Pac-12: Big East

College football is hard to keep up with in terms of who plays in what conference this year and whether they change affiliation the next. This week, we said goodbye to the Big East and welcomed something called the "American Athletic Conference."

Hmm... AAC? A little distracting, eh?

Pittsburgh and Syracuse now give the ACC 14 teams, just like the SEC. The Big Ten still has 12 teams, but it will have 14 in 2014 when Rutgers (playing in the American Athletic this season) and Maryland (one more go-around in the ACC) join the fray. Oh, and then the "Legends" and "Leaders" Division names give way to the more mundane "East" and "West."

The ACC will add Louisville in 2014 to remain a 14-team league in football (15 for basketball with Notre Dame).

The Big 12 still has 10 teams, so counting is obviously optional in college football, though the Big 12 gets credit for stability, which few saw coming three or so years ago.

There has been plenty of other jumping about, which you can review here.

What does it all mean for the bastion of stability and tradition, the Pac-8, er 10, er 12?

Kevin Gemmell has been providing you guys a "Nonconference Primer" for each Pac-12 team's out of conference schedule, which you can review here. But I wanted to break down which conferences the Pac-12 will see in 2013 and which it won't.

It won't, for example, play a regular-season game against the new American Athletic Conference, which wants to be shortened as "The American," perhaps in tribute to one of my favorite Henry James novels.

Nor will the Pac-12 play any games against the Big 12, which is a drag, or the Mid-American or Sun Belt, which doesn't bother me particularly much.

There are nine games against FCS foes, which feels yucky.

The Pac-12 plays 11 games against the Mountain West Conference. That's the most for any other FBS conference, and in terms of perception, the Pac-12 can't afford to lose more than three of those.

The Pac-12 plays Notre Dame three times, as well as four other Independents.

The most popular FBS conference pairing is with the Big Ten, which is not surprising. The Rose Bowl partners meet five times this fall.

There are two games with the ACC and two with the SEC, though none with the SEC elite.

So that's 12 total games with AQ conference teams and Notre Dame. Those games will provide the most obvious measure of the conference in terms of national perception, though faring poorly versus the Mountain West wouldn't look good, either.

Here's the breakdown.

ACC: Boston College (USC), at Virginia (Oregon)

Big Ten: Wisconsin (Arizona State), at Nebraska (UCLA), Northwestern (California), Ohio State (Cal), at Illinois (Washington)

SEC: Tennessee (Oregon), Auburn (Washington State)

Conference USA: UT San Antonio (Arizona)

FBS Independents: Notre Dame (Arizona State, USC, Stanford), New Mexico State (UCLA), BYU (Utah), Army (Stanford), Idaho (Washington State)

Mountain West: UNLV (Arizona), Colorado State (Colorado), Fresno State (Colorado), Nevada (UCLA), Hawaii (USC, Oregon State), Utah State (Utah, USC), San Diego State (Oregon State), San Jose State (Stanford), Boise State (Washington)

FCS: Northern Arizona (Arizona), Sacramento State (Arizona State), Central Arkansas (Colorado), Weber State (Utah), Portland State (Cal), Nicholls State (Oregon), Eastern Washington (Oregon State), Idaho State (Washington), Southern Utah (Washington State)

Pac-12 as NFL coaching pipeline

June, 4, 2013
AM ET's Ivan Maisel looks at which conferences send head coaches to the NFL and makes a conclusion: "The shortest road for any FBS head coach to the NFL is through the Pac-12. In fact, no other conference even comes close."

He points out that Chip Kelly (Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles) was the 15th Pac-12 coach to jump to the NFL since "Tommy Prothro moved crosstown from UCLA in 1971 to coach the Los Angeles Rams."

And during that span the SEC has sent three to the NFL. The Big Ten one.

Figuring out exactly why this is true is more of a challenge, particularly because folks in other regions will get mad hearing the real reason: Brains and sophistication.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoChip Kelly's offensive creativity helped him become the latest Pac-12 head coach to land an NFL head coaching gig.
Hey... take it easy. Just saying. And you Pac-12 folks need to behave.

