or Big XII can help the Pac-12 figure it out?
Who will make college football’s complicated system of polls more eyebrow-raising? Who will make pundits look ill-informed, cause unsuspecting fans to morph into surrender-cobras and create pandemonium on beautiful, fall Saturdays?
Ahh, the Cinderellas, aka Cindys, of college football. They can trip up a team or rip it to shreds when the final tick of the clock, well… tocks.
Is it possible to predict which teams are the Cindys this year? Sure, anyone can predict, of course, but accuracy still counts.
There are at least six teams that are trending up and should outperform their (expected) preseason projections. Depending on how they finish, I am either spot on in my analysis or have enacted the Kiss of Death.
Let the glass slipper quest begin.
Yep, they’re baaaaack. Could USC go all the way? Maybe, if the defense makes drastic improvements in all facets of defending an end zone. The fact that USC is even in the Cindy conversation is a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the legendary football program. But hope springs eternal.
Clay Helton (46-24, 2-3 in bowls) is out. Lincoln Riley (55-10, 3 CFB berths) is in. Quarterback Caleb Williams is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and his tosses to receiver Jordan Addison may look like giant beach balls. The defense has been porous and it still may be a year away from its former nasty self. But if SC can throw up 50+ points per game, the defense can camouflage its warts with a bend-don’t-break style and no one will care.
The USC Trojans are expected to rise up after the coaching change and there should be enough angst in the locker room to make up for the last 10 years. Big Ten bound, Arrogant Nation is back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
OK, I know, but hear me out here. The Demon Deacons went 11-3 last year. They have one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country in Sam Hartman. They also have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC, according to Phil Steele.
The scheduling Gods were kind to Wake Forest. They play a non-conference game at Vanderbilt and get Virginia Military Institute and Liberty at home before hosting Clemson on September 24.
They avoid Miami and Pitt—if the Demon Deacons can split the Ws against Clemson and NC State, they’ve got a great shot at returning for a conference championship berth.
North Carolina StateWolfpack
The ACC Atlantic has three or four heavyweights contending for the division title. Beside Wake Forest, NC State is another up-and-comer. The Wolfpack have been sniffing at Clemson’s dominance for awhile but this may be the year they get to be top dog.
NC State has 17 returning starters—including all but one on defense— and that bodes well for a team that went 9-3 last season. Their schedule has a few speedbumps. Playing Texas Tech in week three is a tough out. A date at Clemson after hosting UConn is a potential let down. NC State ends its season with two road trips to Louisville and North Carolina.
It’s a championship schedule… if they want it to be.
A lot of folks are talking about Utah—and rightly so—but not so fast, my friend. U.C.L.A. has slowly improved to the point where every team on its schedule should take the Bruins more seriously.
Last year, quarterback Damian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) led the Bruins on some exceptional offensive drives. He minimized mental mistakes and took on more of a leadership role. DTR had a 62.2 completion percentage, threw for more than 2,400 yards and had a 21-6 TD-INT ratio. The Bruins’ defense will have to pick up the slack, though, if they want to be called elite.
Last year the Bruins were nationally ranked No. 70 in total defense, albeit they had a Top 25 rush defense. This year the Bruins face a pressing problem with their back seven. They lost their top backers and only return one starter in the secondary. Still, with the fresh air of Big Ten money under their paws, I think this is the year U.C.L.A. finally gets respect from the pollsters.
I have been a closet Hurricane fan forever. So yeah, my expectations have lowered a little—OK, a lot—over the past decade. That changed when Oregon Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal fled the cozy, green confines of Eugene and headed back to the expansive, pastel tropics of Miami. Cristobal’s staff is noteworthy and the recruiting has been pedal-to-the-medal. The ‘Canes currently have a Top 15 recruiting class.
One of Miami’s biggest reasons for mediocre football (beside coaching hires) has been quarterback play. Tyler Van Dyke will make fans forget about the last decade. He is the first Miami quarterback since Bernie Kosar to have three 325-plus passing yard games, according to Phil Steele.
Miami’s defense has always been a strength and this year’s defense will be experienced and nasty. Cristobal has banned the Turnover Chain, much to my dismay, but I still expect some sort of innovative reward for some excellent playmaking. Maybe an Orange Bowl berth?
South Carolina Gamecocks
While everyone fusses over the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs, South Carolina may derail Georgia’s “Repeat” in week three. Remember, Georgia opens the season in Atlanta against the Oregon Ducks. The Bulldogs travel to South Carolina two weeks later. Am I calling for an upset?
