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Some perspective on Pac-12 postseason

1/11/2014

It has been 10 days since the Pac-12’s 2013 football season came to an end. That’s 10 days to digest a bumpy, sometimes jagged, sometimes jolting, sometimes elating Pac-12 postseason.

Ted offered up his thoughts last week on the Pac-12’s bowl performance as a whole, handing out a grade of “C.” That’s fair. I tend to be a little more glass-half-full than my counterpart. But there are some undeniable truths that can’t be dismissed. And the most glaring of those are that both of the league’s division winners dropped their bowl games -- including the Rose Bowl, the conference's lone BCS appearance. And instead of potentially having three teams ranked in the top 10 to close out the year, there was only one. And no Pac-12 team was in the top five.

That the Pac-12 coach of the year was decidedly outcoached -- by his own admission, mind you -- doesn’t sit well, either. Nor does the fact two of the three losses came after blowing double-digit leads.

The question is, do those three losses outweigh the six victories? Again, that all depends on from which cup you drinketh.

When you look at the 6-3 mark, it’s hard not to feel a little bit good about what the league was able to accomplish, at least historically speaking. Because when you scan the past 15 years of Pac-10/12 bowl play, this was one of the stronger ones.

Last season the league went 4-4; before that, it was 2-5, 2-2 and 2-5 in 2009, ’10 and ’11, respectively. Six wins in nine games is solid -- even if the winning percentage isn’t as stout as the 5-0 postseason of 2008. Since the 1999 bowl season, the Pac-12 was 40-41 in bowl games heading into this round. To come out this far north of .500 shouldn’t be understated. Nor should the fact the league sent nine teams into the postseason. Had the Pac-12 played an eight-game conference schedule, there is a good chance Utah would have been a 10th team.

In fact, of the major conferences, only the SEC (7-3) and Pac-12 (6-3) did better than .500. The Big 12 was 3-3, the ACC was 5-6, the American was 2-3 and the Big Ten was 2-5. Though neither the SEC nor Pac-12 won a BCS game, is anyone really ready to question whether these are the top two leagues in college football?

Too much gets made about the strength of a conference based on a handful of games that are played on neutral fields three weeks after the regular season has ended. And when you look at the how the Pac-12’s postseason is structured, all of the pressure is on the Pac-12 teams. Two games are against the Mountain West -- and whether it’s the champion or a middle-of-the-pack team, the Pac-12 is expected to win both games, no matter what. (Two Pac-12-Mountain West matchups result from existing bowl contracts, but there ended up being three this season). Same for games against the Big 12 and ACC, where the Pac-12 team is usually favored -- and indeed, that was the case in all nine games this season, actually.

Texas Tech, Colorado State and Michigan State spent weeks hearing about how they were underdogs and how much better the Pac-12 teams were. Don’t think that doesn’t grate on a team. I’ll repeat what I said in a previous mailbag: If Texas Tech and ASU play in mid-November, the Sun Devils run away with that game. All the motivation rests with the underdog.

So the likelihood of the Pac-12 winning all nine games -- even though it was favored in all nine -- seemed fairly low.

When we’re six years into the College Football Playoff and the Pac-12 has won its third consecutive national championship and fourth in five years, how will we look back at the 2013 postseason? With disgust? Joy? More meh than marvel?

If anything, this postseason was a microcosm of everything 2013 Pac-12 football was about. There was no single dominant team. It wasn’t Stanford, which lost to Utah and USC. It wasn’t Oregon, which lost to Stanford and Arizona. It wasn’t Arizona State, which lost to Notre Dame and Stanford (twice). It wasn’t UCLA, which lost to ASU, Stanford and Oregon. It wasn’t USC, which lost to ASU, UCLA and Washington State. And so on, and so on, and so on.

The Pac-12, top to bottom, was arguably the deepest and toughest conference in all of college football. That's why half of the league finished ranked in the top 25 and a seventh team received votes. In a one-game showdown, you’re bound to win some and lose some. But the Pac-12 won more than it lost. And it did so in dominating fashion, with an average margin of victory of more than 21 points in its six wins. Yes, there were disappointing moments. But there was more good than bad.

And that has to count for something.