Let’s start in September. Let’s start week one. Let’s start Washington vs. Auburn. The Pac-12 gets the chance to make a big statement or fall off the ledge right out the gate. The Huskies taking on the SEC powerhouse in Atlanta opening weekend is a double-down with the conference coming off a strong losing hand in 2017.
The Huskies beat Auburn and a lot of the stink of 2017 is washed away. The Huskies lose to Auburn and the hole around the Pac-12 gets deeper, especially considering Washington is the only team in the Pac-12 any national pundit is giving any change at making the Playoff, or really even sniffing the preseason Top 10.
So....the Huskies really need to win to get the Pac-12 national respect in the short term and the long-term. Even if the conference wins almost all of their other prominent non-conference games, the conference will have likely lost their one shot of elite vs. elite, and in regards to the CFP, and national respect. That’s probably all that matters.
So let’s just assume Washington pulls off the win over Auburn. What does the conference need to do to turn things around and get back to being respected as one of the best conferences in the country?
Win the bulk of the other prominent non-conference games
The conference has a lot of other A- and B+ non-conference games after Washington and Auburn lock horns. These are the Stanford and USC vs. Notre Dame games, USC at Texas, UCLA at Oklahoma and Michigan State at Arizona State games. The conference has to win more games than they lose and would really benefit from UCLA or Arizona State pulling off an upset (probably ASU).
The conference is going to have to catch people’s attention and that’s probably going to take the conference winning a big game most don’t expect them to. Though, that could be Washington getting the win over Auburn.
Take care of the Mountain West
The conference went 7-4 against the Western region’s little brother in 2017. Not terrible, but not great either because the Pac-12 should DOMINATE the Mountain West, not skate by with a solid record.
The conference plays nine games against the Mountain West and needs to win almost all of those games. Especially crucial are Arizona State and Stanford’s games again San Diego State. THE CONFERENCE CANNOT KEEP LOSING TO San Diego State. Please stop. Thank you.
The conference needs to dominate these games, losing one (probably to San Diego State), maybe two. Showing the rest of the country that the gap between the Pac-12 and the Mountain West is as tall as the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains is essential. Would you be impressed by the SEC if they were just above average against AAC?
Impress in those mid-level games
The conference has some solid mid-level games to take advantage of. I define these games as games either against solid mid-majors (Arizona/Houston or BYU) of lower-level power conference teams (Cal/North Carolina or Colorado/Nebraska) or low-level Pac-12 teams against power conference elites no one expects them to win (Oregon State/Ohio State).
The conference simply needs to win these games that they are favored in and impress in games they aren’t. The Pac-12 needs to show it can handle mid majors like Houston (even if they are pretty good) and a down BYU program and that mid-level Pac-12 teams can beat lower/mid-ACC teams like North Carolina or the Big Ten’s Nebraska. Lastly, a team like Oregon State putting up a fight in Columbus could go a long ways or UCLA at Oklahoma, to a lesser extent.
There’s nothing worse for a program or conference than the FCS loss. Every conference suffers from these unfortunate losses, but it’s never a good thing, and a conference in desperate need of national respect can’t afford a few FCS upsets, maybe not even one. So Pac-12 programs, DO NOT LOSE TO FCS opponents. Even just one is an embarrassment.
Can we do this?
Yes “we.” I am part of the Pac-12, and yes, we can do this. The Pac-12 can get back up. I have a lot of concerns about the conference’s ability to trade punches with the other power conferences long-term, but there’s plenty of on-the-field and coaching talent in the Pac-12 right now and 2018 could easily be a big one for the conference.
Here are some reasons why?
- This Washington team is more talented and more experienced than the 2016 that made it to the CFP...and is still coached by Chris Petersen, who has learned some lessons since that loss to Alabama.
- USC went 11-3 last year while dealing with a rash of injuries, and it was seen as a disappointment. That’s how much talent is on this team. If J.T. Daniels can play and the rest of the team fulfills their potential around him, USC could be national contender, or at least a team that can beat Notre Dame and Texas in the same year.
- David Shaw is still at Stanford and so is the nation’s best player, Bryce Love, and K.J. Costello could be turning into at least senior year Kevin Hogan level. The Cardinal can easily beat Notre Dame and San Diego State.
- Oregon has the potential to be a Top 10 team and have the number one overall pick in the 2019 draft. The Ducks have as much potential as any team in the country outside of the preseason Top 10. They are a darkhorse to get to a NY6 bowl, even if they don’t win the North.
- Arizona and Utah are exactly the kind of teams that could sneak into the Top 15. They’re talented and experienced with coaches how have proven they can get there before. They’re the kind of teams I could see taking care of business in an Alamo Bowl against a program like West Virginia. The kind of thing the Pac-12 desperately needs to do.
- The bottom half of the conference is strong and loaded with interesting coaches who are either coming into the conference with a lot of potential or who have shown the ability to succeed in the conference in the past.