Yes, yes I am.
Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler will be under center. Solid and consistent quarterback play has been a missing piece of the Gamecocks’ offense since 2013 (Connor Shaw). Head coach Shane Beamer is an up-and-coming genius who has the defense and special teams humming—the offense is all that needs to be tweaked.
Everything is looking like the perfect (sand) storm.
Tennessee (because, Tennessee… am I right Vol fans?)
Texas (the Longhorns will be listed here until they are officially “back”)
Baylor (I voted them No. 1 on my preseason Big XII poll as did the majority of Big XII media members so they aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year)
Kansas State (RB Deuce Vaughn is my dark horse Heisman contender but the Wildcats need more than a locomotive to get through that dark tunnel. The road schedule is: at OU, at ISU, at TCU, at Baylor and at WVU)
It has been 13 days since USC and UCLA shocked the college football landscape with their defections to the Big Ten. The quickness and lethalness of their traitorous journey were discussed ubiquitously. It was a lesson in efficiency, secret-keeping and stupefaction.
Oklahoma and Texas’s conference expansion wrecking ball took an entire week before the carnage was done.
USC and UCLA—from their rumored exit from the Pac-12 to their admission to the Big Ten (effective 2024)—took….wait for it… one day.
The Pac-12 was blindsided from Jon Wilner’s June 30 article that reported USC and UCLA were planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. Its teams were still trying to absorb that report when the merciful Big Ten put the Pac-12 out of its misery the next day.
One minute the Pac-12 was eating grilled salmon and drinking Pinot Noir. The next day it was eating crow and drinking Boost nutritional supplements.
The supposed ties between the West Coast, Arizona, Pacific Northwest and Mountain schools are ostensibly strained. Are partnerships on shaky ground?
Oregon is reportedly itching to go to the Big Ten but no mention is being made of its in-state rival, Oregon State. Washington has been rumored to be in the mix for the Big Ten admission as well, but Washington State is being left high and dry. At least USC took UCLA to the Big Ten, right?
Pac-12 Media Day, which will be held in Los Angeles on July 29, will be beyond awkward. It will be a three-ring circus. But not in a fun way.
Two schools attending Pac-12’s Media Day will be traitors. Soon-to-be very rich traitors. The rest are hopeful survivors of a treasonous pilgrimage.
Wanna bet most of the questions to the “other 10 coaches” will be about USC or UCLA? The Pac-12 should include antacid alongside the Pac-12-branded water bottles for the coaches at the podium. Radio row should include a safe space for those who cannot stand being the jilted lover.
This media day will be all about USC and UCLA. More than usual. It’s a biting indictment of how important those two schools are to the conference and how poorly the conference’s leadership has been in developing and maintaining revenue for its members.
The Pac-12 knows that this is its fault. If it does not, then the conference will dissolve due to its myopic vision.
Sure, on July 29 it will try to put lipstick on a pig. Barring any major announcements or deals, the only way that pig gets a second look is if it flies.
Beside the pending awkwardness of Pac-12 Media Day are the unanswered questions.
If you’re Commissioner George Kliavkoff, do you continue the Larry Scott tradition of starting off the morning with loud, blaring, mind-numbing music amidst a backdrop of flashy graphics and flexing athletes showing off all the national titles the Pac-12 won last year?
Or do you just play “Taps”?
Do you still provide a vegan-option lunch alternative or do you just hire an In-N-Out catering truck and call it a day?
Just what will Kliavkoff talk about?
He cannot ignore the elephant(s) in the room, can he?
One minute Washington State and Oregon State are thinking about contending for the North’s division title, the next they are contemplating winning the Mountain West in 2024.
Oregon thought its value was worthy of a Big Ten invite. It still may be. But time is ticking and the longer the wait, the less leverage Oregon has. If the Big Ten does come calling, do not dismiss the Ducks having to settle for a 50 percent revenue cut. While that’s still around $50 million, a lot of feathers are going to be ruffled.
The reality is that Oregon is nowhere near the powerhouses of USC and UCLA. Yes, even though Trojan and Bruin football has been dismal. Yes, even though Oregon blah, blah, blah.
Life is cruel.
