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Pac-12 notes: Coaches know good start needed

Wed., Aug. 27, 2014, midnight

ASU coach Todd Graham sees Pac-12 champ in playoff. (Associated Press)
ASU coach Todd Graham sees Pac-12 champ in playoff. (Associated Press)

Will the Pac-12’s tendency to test itself early in the season cost it the chance to prove itself on college football’s biggest stage?

It could if the conference doesn’t represent itself well in marquee nonconference games.

The top four teams this season, as determined by a committee, will participate in a playoff to determine the national champion. That means that at least one of the five power conferences – the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC – will be left without a representative.

The Pac-12 is projected to be especially strong this season, with six teams making the Associated Press Top 25 for Week 1, a conference record. Conference teams play nine games against each other, limiting the number of opportunities to pick up wins against weak nonconference opponents.

The league also pits the top teams in the north and south divisions against each other in the Pac-12 championship game, guaranteeing one of them an additional late-season loss.

“The way our league works, it’s very difficult in our league to go undefeated, as is the SEC,” Graham said Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches’ teleconference. “We beat each other up and I can’t imagine a team winning the Pac-12 championship with the caliber teams that we have and not being in that four game playoff.”

While the conference is highly regarded right now, that could all change with a poor showing in nonconference games. Or the conference could prove to be too much of a grind for any team to rise above the pack.

“I still think your record has to reflect the type of candidate that you are,” UCLA’s Jim Mora said. “It’s going to be hard for a team with two or three losses to get in but I think that this conference is outstanding and it’s really nice to see it get some recognition nationally.”

Graham acknowledged that the playoffs could provide a disincentive for teams to schedule powerful out-of-conference opponents, particularly if winning the Pac-12 proves to be enough for a team to make it into the playoff after three wins over inferior nonconference opponents.

Mora, however, believes Pac-12 teams will continue adding big-name programs to their schedules.

“I think that most coaches, at least the coaches that I’ve been around, and most players, the ones I’ve been around, are extremely competitive and want to play other good teams on a week-in and week-out basis,” Mora said.

“It’s an interesting dynamic in that you’re trying to protect your position and your ability to play in the playoffs,” he added. “But you want to play the best all the time.”

Solomon to start for UA

Three quarterbacks transferred from premier programs for a shot to be Arizona’s starting quarterback, and in the end none of them could beat out a redshirt freshman who had always wanted to be a Wildcat.

Rich Rodriguez said Anu Solomon, who played his prep ball in Las Vegas, will start the season opener against UNLV. Solomon beat out fifth-year senior Jesse Scroggins, who transferred from USC, Connor Brewer, who transferred from Texas, and Jerrard Randall, who began his career at LSU.

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