Can The PAC-12 Return To Prominence?

With the 2020 college football season officially in the books, let’s all just rejoice that we actually made it to the end. Even in this whirlwind season of uncertainty there were many trends that remained unaltered. None more than the trend of Nick Saban and Alabama’s dominance, as they captured their sixth title in 14 seasons.

In regards to consistency there was another trend that repeated itself for the fourth straight year. In this instance it was the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-12) being left out of the College Football Playoff (CFP) yet again. Granted, they started later than any other Power Five conference, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that no team showed any glimpse of dominance.

The PAC-12 is already traveling down the path of disrespect as many analysts view them as the worst Power Five conference. Teams like Oregon and USC, who dominated in conference over the last few decades, have taken a step back. This really came to light when #10 Iowa State trounced the PAC-12 champions #25 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, 34-17.

What Does The Future Hold?

With this failure to assert dominance on a national level, the PAC-12 needs to look at all options. The playoffs may be expanding but they shouldn’t want to be apart of the CFP handout program. Instead, the PAC-12 needs to show they deserve to be there.

One option that is particularly intriguing would be realignment. The change wouldn’t have to be drastic but it would need to be something to get the eyes of the playoff committee. A new team that doesn’t fit the mold, to stir the competitive juices, may be all the conference needs.

Who Would Join?

If you look at a team that fits the location and could come in and compete, it has to be BYU. BYU took the country by storm this season, thrusting their way into the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. Quarterback Zach Wilson led the Cougars to an outstanding 11-1 season and set the foundation for future success.

Even though they’ve always been a Football Subdivision (FBS) Independent school, this season showed that the time is now for BYU to find a home. Notre Dame made it work in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), by making it all the way to the conference championship game. There’s no reason BYU couldn’t mimic that performance and compete for a conference title right away.

Notre Dame and BYU both undoubtedly have a ton of rivals. It’s possible that putting these rivalry games on rotating years will only increase the hype for the matchups. No one batted an eye that Notre Dame didn’t play their usually scheduled rivalries this season vs. USC and Stanford.

Bottom line is that BYU coming in won’t fix the bad narrative right away, but it will bring more attention and viewership. BYU has a solid following nationwide and their fans travel well. Plus, some of BYU’s regularly scheduled teams and rivals, like Utah and Washington, are already in conference.

How Do They Get In?

Well that’s pretty simple because numbers on the conference don’t mean anything anymore. The Big 12 only has 10 teams and the Big Ten has 14. The only question is BYU just an addition or does someone get cut out?

The calls for Colorado to go back to the Big 12 have been loud, even though they were one of the better PAC-12 teams this season. If the Buffaloes do go back to the Big 12, that leaves a vacancy for BYU to slide right in. No doubt the calls will start coming for their long time rival Nebraska to do the same.

The game between the Cornhuskers and Buffaloes should take place in-conference and on rivalry week. The snow on the ground in Boulder or the brisk air in Lincoln only add intrigue to that game. Those conditions just scream rivalry week.

This leads right into the most intriguing part of the realignment.

Best Rivalry Week In College Football

If BYU slides in to replace Colorado in the PAC-12 North Division, the conference immediately boasts the most appealing final slate of games. All of these games have notable titles or trophies. Here’s the break down.

Arizona vs Arizona State (Territorial Cup)

California vs Stanford (Big Game/Stanford Axe)

Oregon vs Oregon State (Civil War)

USC vs UCLA (Battle for Los Angeles)

Washington vs Washington State (Apple Cup)

*NEW* Utah vs BYU (Holy War)

All of these games in the same weekend would shift a ton of attention to the conference. The Civil War and Battle for Los Angeles are so fun to watch. Both teams wear home jerseys in these contests. You get the neon orange and neon greens in the Civil War, then the cardinal red and deep sky blue in the Battle for L.A..

BYU vs. Utah currently has such a fun storyline backing it too. BYU’s head coach Kalani Sitaki used to be on staff at Utah for nearly a decade. Utah’s head coach Kyle Whittingham worked with Sitaki for all those years he was on staff in Salt Lake City.

The two are great friends who run rivaling schools. It’s almost like Army and Navy, who have so much respect for one another. That respect turns into hate for 60 minutes per year. The same could be said about BYU and Utah, and that’s the joy of a rivalry.

People around the Territorial Cup have rated it as a top five rivalry in the country. The two schools genuinely hate each other. Jedd Fisch, who is taking over at Arizona, has the tall task of flipping the script and handing Arizona State’s Herm Edwards his first loss in the matchup.

The Apple Cup in 2018 ultimately cost the PAC-12 a shot for a CFP spot. The #16 Washington Huskies toppled the #7 Washington State Cougars in a snow covered Martin Stadium. Even though it hurt the conference in postseason accolades, it only elevated the importance and intrigue of the Apple Cup.

California vs. Stanford really needs no introduction to the average football fan. This game holds one of the most decorated moments in all of sports with “The band is on the field!” Regardless of how good or bad the teams are coming into the game, when there’s a trophy on the line all bets are off.

Final Thoughts

Oregon’s head coach Mario Cristobal and USC’s head coach Clay Helton are holding the conference together. They’re recruiting at such a high level and they may begin to separate themselves from the remainder of the conference. Seeing as they hail from opposite divisions, they should be meeting up a ton in the conference championship for years to come.

The PAC-12 has games against key opponents in week two of 2021. UCLA plays LSU, Washington plays Michigan, and Oregon plays Ohio State. The PAC-12 would really benefit by winning a few, if not all of these games to show that they really are worthy of a Power Five title.

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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