Kliavkoff will try to put a good spin for the remaining Pac-12(10?) schools, but there are some things he cannot avoid. The Conference of Champions is losing two schools that won a combined 253 team titles. More from the NCAA:
“Forty-one of those championships are from the Trojans and Bruins track and field teams, with USC leading its crosstown rival 28-13.
To put that in perspective, the Big Ten has won 11 track and field championships from all of its programs combined. In men’s track and field, the Big Ten has won just one title in the last 73 years; USC and UCLA have combined for 24 championships. In women’s outdoor track and field, no Big Ten team has ever won a title; the Lady Trojans won two of the last five championships.”
The Conference of Champions has won 544 national titles. Last year the conference won titles in men and women’s water polo, snow skiing, women’s outdoor track and field, beach volleyball, men’s gymnastics, women’s basketball and men’s indoor track and field.
The Conference of Champions is a cool motto. Larry Scott embraced it. And forty years ago, when…you know…the Pac-12 was winning revenue-producing sports’ championships, the motto applied. Now, it sounds like it should belong on a cereal box.
Kliavkoff needs to stop celebrating the past and address the future. Do not add schools that are not elite. Join another Power 5 conference and become the first super conference. And while it is nice to celebrate national titles from sports other than football, at football media days, read the damn room.
Football is what makes the world go around.
In fact, among all NIL deals, 50 percent of college athlete earnings come from football, according to a SportsProMedia report. The better the athletes, the better the team, the better the NIL deals.
So yes, college football matters. To the players (ka-ching!), the conferences (Eureka!) and the fans (aka boosters). Also, Las Vegas sends its love.
But back to the three-ring circus.
Oddly, Stanford has been pretty quiet about this whole thing. Do the Cardinal even know what’s going on? Pity the reporter who asks Stanford head coach David Shaw about this.
Shaw is a complete professional—he is actually my favorite coach with whom to have lunch—but his look of disapproval or disdain is about as subtle as egg salad that has been left in the sun all day. Count on Shaw to be cranky at Media Day.
Shaw’s crankiness may be overshadowed by Colorado’s Karl “I came back for this crap?” Dorrell, Utah’s Kyle “we finally are picked to win the conference and this happens?” Whittingham and Washington State’s Jake “does anyone have Mike Leach’s phone number?” Dickert.
Dorrell is fairly soft spoken. He will be subdued but ornery. Whittingham was probably a drill sergeant in a former life so expect dust to be stirred up, mics to be stretched to the limit and steely eyes on every reporter who touches on the expansion talk.
Dickert, well, maybe he should just hit the bar instead. Cougar fans will always be waiting.
Overall, I do not expect much to change at Pac-12 Media Day in terms of production, scheduling, protocols or ambiance. It is predictable as death, taxes and the children’s menu at national chain restaurants.
The Pac-12’s Media Day has always taken a backseat to the SEC and Big Ten Media Days. Maybe it is because the SEC and Big Ten have Media Days and the Pac-12 has Media Day. That is how much importance the Pac-12 places on football.
One friggin day.
This year SEC schools are not bringing two players to their Media Days. They are bringing three. The sessions last from Monday July 18-21.
The Big XII will spread its Media Days over two days. So will the ACC and the Big Ten. They will all have each school represented by three players. The only Power 5 conference that brings two players?
Maybe that will change this year.
Maybe sports fans should google “Pac-12 Media Day” and see what comes up. The lack of information and articles are telling compared to the SEC and Big Ten Media Days. Go ahead, google it.
Does the Pac-12 really not have that much to talk about?
The deal is done. The ink is dry. The Pac-12 has officially acknowledged that the Trojans and Bruins are going to the Big Ten in 2024. It’s like being a parent and watching your 18-year old child leave on a date with someone you clearly think is not in your child’s best interest.
“They can do better,” you try to convince yourself. But they really can’t.
USC and UCLA are leaving their Lincoln Navigator for a Bentley Continental GT. Leaving a $20 million dollar annual payout for a $100 million payout. Leaving half-empty stadiums for stadiums filled with 114,000 screaming fans. Instead of only being able to afford penny stocks, AMZN is now in their portfolios.
Forty-eight hours after the big news broke, the Pac-12 Networks was airing the 2004 Rose Bowl game between USC and Michigan. USC v Penn State followed. The chyron (news ticker) below the game displaying the conference’s statement on the two teams’ departure announcement was the elephant in the room.
In all likelihood, the conference’s flagship network failed to be proactive in television programming.
Failed to be proactive.