Just look at the list: Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, John McKay, Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Chip Kelly. Those are some of the most innovative minds in football history, particularly offensive football.

Schematically, the Pac-12 -- historically and I think still at present -- is the nation's most sophisticated league. There's just more ... stuff. Playbooks are thicker. That, by the way, includes both sides of the football. The QBs are asked to do more. And that forces defenses to do more, too.

This, by the way, fits in with those who -- wrongly -- view the Pac-12 as a finesse league: A conference that is physically inferior has to use its wits to succeed.

But sophistication is about more than scheme. It's about psychology and managing people. There's more diversity on the West Coast. That complicates the job, so doing it well is meaningful. John McKay probably would have been successful coaching in Tuscaloosa. Not as sure the same could be said of Bear Bryant in Los Angeles.

Part of that is this: There's not as much "Yes, sir," "No, sir" on the West Coast as there is in other regions, particularly the Southeast and Texas, though that as a historical trend is likely narrowing. Going old school on an 18-to-23-year old from L.A. or Seattle probably won't work as well as it would on a kid from small town Alabama. The way a successful Pac-12 coach talks to and motivates his team is, in general, different. And, historically, it's probably closer to the NFL model, where the players are paid professionals and less willing to respond positively to a ranting coach.

Understand, there are plenty of exceptions to that. Frank Kush at Arizona State and Don James at Washington were as old school intimidating to their players as any of their contemporaries.

There's another level to that sophistication: Big cities. The NFL is a big-city league. So is the Pac-12. Maisel thinks this matters:
It could be that universities that share a market with NFL teams lose more coaches to the league. A school such as Boston College, clamoring for attention in a crowded market, might be more liable to hire a prominent NFL assistant coach such as Tom Coughlin, who left the Eagles for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1994. That best explains why, even without counting Johnson or Erickson, the 22-year-old Big East has lost five head coaches to the NFL.

But there are other potential reasons:

  • Out of the box hires create fast-rising stars: Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll each arrived in the Pac-12 in creative ways. Mike Bellotti made the inspired decision to hire Kelly away from New Hampshire. Harbaugh mostly generated head scratches when Stanford hired him away from San Diego. And Carroll was USC's 174th choice after a bumbling search. Heck, even Bill Walsh was a frustrated NFL assistant when he arrived at Stanford.
  • Previous NFL experience: Carroll had previous NFL coaching experience. So did Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Dennis Erickson. Harbaugh was a longtime NFL QB. Several other guys on the list at least had a cup of coffee as an NFL assistant before taking over a Pac-8/10/12 team. You could conjecture that many of them viewed returning to the NFL as their ultimate ambition, unlike a college coaching lifer.
  • Recruiting rules in SEC: The most important skill for a head coach in the SEC is without question: Recruiting. The competition for recruits nationwide is brutal, but it's a blood sport in the Southeast. And that is not really a skill that translates in the NFL.
  • Money: Some conferences' pay scales are competitive with the NFL. The Pac-12's is not.

Conference recruiting scorecard

February, 5, 2013
The SEC, as has become the pattern over the past decade, is ruling recruiting just as it has been ruling the national title hunt.

On national signing day eve, it has five of the top 10 teams in the ESPN recruiting rankings -- it's pretty much the same with the other recruiting services -- and even lower-tier SEC teams such as Ole Miss are getting into the act.

So where does the Pac-12 stand?

The Pac-12 is third, behind the SEC and Big Ten, when it comes to commitments from highly rated recruits, at least according to's recruiting commitment scorecard.

Here's the tally (keep in mind the SEC has 14 teams and the Big 12 has 10).
Conference -- ESPN 150 commitments

SEC -- 48
Big Ten -- 24
Pac-12 -- 18
ACC -- 16
Independents -- 9
Big 12 -- 9
Big East -- 2

Conference -- ESPN 300 commitments

SEC -- 94
Big Ten -- 44
Pac-12 -- 40
ACC -- 30
Big 12 -- 26
Independents -- 12
Big East -- 7

A lot can happen on signing day. It's possible that the Pac-12 could eclipse the Big Ten, and the ACC isn't too far behind the Pac-12 when it comes to the ESPN 150.

