Bowl numbers tell the story of Pac-12 weakness

by | Jan 15, 2022 | Journalism, Miscellaneous | 0 comments

The college football season came to an end earlier this week, with the national championship game. Judging by who was on the screen most of the time when I popped in to view ESPN’s broadcast, it looked to me that the winner and new national champion was Lily, from the AT&T ads.

But arguably the more intriguing battle in Indianapolis took place behind the locked doors of conference rooms, where a committee including commissioners from college athletic conferences tried — and, again, failed — to figure out a way to expand the four-team College Football Playoff to include eight or possibly 12 teams. The fact that this stalemate leaves billions of dollars on the table tells you that the differences here run deep.

In fact, the conference that seems most copasetic with almost all of the proposals for expanding the playoff is the Pac-12, the conference in which the Oregon State Beavers play. The conference released a statement earlier in the week in which it basically said it was OK with any of a half-dozen ideas for expansion. Here’s Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News — probably the best Pac-12 reporter in the nation — offering more background about why expansion is important to the conference.

And no wonder the Pac-12 wants an expanded playoff: As matters stand now, the field has to be expanded for a Pac-12 team to be invited. Over the eight years of the playoff, only two Pac-12 teams have been invited. And the Pac-12’s performance over the past five seasons in bowl games, in which the teams play against teams from other conferences, suggests that most Pac-12 teams would not be particularly competitive in a playoff game. The Pac-12’s bowl mark over the past five seasons is the worst of any of the 10 conferences that play in the NCAA’s so-called Football Bowl Subdivision. Not just the worst record among the so-called “Power Five,” the five dominant conferences in college football, which still includes the Pac-12 — it’s the worst record even when you add in the so-called “Group of Five,” supposedly lesser, conferences. Here’s the bowl record of the 10 conferences over the past five seasons:

Sun Belt177.708
Mountain West1710.630
Big Ten2516.610
Big 122013.606
Southeastern Conference (SEC)3224.571
American 1417.452
Conference USA1423.378
Atlantic Coast1628.364

The Pac-12 has been 0-7 the last two seasons. It’s been more than two years since the Pac-12’s last bowl victory, Oregon’s 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020. Put another way: The SEC has four times as many bowl victories over the last five years as the Pac-12.

If the Pac-12 were an English soccer team, by this time the conference would have been relegated to the next-lower division.

Now, granted, just looking at bowl games isn’t a perfect way to gauge the relative strength of conferences — and the winning percentages may be skewed by oddball factors. The mighty SEC, for example, has the most bowl wins of any conference over the past five years — but because so many of its teams qualify for bowl games, it also has a number of losses, which serve to depress its winning percentage. But I do think that these numbers speak for themselves.

The good news for the Beavers is that if you’re rebuilding your football program essentially from scratch, the way Jonathan Smith has been doing, it’s a lot easier to do that in the Pac-12 than it would be in, say, the SEC because the level of competition simply isn’t as high. The bad news is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots in college football — the sport that basically bankrolls college athletic programs around the nation — looks like it’s only growing, and the Pac-12 is in danger of landing on the “have-not” side of that divide.


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