It’s an indictment of everything that is wrong in the Pac-12. The conference did not read the room while the SEC and Big Ten were expanding. It failed to protect its future and failed to implement its contingencies.
The conference was rife with poor officiating for a decade. #Pac12refs became a national punchline and Twitter trending hashtag. The Pac-12 made some overtures to fix the problem but no substantial changes could be seen on the field.
The Pac-12 conference is probably now in full-blown panic mode. Undoubtedly phone calls are being made, hands are being wrung, pearl necklaces are being clutched and safe spaces are being constructed in the halls of the Pac-12 offices.
Meanwhile, other Pac-12 members are probably freaking out.
While Oregon and Washington are the next best Pac-12 teams to be considered in a possible departure to another conference, no announcements have been made. While that may not be significant now—once Notre Dame decides its permanent place in college football the dominoes will fall—it will be decidedly concerning after the 2022 season ends.
I believe Stanford and Cal are a better “fit” in the Big Ten. They are traditional schools with high emphasis on education. The Bay Area’s TV market is consistently ranked in the Top 10. They have been consistent in their athletic programs’ branding and except for Stanford’s name change of Indians to Cardinal in 1981, they have very traditional athletic programs.
The Midwest fan is generally not impressed with shiny, new things and unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, the national perception of Oregon football is just that. This isn’t a criticism. But read the room, Oregon.
The Ohio State University Buckeyes play football in “three yards and a cloud of dust.” They are damn proud of that. Oregon football, on the other hand, is known for innovative twists on run-read football, trick plays, neon-highlighter uniforms and a fan base that while can be quite vociferous, is also fickle.
The flashy electricity of its marketing department has attracted elite recruits. That’s a huge bonus. Oregon also excels in other sports such as Track and Field, Baseball and Basketball. Again, a definite plus.
But would Oregon and Washington’s membership be each worth $100 million a year to the Big Ten?
Seattle’s TV market is ranked No. 14 nationally. Portland’s is ranked No. 81. Moreover, the optics of those two cities may not appeal to the Midwest football fan. Videos of recent riots, surges in crime rates, increasing homelessness and open opioid drug use in the streets have been blasted across news channels for two years. While other cities are experiencing those exact same issues (Los Angeles, I’m looking at you), USC and UCLA will have no problem validating their $100 million payouts from the conference.
If Notre Dame decides to move to the Big Ten and the two Pacific Northwest teams are left without an invite, the Pac-12 would feel a little safer. But only for a New York minute. Unless the Pac-12 invites more schools to its conference, the fallout will be catastrophic. The Pacific Northwest teams cannot carry the conference.
A better option would be for the Pac-12 to join the Big 12 and form a super conference, perhaps even adding in the Mountain West. That could alleviate schools’ stability concerns and keep everyone at home.
A chain reaction is inevitable. The Big Ten and SEC will poach more teams—strike that, the best teams— and the demise of the ACC will probably occur sometime after its conference’s grant of rights expire in 2035-36.
Make no mistake, the Pac-12 is on life support right now. The Big 12 is heavily sedated despite adding four new schools to the mix next year. The ACC is in a bind.
Notre Dame’s contract with the ACC created an additional $80 million in revenue for the conference in 2020-21. The ACC will fight like hell to keep Notre Dame tied to its contract but the Fighting Irish can leverage their position to the breaking point, then skip on over to the Big Ten once it irons out its AAU accreditation.
Notre Dame, despite being roundly criticized and mocked for maintaining its independent status in college football, is now an orchestra conductor. It raises its baton and on cue, everyone looks up and waits for their direction.
Notre Dame can write its own ticket to the dance. Everyone wants to date her. Everyone wants to keep her in their arms and promenade her around the dance floor. It’s good to be the Belle of the Ball.
The SEC wanted Oklahoma and Texas. The Big Ten wanted USC and UCLA. Which team is really the team that everyone wants now?
According to the Associated Press, the Big Ten voted to accept USC and UCLA into its conference starting in 2024.
So, barring any last minute shenanigans, the Bruins and Trojans are bailing on their feckless, drought-ridden conference and moving to greener pastures.
I’ve been screaming to the hills for over a year on how this needs to happen. Some suits in LA finally saw the light. But there are some heavy prices to pay. A Winners and Losers list, obviously, is warranted here.
Pac-12 fans who are vegans or diet conscious.