We shall see.

Oregon ends Pac-12 season on uptick

January, 4, 2013
At least two people whispered the unthinkable to me after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"That," they said, "was a boring game."

That, I realized after some pondering, is what happens when the superior team plays an outstanding game: 35-17 is what happens when Oregon plays well in all three phases against a good but less talented Kansas State team.

Boring, at least if you're an Oregon fan, is good. It means the guys who were supposed to make plays did.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Kenjon Barner and Oregon turned in a dominant performance against Kansas State.
All-American playmaker Kenjon Barner? He rushed for 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. Check.

First-team All-Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota? He passed for two scores and ran for another, winning offensive MVP honors. Check.

Fancypants playmaker De'Anthony Thomas? He returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and turned in a brilliant 23-yard run for a score on a screen pass. Check.

Senior leader and All-Pac-12 linebacker Michael Clay? He led the Ducks with nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, winning defensive MVP honors.

And the one thing that folks in other college football regions have too often and ignorantly questioned about the Ducks -- defense -- showed up big-time, holding one of the nation's most potent offenses to 17 points and 283 yards.

Winning in all three phases, including special teams? Check.

If Chip Kelly opts to give the NFL a try, Ducks fans should simply tip their cap to him. He's earned that opportunity by taking a good program and making it great over the past four years.

Stanford, by the way, turned in a much different sort of show against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but it also was effective. The Cardinal ran the ball and played good defense -- you know: Was all Stanford-y -- and thereby gave the Pac-12 two victories in BCS bowl games.

Those wins on the biggest stages for the conference were a bit of a salve for a mediocre, 4-4 bowl season.

Arizona needed a dramatic -- and really still unbelievable -- rally to nip Nevada. Arizona State was vastly superior to Navy. Both Oregon State and Washington blew games they led in the fourth quarter to Texas and Boise State, respectively. UCLA got bricked by Baylor on both sides of the ball. And USC turned in a humiliating performance against Georgia Tech, one that has Trojans fans lighting torches and marching to Heritage Hall, at least if my mailbag is any indication of sentiments.

The Pac-12 was favored in seven of the eight matchups, Boise State-Washington being the lone exception. So 7-1 was expected, 6-2 would have been solid, and 5-3 defensible. However, 4-4 is simply underwhelming.

The good news is the crowing from other AQ conferences should be muted.

The Big 12 is 4-4 pending the result of the AT&T Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma and Texas A&M on Friday night. The SEC is 3-3, with two of its top-10 teams going down in Florida and LSU. It's got the Cotton Bowl, BBVA Compass Bowl between Ole Miss and Pittsburgh on Saturday, and the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame on Monday ahead.

If the SEC wins all three of those games, thereby securing a seventh national title, it will make a clear statement of superiority. But one or two slips, even with a national title victory, would nick the SEC's perception of dominant depth.

The funny thing about the bowl season, in fact, is the ACC and Big East roaring like angry puppies. The two most maligned AQ conferences over the past few years (well, other than the 2-5 Big Ten), are a combined 7-3. The ACC, at 4-2, beat LSU (Clemson) and USC (Georgia Tech) on the same day.

So the Pac-12 probably won't be an easy target for trolling. It finished 2-2 against the Big 12 this season -- 1-2 in bowl games, plus Arizona's regular season win against Oklahoma State -- so the potential argument for second best conference is mostly a moot point. The Pac-12 is clearly better at the top. The Big 12 is better at the bottom. And the middle probably goes to the Big 12 after it beat the Beavers and Bruins. Stagger all that however you wish.

More good news: The Pac-12 is well-positioned to take a step forward next year, perhaps even to challenge the SEC.

Oregon and Stanford will be preseason top-10 teams, likely top-five. You could make arguments for preseason rankings for Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and USC. The bottom of the conference also should be better as Colorado couldn't possibly be worse, and Washington State and California surely can find more than three wins in 2013.

