Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field …
Rising: Pac-12 expansion decision
After news broke in July that Texas and Oklahoma were joining the Southeastern Conference, Washington State president Kirk Schulz told the Hotline that the SEC’s “predatory” moves had unified the other conferences “in a way that nothing else could have, in terms of working together.”
The observation proved spot on weeks later with the formation of the alliance between the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12.
Turns out, it wasn’t Schulz’s only prescient comment in that interview.
When asked about the potential for the Pac-12 to add members, Schulz, who previously served as Kansas State’s president, spoke of the need for “institutional fit.”
To join the Pac-12, a school needed to fit not only athletically but financially, academically, culturally and geographically.
A few weeks later, the conference announced it would not seek new members. Fans of the remaining Big 12 schools were mystified: How could the likes of Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State not be good enough?
It took a few months, but we have a fine example of what makes an “institutional fit” – or rather, what doesn’t.
Texas Tech fired coach Matt Wells earlier this week, and within seconds, one particular name was attached to the vacancy: Art Briles, a Texas Tech alumnus who transformed Baylor into a major player on the national scene.
Briles, of course, was fired in 2016 following a sweeping sexual assault scandal at Baylor.
His name and lack of action in the scandal are synonymous with one of the darkest chapters in college sports history.
Yet when asked about his potential candidacy, Red Raiders athletic director Kirby Hocutt offered a generic response: “I don’t want to speculate.”
The fact that anyone would consider Briles a viable candidate in the first place … that Hocutt would allow the connection to linger publicly … that TTU wouldn’t launch a whisper campaign with the media to make it clear Briles had no chance at the job … it all says everything you need to know about what makes an “institutional fit” for the Pac-12 – and what doesn’t.
No Pac-12 university would consider hiring Briles, not ever, not for a nanosecond – even if he were an alum.
Any reports linking Briles to the vacancy would be discredited.
Pressure assuredly would come from campus, faculty, fans, media and the conference office.
What happened in Waco was a systemic, horrific abdication of leadership, with Briles at the center of the moral abyss.
But Texas Tech has allowed the disgraced former coach’s name to remain linked to its search regardless of whether it intends to consider him for the opening.
That’s a pretty good example of what constitutes a poor “institutional fit” for the Pac-12.
Falling: Oregon’s poll position
The Hotline expects to write more about this issue – perhaps much, much more – as the stretch run unfolds. But for now, we’ll limit the scope.
In the current Associated Press Top 25, the Ducks are two spots behind Ohio State (No. 7 vs. No. 5).
You know, the team they beat 35-28 in Columbus in September.
The team with the same record (6-1) as Oregon.
The team with a weaker schedule to date.
Yes, that Ohio State.
(Full disclosure: Oregon is one spot ahead of OSU on my AP ballot.)
And in the coaches’ poll, where accountability and transparency are nonexistent, the Ducks are three spots behind OSU.
The respective rankings are undoubtedly based on style over substance: The Ducks haven’t been dominant since the Week 2 meeting, while the Buckeyes have torched opponents.
It’s all meaningless at this point, except for the extra dose of drama added to the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings next week (Tuesday, 4 p.m. PT).
We suspect the selection committee will favor the head-to-head result over margin of victory in other games.
But if both teams win this weekend, Oregon’s position relative to the Buckeyes will be the source of heavy interest – and, quite possibly, controversy.
Rising: Pac-12 TV ratings
The Oregon-UCLA duel last weekend in the Rose Bowl drew plenty of eyeballs thanks to its afternoon window on network television (ABC) and the “CollegeGameDay” broadcast from Westwood.
The Ducks’ 34-31 victory generated a 2.1 rating and 3.8 million viewers, according to the invaluable website SportsMediaWatch.
It was the fifth Pac-12 game this season with at least 3 million viewers, following:
Oregon-Ohio State (7.7 million)
Colorado-Texas A&M (4.5)
Compare that to 2019, when the conference had eight games hit the 3 million mark over the entire season, including the championship (Oregon vs. Utah).
The Pac-12 has six weekends remaining and several high-profile matchups left, including Washington-Oregon, USC-Arizona State, USC-UCLA, Stanford-Notre Dame, USC-Brigham Young and the conference championship.
It’s not certain to exceed the 2019 total, but the conditions are favorable.
With the media rights negotiations set to begin in 12-15 months, the timing couldn’t be much better.
Falling: Colorado football
Other than some diehard Colorado fans, nobody expected the Buffaloes to replicate their success from the 2020 season, when they went 4-2, finished second to USC in the South and produced the Pac-12 Coach of the Year (Karl Dorrell).
But not even CU’s greatest skeptics could have foreseen a free fall of this magnitude, particularly on offense.
We won’t recount all the unseemly statistics here. Just know that CU is averaging 11.8 points per game against FBS competition and almost half its total (34 of the 71 points) came against an opponent that hasn’t won a game in two years (Arizona).
Earlier this week, Dorrell made his first staff change in response to the unraveling: He dismissed offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue.
It’s not unreasonable to wonder why the Buffaloes employed Rodrigue in the first place.
At the time he was hired, in March 2020, Rodrigue was a high school coach who had no experience at the Power Five level.
The move would have been wholly inexplicable except that Dorrell, who was hired extremely late in the offseason cycle, scrambled to fill out his staff as spring practice approached and the pandemic descended.
The circumstances made a thorough and proper search difficult, so we’ll cut him half a break.
CU’s offensive line has been a gigantic problem but is hardly the only issue. We expect more changes by Dorrell – sweeping changes, in fact – once the season ends.
And he’s hardly the only Pac-12 head coach who should consider a staff overhaul.
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