If the discriminating foodie in West LA is content noshing on sushi, Beyond Burgers and edamame, bring a sack lunch for those conference road trips. Stern-gating with salmon and chardonnay is out. Cheese curds in Wisconsin (hell yes) is in.
Travelling to Iowa will be a gastric delight: Pork, corn and yep, Scotcheroos are on the menu.
A road trip to the Hoosier state is not complete without corn and Sugar Dream pies. You’ve got Philly cheesesteaks and Shoo-fly pie in the great state of Pennsylvania—make sure you leave all your white tee shirts at home or you’ll blend in with the Penn State fans at a whiteout game.
A trip to the Big House is not complete without a chipati sandwich, Detroit-style pizza and Traverse City cherries! If you’re heading to The Shoe, Buckeye candy is in your future. But not before some Skyline chili.
Maryland has crab cakes to die for and New Jersey has chicken savoy, hot dogs and tomato pie. Finally, when in Chicago, no trip is complete without Chicago-style deep dish pizza, Italian Beef sandwiches, a Maxwell Street Polish or Portillo’s hot dog.
Me? I cannot wait to dig in to these treasures.
OK, we Californians love bragging about 80-degree weather in November. Northwestern fans cannot wait for this experience until they find out just how much this experience will cost them! But back to this weather thing.
We really do not own any rain gear—we drive to CVS to buy an umbrella when we get caught in a downpour while our Mercedes Benz’s top is down . We don’t own coats—we wear sweatshirts with our favorite cannabis store’s logo on them. Anyhow, just a heads up for the average USC and UCLA fan: start shopping for some late-fall clothes now.
OUT: bikini tops, tank tops, Daisy Dukes, sundresses or flip flops.
IN: down coats, gloves, balaclavas (admit it, you don’t know what those are), flannel-lined jeans and a raincoat that is not made out of Saran wrap or a trash bag.
We are not sure of the current state laws but don’t count on a cannabis delivery service while staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Happy Valley.
Side note: weed is legal in Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois. All of a sudden that weekender to Rutgers is looking pretty good, isn’t it?
The fans who leave early to beat traffic
We get it. Unless the Trojans or Bruins are in a close game (which lately has been a thing), nobody stays until the last tic of the clock. The beach, mountains, desert, LA Live, The OC and freeway traffic await. Heck, it takes an hour just to get out of the parking lots. Unfortunately, popping out of your seat in the third or fourth quarter at the Big House, for example, is not advised.
These people are real football fans. The worse the weather elements, the better the Big Ten game. Remember people, Ohio State fans love three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust/mud/snow/sleet/ice/tornadoes/lightning/thunder.
Watching their team lose in a gut-wrenching manner is also part of the loyalty they show their teams. Some of their fans are literally famous for their reactions to a loss. It’s just best not to leave. Wallow in self-pity instead.
Rutgers and Illinois
The schedule just got a little tougher for those two teams. Sure, there’s always hope for a turnaround season but the last five years’ records of Rutgers (15-43) and Illinois (23-38) are not a good indicator.
Count on USC or UCLA to lose to one of them in the first season thereby inducing “Welcome to the Big Ten” signs.
USC and UCLA fans east of the Mississippi
The Pac-12 Networks are not available on satellite TV. Granted, more and more people are cutting the cord completely from cable TV. But satellite TV is still very important to many football fans, especially those who go to bars to watch games they cannot get on their own TVs.
The Big Ten Network is available on satellite TV. In fact, already there is an increase of questions on Google regarding the Big Ten Networks. In a very un-Larry Scott fashion, the Big Ten proclaimed that every sports fan should be able to watch their athletes compete.
Midwest and East Coast sun worshippers
Bring your sunblock, sunglasses, flip flops and jorts to So Cal and watch your team play in 80-degree weather.
Trojan and Bruin fans on a budget
Yes, Virginia, there are places that don’t charge $8.00 a gallon for gas. Nor $350 a night for a “decent” hotel. Fans will be shocked when they rent a car and have to gas it up—it will cost less than a Coliseum dog and Coors Light.
The Big Ten Giant Killers
Last year the Fighting Illini beat favored Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota. Purdue beat favored Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan State. Let’s also not forget perennial favorite Indiana, who in 2020 beat Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Purdue beating USC and USC beating Ohio State is in the cards.
The fun never ends.
