By the time you'll read this, we'll be down to just one more college bowl football game, the national championship game on Jan. 8.
One thing we know for sure: That game won't include a team from the Pac-12 Conference. In fact, although there was some sentiment near the end of the regular season that the University of Southern California Trojans deserved some consideration for the four-team championship playoff, there was never much of a chance that a Pac-12 team would be invited.
Some Pac-12 backers complain that there's an inherent bias against West Coast college football teams. And it is true that, many years, that bias can be a factor.
Not this year, though. The reason why this year is that Pac-12 football teams simply didn't measure up to the competition in the other four major college football conferences.
And they proved it during the bowl season.
The nine Pac-12 teams that were invited to lesser bowl games laid an egg of historic proportions this season: They went 1-8 in their nine bowl games, the worst bowl mark ever for one of the so-called "Power 5" conferences. Only Utah managed a win, beating West Virginia 30-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Worse, the Pac-12 teams generally weren't competitive in the losses: Only three of the games were decided by less than 10 points. USC, the conference champion, looked lost against Ohio State and stumbled to a listless 24-7 loss.
Some of the Pac-12 teams had excuses: Washington State was playing without star quarterback Luke Falk, but nevertheless should have fared better against Michigan State, which thumped the Cougars, 42-17. And Oregon, reeling from the loss of coach Willie Taggart to Florida State, seemed like it didn't really want to be at the Las Vegas Bowl and lost to Boise State, 38-28.
Three Pac-12 teams, including Oregon State, weren't invited to a bowl game. (In general, you need to win six games during a season to be eligible for postseason play, although there are so many bowl games that some five-win teams might get an invitation.) The Beavers stumbled to a 1-11 season that saw head coach Gary Andersen quit abruptly about halfway through. New coach Jonathan Smith faces a considerable rebuilding task.
But there is some good news for Smith and his coaching crew in the Pac-12's belly flop this season. If the Pac-12, in football terms, has endured a mediocre season, it might lessen somewhat the magnitude of the task facing the new coach: After all, he doesn't need to get the Beavers to the point where they can compete in the nation's elite Southeast Conference. He just needs to do what he can to make his team competitive in the Pac-12. After the last few weeks, that task doesn't seem quite as daunting.
And while we're on the topic of college football bowl games: There are too many of them. Counting the three College Football Playoff games, this year's slate contained 38 contests, so 74 college teams were invited to a bowl game. There are 130 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country, so more than half qualified for a bowl. We understand that part of a bowl invitation is to reward players for their hard work, but the surfeit of bowl games cheapens their value.
The spread of bowl games inevitably has led mismatches: Of the 32 bowl games played before New Year's Day, only 14 were decided by fewer than 10 points. Thirteen of them had victory margins of more than 20 points. It's becoming increasingly common for players with NFL potential to sit out some of the lesser bowls, for fear of sustaining career-ending injuries. If the best players can't be roused into suiting up for some of these games, that's a clear sign that the time has come to trim back the bowl schedule. (mm)