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2011 5 Thoughts - The Pac-12's Big Loss
Posted Sep 5, 2011

2011 5 Thoughts - Week 1. The game the Pac-12 couldn't afford to lose

CFN Analysis 

5 Thoughts, Sept. 5

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Week 1 Thoughts  2010 5 Thoughts 
- Fiutak: The Game The Pac-12 Couldn't Lose
- Cirminiello: Clemson & Virginia Tech's Big Wins 
- Zemek: In Defense Of Mark Richt
- Sallee: It's Over For Richt
- Mitchell: The Top Heavy SEC   

E-mail Pete Fiutak

Thanks for playing, Pac-12. We’ll see you next year.

The Pac-12’s signature team can not lose to the SEC on the biggest stage in the opening game of the year.

In 2011, with the SEC owning the world, Oregon’s performance and the loss to LSU signaled the end of the Pac-12 season when it comes to anything more than watching highlights of Andrew Luck. Oregon gave the fans of the other BCS leagues a reason to tune-out the Pac-12, and they’ll be more than happy to do so.

It’s not fair, and it’s not right, but if a league’s top team doesn’t win its big game against the SEC, the league simply doesn’t matter anymore on a national scale. Feel free to disagree, and then be sure to take note of what percentage of time and energy is spent over the next three months discussing Boise State.

Oh sure, Stanford will be strong behind The Architect, who might be the signature player of the 2011 season, but find anyone outside of Palo Alto who believes this is a team that can run the table.

Arizona State is loaded with veterans, Arizona played well in its opener, and California was terrific against Fresno State, but it doesn’t matter. Oregon lost to LSU, and that’s it.

Stanford or Oregon will most likely play in the Rose Bowl, and both teams are good enough to beat anyone the Big Ten flies in, but going to Pasadena isn’t the same as going to New Orleans with everything on the line.

The Ducks will be outstanding throughout the rest of the season, but with losses in the last four really, really big games – Boise State in the 2009 opener, the 2010 Rose Bowl against Ohio State, the 2011 BCS Championship to Auburn, and the 2011 opener against LSU – there’s little to no chance of selling the college football world on giving them a shot at the national title this year.

With the loss on Saturday night, combined with UCLA’s toe-stubbing performance against Houston, USC’s struggle at home against Minnesota, Washington’s close call against Eastern Washington, Oregon State’s embarrassment against Sacramento State, and Colorado’s loss at Hawaii, the conference took a major PR hit that won’t turn around.

There’s no such thing as an East Coast bias; there’s a regional ignorance.

Mark Ingram didn’t with the 2009 Heisman because most of the voters on the right side of the Mississippi thought he was the best college football player in the country; he won by an ultra-slim margin because most of the Eastern voters never really saw Toby Gerhart play. That’s not to say that Gerhart was the best player in the land – it was actually Ndamukong Suh – but he probably would’ve won the beauty contest had he played in a different time zone and on a team with more national exposure than Stanford.

The Pac-12 almost always gets the shaft in the Coaches’ Poll, with most of the East Coast coaches spending their Saturday nights dealing with media, breaking down film, and winding down from their games. They’re not checking out how the Washington – Oregon State game is going.

It works in reverse, too. Good luck finding the UCLA fan who can name the Virginia Tech starting quarterback, and find the Arizona State die-hard who watches the Big East on a regular basis. However, there’s a better chance of the West Coast fans seeing the other big conferences, since the BCS leagues in the Eastern and Central time zone start their games early, they’re on all day, and there’s usually wall-to-wall TV coverage. By the time the Pac-12 gets revved up and rolling, its games usually get stuck in the glut of afternoon battles and almost always lose out when SEC or Big Ten games of the day take center stage.

Of course, the Pac-12 knows it has a time zone problem and it knows that it’s hard to make noise on a national scale with so much attention paid to the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12. That’s why it’s expanding its reach and that’s why it’s so proactive at getting bigger and better. And that’s also why the league’s teams go out of their way to schedule tough non-conference games. The problem, though, is that the league doesn’t win enough of those big games.

It’s absolutely unfair that the conference has to bend over backwards to get noticed, but that’s the deal. Good luck getting a top-shelf SEC team to leave its home state for a non-conference road game without a sweetheart of a deal in place. Take a guess at the last time Florida played a non-bowl, non-SEC title non-conference game outside of the Sunshine State. September 21, 1991, and it lost to Syracuse 38-21.

Of course most of the SEC teams would lose at Autzen Stadium if they dared to venture out of their comfort zones. Ohio State and the Big Ten got a bad rap for always losing to USC when the Trojans were rocking and rolling under Pete Carroll, but everyone, SEC teams included, would’ve been steamrolled had they played in the Coliseum in the mid-2000s. But that doesn’t matter. The reality is that the league needed Oregon to come through, and it didn’t.

Will anyone care if Stanford wins at Duke? No. Beating Notre Dame has to mean something at the end of the year, or else it’ll be tough to convince anyone that getting through the Pac-12 is like getting through the Big Ten, Big 12, or SEC.

Arizona State gets Missouri this weekend, and has to go to Illinois, and while beating both of those teams would deserve respect, it simply won’t come; the Tigers and Illini aren’t big enough. The same goes for Pitt, who welcomes in Utah.

UCLA hosts Texas, Arizona goes to Oklahoma State; Colorado goes to Ohio State; USC goes to Notre Dame; Oregon State goes to Wisconsin; and Washington goes to Nebraska. To undo the damage done by the Oregon loss to LSU, and because that was the league’s one shining moment against a top SEC team, the Pac-12 has to go at least 5-1 in those key six games.

It won’t.

Again, it’s completely and totally unfair, but the Pac-12 had its chance, and it blew it. Had Oregon won, all of a sudden, the league would’ve been the it conference, and unfortunately, the loss puts even more of the spotlight on the SEC, who doesn’t need any more reason to puff out its chest.

It’ll be a great Pac-12 race, and Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State really are good enough to play with and beat just about anyone in America. It would be nice if more people would watch and if more fans would pay attention, but they just won’t.

The Pac-12 might have the biggest TV markets of any conference, but the ones on the East Coast that matter tuned out the league for the season last Saturday night.

Bringing in Oklahoma and Texas would turn them back on in a hurry.