The Big Ten broadcasters pronouncing numerous Polynesian names
We know they try. And broadcasters do get a cheat sheet on how to pronounce potentially problematic names, especially Polynesian and African names. But during a broadcast, when you’re doing play-by-play, trying to say quickly, “Stanley Ta’ufo’ou and Tuli Tuipuluto in on the tackle” could be a mouthful. Perhaps, maybe… even entertaining?
Kind of like “Mosiula Tatupu tackled by Manu’ula Tuisosopo.” That really happened in the 1970’s. It was glorious. The broadcaster nailed it and he was pretty happy about it.
“No cupcakes” bragging rightsfor the Big Ten
Only three schools have never played an FCS team on its schedule: USC, UCLA and Notre Dame. UCLA has Alabama State on its schedule this year, so the Bruins get knocked off the list. That leaves USC and Notre Dame.
Don’t ruin it for us, guys. Make the Cardinal and Gold and the Big Ten proud.
Back in the day—the Pac-8 days, to be exact—the now-Pac-12 conference was known as USC and the Seven Dwarfs. USC was the Big Boy and was expected to play a Big Ten team every year in The Rose Bowl game.
Oh sure, every now and then a hiccup would occur. Between 1968 and 1977, USC won six of the 11 conference titles.
Fast forward to 2011, when the Pac-12 was formed.
Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Utah won at least one conference title during that time, with Utah being the latest. USC also won a conference title. On paper, one could say that the conference is diverse.
A contrarian, however, would argue that the conference is weak and no team has really stepped up since USC was hammered by the NCAA’s sanctions for impermissible benefits and lack of institutional control in 2010.
Of all the teams that have joined the conference since the inception of the Pac-8, only one has truly benefitted: Utah.
Hear me out.
The Arizona schools joined the Pac-8 in 1978 and the conference was renamed the Pac-10. Arizona State won the conference title in 1986 and 1996. Arizona won it in 1993. Since the conference expanded in 2011 to 12 teams with the additions of Colorado and Utah, the Arizona teams have floundered. Colorado has been in the conference basement while Utah has steadily improved over a decade.
The Utes won the conference last year and are favored again this year by Phil Steele. Go Utes. They deserve the accolades. But this isn’t about Utah. It’s about USC. And why it needs to leave the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 conference champion has turned in some truly ugly performances in its top-tiered bowl games. The Pac-12 champions have gone 5-7, including an Oregon blow-out loss to Ohio State in 2014.
The bowl games’ embarrassment aside, the real eye-opener is conference revenues. It is not pretty.
According to an Andrea Adelson ESPN article, in the 2020-21 season, “the ACC 990 form shows total revenue was more than $578.3 million, the highest gross revenue in league history, [while] the Pac-12 reported total revenues of $344 million — down 36% over the previous year.”
The ACC distributed an average of $36.1 million per school. “The Pac-12 reported an average distribution of $19.8 million per school, a decrease of 41% over the previous year,” according to Adelson.
Duke got around $36 mil? USC got around $19 mil. That’s embarrassing. No offense, Duke football.
Of course, the conference produced a myriad of reasons for the revenue losses, including media revenue decreases, game cancellations and post-season bowl games.
But whose fault was that?
The Pac-12 cancelled numerous games because of the Covid-19 pandemic but other Power 5 conferences were less inclined to throw in the towel in 2020. The Big Ten decided to play upwards of a half season. The ACC and SEC played anywhere from a half to full season.
Champions aren’t afraid to play.
In 2021, the downward trend of revenue for the Pac-12 continued.
According to USAToday’s Steve Berkowitz, the numbers for the Pac-12 were a stark comparison to the ACC, Big Ten and SEC’s.
SEC: $833 M (+$105M vs. FY20) B1G: $679.8 M (-$89M) ACC: $578.3M (+82M) Big 12: $356M (-$53M) Pac-12: $343.5M (-$190M)
It’s not just the (lack of) revenue that makes the Pac-12 a basement dweller. The Pac-12 was ranked No. 5 in 2022’s Power 5 conference strength by Phil Steele. That’s last place, for those confused.
So the conference is….. a dud. But is there anything else that could change its perception?
The Pac-12 may not have played a lot of football in 2020, but it did play a lot of politics.
The Conference of Champions is the Conference of Activism. Its offices are in one of the most polarizing states in the Union. Instead of seeing TV ads with football or basketball players showing off trophies or championship rings, the Pac-12 Network airs ads of athletes bragging about its climate change awareness, inclusivity and diversity.