Oregon State and UCLA figure to topple when the final rankings come out next week, while Oregon and Stanford will finish in the top-four. No other conference will have two teams ranked higher.

It was a solid season, if a bit top-heavy. It wasn't predictable, which can be viewed as a good thing. USC started the season as the biggest story in college football, and its fall from esteem became an epic tale of woe, inspiring national mockery.

As things set up for 2013, the Pac-12 appears poised to take another step forward in terms of depth.

But will a team rise to the fore and challenge for the national title?

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves on that one.

Pac-12 still third in power rankings

October, 16, 2012
The third-rated Pac-12 moved closer to the second-rated Big 12 in the Stats & Info conference power rankings, but the SEC widened its lead at No. 1.

The Pac-12 is now 7.3 points behind the Big 12. It ranks third in both the human and computer polls.

The SEC is five points ahead of the Big 12.

From the article:
The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including four teams ranked in the AP Top 10. No other conference has more than four teams ranked in the entire AP Top 25.

South Carolina’s loss to LSU did not significantly impact the conference rankings because LSU and Florida gained about as many points in the AP poll as South Carolina lost.

Additionally, Texas A&M’s 59-57 thriller over Louisiana Tech late Saturday night gave the conference its 31st non-conference victory in 38 attempts. Only the Big 12 (26-3) has a better record in games outside of its conference.

The Big 12 was hurt most by West Virginia’s loss to unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders. West Virginia fell from fifth to seventeen in the AP Poll and no Big 12 teams was able to regain the points lost by the Mountaineers.

There is a wide margin between the top three and the next conferences. The Big East, in fact, has moved past both the ACC and Big Ten into fourth place.
Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.
The SEC moved past the Big 12 into first place of the ESPN Stats & Info's Conference Power Rankings, while the Pac-12 remained third, 10.5 points behind the Big 12.

Why did the SEC move up?
The SEC jumped over the Big 12 largely due to its strength in the AP Poll. The conference has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top four teams in the nation. No other conference has more than four teams ranked in the Top 25.

But the top two or top three isn't terribly notable. What is notable is the void between the top three and the rest of the major conferences. The Big Ten is now fourth but it trails the Pac-12 by 34.6 points. The ACC, after Florida State's tumble, is even behind the much-maligned Big East.

The Pac-12 might be able to chip away at the Big 12 and SEC lead if it has a good weekend in road nonconference games. Stanford is at Notre Dame and Oregon State is at BYU.

Larry 'Ca-ching' Scott is in the money

May, 23, 2012
Commissioner Larry Scott has opened up a new financial frontier for the Pac-12 -- most notably a $3 billion TV deal and a new network -- but he ain't doing too badly himself.

USA Today published the 2010 salaries of college conference commissioners Wednesday, and Scott came out on top with $1.9 million in compensation.

Also on the books for Scott:

Scott also has received a loan of nearly $1.9 million from the conference, and as of June 30, 2011, the balance due was unchanged from its original amount, according to the return the conference filed last week and provided in response to a request from USA TODAY Sports.

"The loan has to be repaid fully," Pac-12 spokesman Dave Hirsch said.

The Big Ten's Jim Delany made nearly $1.8 million, the ACC's John Swofford nearly $1.5 million and the SEC's Mike Slive just more than $1 million. Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who resigned last September, received nearly $1.7 million, according to USA Today, while outgoing Big East commissioner John Marinatto netted about $600,000.

The man Scott replaced, Tom Hansen, made $590,000 in 2008.
SEC and Big 12 folks have been tweaking the Big Ten and Pac-12's love of the Rose Bowl of late. That made me grin because the primary motivation for those tweaks was jealousy.

Don't buy that assessment? Well, then what do you make of this: The SEC and Big 12 champions, starting in 2014 after the current BCS contract expires and we presumably adopt a four-team playoff, will meet annually in a prime time New Year's Day "bowl" game.

[+] EnlargeMike Silve
Darrell Walker/Icon SMICommissioner Mike Slive and the SEC have a bowl agreement with the Big 12 that is nearly identical to the Rose Bowl model used by the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Unless, of course, the SEC and/or Big 12 champions are selected for the four-team playoff, which one is almost certain to be and both are likely to be.

