Pac-12: The conference of disappointment
SANTA CLARA – The cold drizzle, empty seats and large black tarp covering a swath of the stadium offered a perfect backdrop. The happy-hour kickoff gave an excuse for the assembled masses to drown their sorrows.
“The stage was set,” Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley said after the game. “We just didn’t show up.”
The Pac-12 season finished as an ode to the league’s irrelevance. The blowout of Utah will be Oregon’s only victory over a team that will finish in the Top 25. The Utes will finish the season with no wins over any team that finishes the season in the Top 25. And nothing quite sums up the Pac-12 like a pair of undistinguished division champions atop a collection of interchangeable 7-5 teams. Pac-12, the Conference of Chameleons.
The biggest worry for the Pac-12 is that there’s no clear path out of this pit of mediocrity. USC has finally gotten out of its spin cycle of poor leadership, but there’s no one who views Clay Helton as the coach who’ll end the league’s national title drought. Oregon will be favored to win the league next season, but it’s hard to imagine a more consistent offense without Justin Herbert.
The concerns for the league in the macro are still glaring. The Pac-12 Network has accomplished little other than offering the league a constant reminder of its shortcomings. At this point, its lack of cable reach and revenue have become symbols of the league’s inability to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC.
The other macro concern comes with recruiting. USC’s two seasons of purgatory with Clay Helton simmering on hot seats has crowbarred open the door for the best recruits in Southern California to go elsewhere. Oregon has swooped in to snare its share. But so have Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Ohio State, as USC doesn’t have commitments from any of the top-20 players in the state in the 2020 class. The Pac-12 has become easy to recruit against, with its flagship school behind and the current recruits in diapers when the league last won a title.