That message may appeal to a West Coast recruit, but those Southern boys aren’t buying it. And those Southern boys have a lot of rings. Just sayin’.
If you are a 5-star athlete, are you going to the SEC where championships are expected? Or are you going to the Pac-12, where USC celebrates being named the (back-to-back!) champion of “Zero Waste Challenge“?
Now don’t get me wrong here. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to leave this planet in a better place, nor is it wrong to want diversity and inclusivity. But a testosterone-laden 5-star football recruit isn’t choosing metal straws over a 10-carat bling-bling on his finger. Let’s get real, people.
Dammit, can’t USC have it all? Not in the Pac-12.
Question: if the Pac-12 were winning more revenue-producing championships—in football and basketball, to be specific—would its TV ads still have the same message?
One could blame former Pac-12 conference commissioner Larry Scott. He was in over his head. And unfortunately, his ego appeared to have prevented him from making a deal with satellite TV carriers such as Direct TV. As of now, Pac-12 Networks is not available on satellite TV.
I would include a poll of how Pac-12 fans living outside the Pac-12 footprint feel about a lack of access to their teams’ game on TV, but this site is rated G.
While that may not seem like a big deal to most football fans, it is a huge deal for USC fans. Like Notre Dame, USC is a private school with a huge football fan base that is spread across the United States.
Because of the Pacific Time Zone, most West Coast football starts late on Saturdays in the fall. If you are a Trojan fan living in New York City, watching a 7 pm (local time) USC game means you’re watching the opening kickoff around 10 pm.
And yet, Scott did nothing to change this. Beside polarizing the Trojan fan, what about the rest of college football fans (or AP voters!) who want to see how good Oregon or USC is? They are in bed, sleeping like a champ after a hard day watching elite football teams in prime time.
This brings us back to USC (thank you for your patience) and how it can do things to improve its situation. Hiring Lincoln Riley as its head coach was a great start. Now let’s put this Ferrari in 5th gear and let it rip.
Honest question here: If USC left the conference to play in the Big Ten or SEC….who would suffer more? The conference or USC?
Yeah, you know the answer to that.
While the transition to any of those conferences would be a little rough—the level of play in those two conferences is much higher—USC would thrive after the initial shock.
With NIL deals now a large part of recruiting, USC can hold its weight because it is in one of the most desirable media markets in the country. The SEC and Big Ten would LOVE to have USC join its conference. There would be an immediate pipeline to California—one of the Top 3 most fertile recruiting grounds—and the conferences could have add a footprint in a West Coast state.
USC would have to give up its ties to the Rose Bowl game (unless it joins the Big Ten) but the Sugar Bowl is looking like a better venue.
USC v Alabama or USC v Washington State? USC v Texas A&M or USC v Oregon State? USC v Michigan or USC v Arizona? USC v LSU every damn year or USC v UCLA?
You get the picture.
USC’s TV revenues would substantially increase. USC’s athletes would see an increase in their exposure. USC’s strength of schedule would increase tremendously. How many times has a Pac-12 team suffered the humiliation of being overlooked for a bowl game due to conference SOS?
There’s the elephant in the room that also needs to be addressed.
The eventual formation of Super Conference is inevitable. Moving to a Big Boy conference now makes sense. Waiting until the invites are almost all extended does not make sense. The fact that Oklahoma and Texas made their move to the SEC should alarm Pac-12 fans. Notre Dame is already heavily aligned with the ACC. Things aren’t as stable one thinks.
Finally, moving to the Big Ten or SEC means USC football would be on a major network when all the “Big Boys” play. No more of this Friday night B.S,. no more half-empty stadiums due to fan apathy and no more insanely weird kickoff times.
Sure, the fans would have to travel farther away. But give SC fans a reason to tailgate like a true Southerner, and they are all in.
Tailgating in The Grove? Yes, thank you. Tailgating in Baton Rouge? Yes ma’am, pass the Jambalaya. Tailgating in the Swamp? Chomp chomp! Tailgating in the Big House? [shudders]
USC has been carrying its conference’s back for decades. It’s time for USC to go to greener pastures.
Yes, there are kinks to work out in regards to television rights, athletic wear licenses and such, but a good lawyer and a handful of wealthy boosters should sort out all the minutia.
Feelings will get hurt. I’m looking at you, UCLA and Stanford. My money is on you following USC.
Winners want to play where winners play.
It’s time for USC to move on and expand the legacy of its storied football program.