But, if one or both is selected for the playoff, then, just like the Rose Bowl, a No. 2 team from both or either conference will be selected.

So the SEC and Big 12 have adopted the Rose Bowl model in its entirety. Other than the fact that they can't play in the Rose Bowl stadium as the sun goes down over the San Gabriel Mountains.

The location has not been set. The Sugar Bowl (SEC) and Fiesta Bowl (Big 12) already have a dog in this fight, but expect bids to come from Jerry Jones and his deluxe Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as well as a play from Atlanta.

By the way, the Rose Bowl jealousy stuff is mostly good-natured ribbing while I'm gaping at another sudden shift in college football's tectonic plates.

Folks, this stuff is amazing, and there's a stunning plot twist seemingly on a weekly basis -- Florida State to the Big 12? Notre Dame back in play?

The main take-away: This is a step closer to four power conferences, with the ACC and Big East finding their footing suddenly precarious.

And, if you want to worry, Pac-12 fans, it looks like the SEC and Big 12 are being far more aggressive -- read: expansionist -- as college football remakes itself. Keep in mind that the Pac-12 could have ended the Big 12 last September and become the first 16-team super-conference if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had made a jump.

Pac-12 presidents might end up regretting their decision not to expand -- and giving Oklahoma, in particular, the shaft. Newly enriched by a mega-TV deal, they might have lost track of the big picture while they were counting their money.

Commissioner Larry Scott has long held that further consolidation at the top of college football was inevitable. This is another example of him proving right, though this time without a blockbuster deal for Pac-12 folks to celebrate.

This latest news is a reason to get nervous. Or to just marvel at how quickly the game has changed.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

(Read full post)

Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Pac-12 would benefit in 'plus-one'

December, 27, 2011
PM ET's Brad Edwards considers a potential "plus-one" quasi-playoff being added to the BCS, and he shows that it's hardly flawless.

First, here's specifically what he is writing about:
For that reason, it had been assumed until very recently that the "unseeded plus-one" would be the next step for college football's postseason. In this model, conference champions would be assigned to their designated bowl spots (Big Ten and Pac-12 to Rose, SEC to Sugar, Big 12 to Fiesta, ACC to Orange); the remaining spots would be filled through a selection process; all bowl games would be played; then the final BCS standings would be run after the bowls. The top two teams would play in the national championship game a week later.

There are a few reasons this might be an improvement over the current system. In a season like 2011, if the Fiesta chose the Alabama Crimson Tide as the opponent for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, it would set up a true national semifinal game and ultimately lead to a title game that everyone could feel much better about. At the very least, this format would return us to the days of more than one bowl game having national championship impact.

But Edwards paints a picture of unintended consequences and potential pratfalls that should give decision-makers pause.

That might not be the most interesting thing, however, for Pac-12 fans. Edwards' story includes a graphic that answers this question: Which conferences would benefit the most from a four-team playoff?

So here are the leagues that had the most third- and fourth-place finishers in the BCS standings from 1998-2011.

Lunch links: Snub still irks Aaron Rodgers

December, 15, 2011
No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Just when we thought we were out of the expansion business, they pull us back in.

Or does Missouri's wandering eye -- away from the Big 12 and toward the SEC -- mean anything for the Pac-12?

It could but probably doesn't in the short-term.

Jon Wilner, as usual, provides some informed speculation here. You'll note his story is mostly about the SEC, Big East and Big 12.

And he makes clear who the villain is here -- besides, of course, Texas. Writes Wilner:
Make no mistake, folks: The SEC’s desire to sign a new TV deal -- and its frustration that the little old Pac-12 has a better deal -- is driving the realignment.

There wouldn’t be anyplace for A&M and Mizzou to go without the SEC opening its doors.

In other words, Texas laid the groundwork for the demise of the Big 12 -- at least as we know it -- but the SEC is carrying out the execution.

