Pac-12 is benefiting the most from craziness of new playoff system

Pac-12 is benefiting the most from craziness of new playoff system
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota passes during a 51-27 win over Utah on Nov. 8. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

A wise man wrote last July, "The BCS was a torture chamber to the Pac-12 and the league should rejoice its death."

Wait, that was me!


The first playoff season is off to a beautiful-mess start, with the 12-person selection committee trying to white-water raft through a confluence of contradictions.

The Pac-12 Conference, which couldn't catch a cold in 16 years of the Southern-fried Bowl Championship Series, has caught the attention of experts who appear to be paying attention.

The committee has the task of resolving several free-flowing anomalies:

• Top-rated Mississippi State played a laughable nonconference schedule and belongs to the 14-team Southeast Conference, which plays only eight league games. The Bulldogs brilliantly put their chips on the reputation of the SEC West, and they rose from unranked to No. 1 on the backs of three wins over division foes that now have a total of eight losses.

• Oregon and Arizona State of the Pac-12 play a nine-game conference schedule plus, potentially, a league championship game. They also, in nonleague, took on Michigan State and Notre Dame, respectively.

• Florida State is the defending national champion, but is from the weakest of the Power 5 leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference, which plays eight league games and also a title game.

• Texas Christian and Baylor hail from the 10-team Big 12, which plays a true round-robin schedule but has no championship game. The committee is taking a chance with TCU ranked at No. 4, three spots ahead of Baylor, which won the head-to-head meeting and would claim the Big 12 if both teams win out. The committee is rewarding TCU's better overall body of work — Baylor's nonconference schedule was a joke — and is setting aside the final decision like an overdue water bill.

• The selection committee also must award a major bowl bid to the highest ranked champion of a "Group of 5" conference. Those are the five other leagues playing major college football. The contract wording of "champion" may put the committee in a bind. The best team may end up being one-loss Colorado State, but the Rams can't even win their division of the Mountain West unless Boise State loses another game.

The committee has no "Group of 5" school ranked, and that's a snub to Marshall, which is undefeated but plays no games against schools from a Power 5 conference. A San Diego State victory at Boise State this week would allow an avenue for Colorado State to emerge in next week's ranking. Otherwise, the committee may just have to hold its nose and pick a Marshall team from outside its ranking.

The newfound respect for the Pac-12 is by far the biggest story of the first playoff season.

Left-coast conspiracy theories held for years that the BCS system was rigged against the Pac-12 — which may have been true.

Oregon rose to No. 2 in this week's College Football Playoff rankings while lingering at No. 4 in simulated BCS standings. More staggering is the gap between Pac-12 schools in the playoff rankings and the USA Today coaches' poll. The five Pac-12 schools in this week's top-25 playoff rankings are 17 total positions higher than they are in the coaches' poll.

The breakdown: Oregon, No. 2 by CFP, No. 4 by coaches; Arizona State, 6 vs. 8; UCLA, 11 vs. 15; Arizona, 14 vs. 18; and Utah, 23 vs. 28.

One reason the Pac-12 is getting a fairer shake: Committee members, unlike pollsters, are supplied edited video copies of all Pac-12 games, no matter how late they are played on a Saturday night.


So here's an update for conspiracy theorists: Maybe the deck is now stacked in favor of the Pac-12. Look at all these committee members with West Coast connections:

• Condoleezza Rice was raised in Birmingham, Ala., SEC country, but she is a professor at Stanford.

• Pat Haden is athletic director at USC.

• Tyrone Willingham is a former coach at Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame. Notre Dame isn't in a league but plays three Pac-12 schools this season.

• Barry Alvarez is the athletic director at Wisconsin, also the Badgers' former football coach, and is a member of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. He dabs tears every time he enters Pasadena city limits.

• Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had a Cornhuskers quarterback, Scott Frost, leader of Nebraska's last national championship team, who is Oregon's offensive coordinator.

• Tom Jernstedt, a former NCAA executive vice president, received his bachelor's and master's degrees at Oregon.

• Oliver Luck, West Virginia's athletic director, is father to former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

• Michael Tranghese is not just the highly respected former commissioner of the Big East Conference. He was BCS coordinator in 2003 when USC, No.1 in both polls, finished third in the BCS standings. Tranghese was helpless in presiding over that fiasco and could have a Pac-12 soft spot.

And while the selection committee chairman, Jeff Long, is the athletic director at SEC member Arkansas, the panel lost an SEC voice when former Mississippi quarterback Archie Manning withdrew from the committee last month to deal with a lingering knee issue.

As this new pendulum swings toward the Pac, the rest of college football may want to send Manning a Hallmark card: Get well soon.