The Pac-12's 2016 NFL draft facts and figures match the conference's general offseason narrative, just like they did last spring. Only this time, Pac-12 folks are hoping those facts and figures prove misleading, just like they did last spring.
In 2015, the Pac-12 was coming off an impressive draft when it led Power 5 conferences with nine first-round picks (tied with the ACC) and 25 selections in the first three rounds. It also was being widely touted as a legitimate challenger to the SEC as the toughest Power 5 conference.
On an administrative level, seas were (mostly) calm and skies were (mostly) sunny.
On Thursday, the draft started impressively with California QB Jared Goff picked No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams, and Oregon D-lineman DeForest Buckner going seventh to the San Francisco 49ers. But things were mostly quiet thereafter, at least until day three, when 22 of 32 total selections were tapped. Other than USC QB Cody Kessler, who was picked by the Cleveland Browns in round three, it seemed Pac-12 players were selected later than their projections -- Arizona’s all-everything LB Scooby Wright in the seventh round? Really? -- or not at all.
As to that notion that the Pac-12 would challenge the SEC... well, no. The conference was left out of the 2015-16 College Football Playoff which was won again by an SEC team, and, looking forward, it's possible that for the first time since 2010 no Pac-12/10 team will appear in the preseason top-10.
Last year, the Pac-12 provided an average of 3.3 picks per team to the NFL. This year, that number dropped to 2.67, and that is with fewer starters returning in 2016 -- a per team average of 13.3 compared to 13.9 in 2015.
The draft and preseason rankings and all that football side of football stuff, however, will be briefly backgrounded this week as the Pac-12 rolls into Phoenix, where recent mild temperatures could reach triple-digit broils by mid-week, matching heated feelings within the conference over commissioner Larry Scott's very public calling out of UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero over his handling of a recent vote on banning satellite camps.
It doesn't matter that the satellite-camp ban has now been overturned, which falls in line with what 11 Pac-12 teams wanted, UCLA notably and curiously being the contrarian there. What matters is a seeming schism within the conference's leadership, one that can't be rhetorically paved over with good news from the fields of play or impressive NFL matriculation that's a hot sell for recruiting future talent.
In short, the Pac-12's seemingly controversy-free, positive momentum of a year ago -- football officiating was the biggest, grumpiest issue in 2015 -- has ended. Whether it's the on-field product, finances, Scott's leadership, the distribution of the Pac-12 Networks or too many late kickoff times, it seems everyone is bothered by something and more than a few are bothered by a lot of things.
Jon Wilner has a nice summary of many of the administrative issues troubling the Pac-12 here.
While it's possible that things could get ugly in Arizona -- voices raised behind closed doors and off-the-record tweaks eagerly distributed to gathered reporters -- the more likely scenario is Scott apologizing for mishandling the situation and him then leading a cautiously arrived-at united front of newfound camaraderie and understanding.
It might not be real and it might not last, but it would be publicly professed.
Most Pac-12 fans only care about administrative issues as far as it affects them, particularly their favorite football team. They will group together their general aggravations -- another 7:30 p.m. PT kickoff! Arghhh! -- well below their chief one.
The worry that the Pac-12 is losing ground in football that just a year ago it seemed to be gaining.