Pac-12 on backburner in national scene
USC's probation helps keep new league from spotlight, but upcoming prime time games should help garner attention
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Kirk Herbstreit said it, not mincing a lot of words, the other morning on ESPN's College GameDay. The message was that with USC's probation and fall from prominence the past couple of years, Pac-12 football has been pushed to the back burner in the national consciousness.
I believe he used the term "out of sight, out of mind."
If Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, heard that, it must have caused him to choke on his eggs Florentine — and temporarily divert him from plans to get the league's games televised on Pluto.
So, is there anything to Herbie's observation? Is this the companion phenomenon to the old belief that when UCLA was down in basketball, the league was less relevant nationally?
Is it good for baseball when the Yankees are good?
It's not easy to sort out exactly how the Pac-12 is being dissed a few time zones away, when it's also apparent the league is not at its strongest. It's 0-6 against this week's AP Top 25 (only UCLA got one of those teams on its home field, however).
Of course, there's the case of Stanford, which has won a national-best 12 straight games. The Cardinal was No. 5 two weeks ago, slipped to sixth during a bye week and fell to No. 7 after a 45-19 trouncing of UCLA.
Stanford's last two games have been Saturday nights, which may also curb national awareness. And there's the fact that Stanford's opponents are a combined 8-12.
"We've got two teams ranked in the Top 10," says Oregon coach Chip Kelly. "Sometimes people say things to get people to talk about things."
The Ducks are No. 9, and if there's skepticism about Oregon for its losses to LSU in its opener and Auburn in the 2010 BCS title game, it may have crept into the view of the league as a whole. The Pac-12 has three ranked teams (ASU is No. 22), while the SEC and Big 12 each have six.
Tuesday, I asked UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel if he bought Herbstreit's take, and his reaction was pronounced.
"I think ESPN's power over who's hot and who's not is unusual," he said. "I think they decide, and if they think USC is the only sexy school out here, then shame on them. There's a number of schools deserving of attention.
"They've become so powerful, they get to kind of create programs and so forth. I just think there's more to this conference than meets the eye. But until the Big Eye wants to cover it, I guess you can make comments like that."
As it happens, ESPN will have plenty of chances to discuss the Pac-12. The Oregon-Cal game is the first of three straight Thursday night dates for the league, and the Worldwide Leader also will be a big player in the new contracts signed by Scott that start next year.
There's also a subtext to that USC factor. The Trojans (4-1, 1-1) can't go to the first Pac-12 title game if they win the South, and it's going to be a source of embarrassment for the league if it sends a runner-up. So my guess is the conference executives would just as soon not see Utah (2-2, 0-2) muddy up the race by upsetting Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) this week.
An ASU win would virtually eliminate Utah and tilt the race heavily toward the Sun Devils. Won't it?
"We've set a goal that we're going to be in this conference race and we're in it," insists Neuheisel. "We're 1-1, and with a win (Saturday night against Washington State) we'll be 2-1. We could be tied for second place in our division. Depending on Arizona State-Utah, we could even be tied for first."
Or, to quote one of Herbstreit's colleagues, "Not so fast ... "
And What's More ...
• The buzz is that Oregon will unveil "retro" uniforms against Cal. In the Ducks' case, retro might mean the ones they wore three weeks ago.
• Alex Zendejas, the Arizona kicker, has missed 11 PATs in his career, nine of them blocked. But coach Mike Stoops is sticking with him.
• Norm Chow just got away from a lot of bad quarterbacking at UCLA, and now he's possibly facing more of it as Utah offensive guru. The Utes will be without starter Jordan Wynn for at least a couple of weeks, and they're turning to Jon Hays, who relieved an injured Wynn against Washington.
• Pac-12 officials erred, the league confirmed, when they ruled a horse-collar tackle against Stanford's Tyler Gaffney the other night on UCLA's Josh Smith. Gaffney yanked Smith down by his flowing dreadlocks, which is legal, if painful.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-8281
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