Of course, the Big 12, upon losing its third and likely fourth team in two years could go hunting for a new pair -- or foursome to get to 12 teams again -- but the choices are limited, and most have a downside.

What about the Pac-12?

The idea of a Pac-16 isn't dead, but it will only happen on commissioner Larry Scott's -- and the Pac-12 presidents' -- terms. The truth is Scott, who still believes the future will be superconferences, will have to win over the presidents to the justifications of further expansion. The presidents got their TV contract -- their money -- so now they're pulling back inward.

Texas would still be the centerpiece of a best-case, read lucrative, scenario, but the Longhorns would have to agree to the Pac-12 terms: 1. Equal revenue sharing; 2. The Longhorn Network joining the framework of the Pac-12's regional networks.

The problem is inding anyone who thinks Texas will give up the Longhorn Network.

Texas has another issue. Pac-12 folks don't trust Texas. Those exact words were said to me recently by an administrator at a Pac-12 school, and various versions of those sentiments have been repeated to me for months.

The general feeling inside the Pac-12 office is that it continues to believe it operates from a position of strength. If it needs to expand as the landscape changes, it will have plenty of options.

The SEC landing a TV contract that eclipses the Pac-12's deal? Well, that's just a market reality that will surprise no one.

It's hard to imagine things are becoming stable. The Big East and Big 12 on not on firm footing. That means the discussion of expansion scenarios hasn't ended inside the Pac-12 office.

How the BCS rates the Pac-12

August, 25, 2011
PM ET numbers guru Brad Edwards has an interesting piece here on how the Mountain West actually is stronger than the Big East based on the BCS's official system for calculating conference strength.

But that's not why we're interested. Edwards includes the BCS' ranking of conferences by three criteria. Writes Edwards: "Those criteria evaluate the strength of the league's best team, the strength of its lead pack and its overall strength from top to bottom. All data are derived from the final BCS standings, so bowl performance is not being considered."

The Pac-12 ranks third behind the SEC and Big 12 in Criterion 1: Average ranking of highest-ranked team (final BCS standings, 2008-10).
1. SEC 1.3
2. Big 12 3.3
3. Pac-12 4.7
4. MWC 5.3
5. Big Ten 7.0
6. ACC 12.0
7. Big East 12.3
8. C-USA 27.7
9. MAC 38.0
10. WAC 38.7
11. Sun Belt 63.0

The Pac-12 ranks fourth behind the SEC, Big 12 and ACC in Criterion 2 (0.1 separate the Pac-12 and ACC): Average ranking of all teams (2011 conference membership) by the six BCS computers. The high and low rankings for each team are not discarded, as is the case when the BCS standings are calculated (BCS computers, 2008-10).
1. SEC 38.4
2. Big 12 41.5
3. ACC 45.2
4. Pac-12 45.3
5. Big Ten 46.6
6. Big East 50.3
7. MWC 63.1
8. WAC 77.0
9. C-USA 79.7
10. MAC 88.2
11. Sun Belt 98.4

And the Pac-12 ranks fourth behind the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten in Criterion 3: Adjusted top-25 performance ranking (final BCS standings, 2008-10), which accounts for the number of top 25 teams in the conference, with weight given to where those teams ranked and an adjustment made for the number of conference members.
1. SEC 100.0
2. Big 12 90.6
3. Big Ten 88.9
4. Pac-12 77.8
5. MWC 72.9
6. Big East 45.1
7. ACC 41.7
8. WAC 10.4
t9. C-USA 2.8
t9. MAC 2.8
11. Sun Belt 0.0

Sure many of you have thoughts on this, but the good news is the Pac-12 isn't the Big East or even the ACC.

You'll see that the ACC meets the first two criteria but doesn't reach the AQ standard on the third, while the Big East comes up short of the AQ standard on the first and third. Furthermore, the Big East ranks sixth in the second part, which means that it doesn't even achieve the level that's necessary for appeal.

While third- and fourth-place finishes won't inspire any chants of "Pac-12! Pac-12," at least the conference doesn't fall short by the very measures the AQ conferences established to protect themselves from the unwashed masses stuck outside the BCS gates.