Better late than never?
Pac-12 will join the college football season on November 7, with each team looking to compete seven games in seven weeks during the coronavirus pandemic. Number 14 Oregon starting the season as de facto favorite as the conference’s only ranking team, but there are still more questions than usual.
After the conference schedule was released, our experts shared some thoughts, including first impressions, exciting battles and game-title predictions.
Which Pac-12 weekend are you looking forward to the most?
Ivan Maisel: In a year when things turn out to be normal, in a season that looks like it will never start, it’s great to see Thanksgiving weekend feature three of the most enduring contests in Pac-12. Three Northern Division geographic associates will be playing their over-the-top, chatty, year-long game of bragging rights on Thanksgiving Friday. We can all use a day when we can make turkey sandwiches and watch the Big Game, Oregon-The State of Oregon and the Apple Cup.
Bill Connelly: I agree with that, and I’m also glad we got Rivalry Week Part Deux with Oregon-Washington and USC–UCLA two weeks later. I’m really curious about Jimmy Lake’s Washington first team and whether the Huskies can stay with Oregon in the North. While we will most likely get an answer by then, this could still be decisive in the title play. (I’ve gotten to where I’m talking about things like the “mid-December competition to decide division titles” as if it’s normal.)
Kyle Bonagura: I’ve never been more excited for it Arizona vs. Utah. Not that there’s anything special about the game in particular, but by the time November 7 gets here, we’ll be going through September and October without Pac-12 football. Navigating the pandemic doesn’t have a road map, so it doesn’t make sense to stick to the different ways each conference operates with respect to the 2020 season. But because I’ve watched other conference games, I missed Pac-12. That’s why opening weekend, which will also feature Arizona State at USC, Stanford in Oregon, UCLA at Colorado, Washington at Cal and Washington State in Oregon State, is one of the most I look forward to.
Adam Rittenberg: It’s hard to argue with either option, but my eyes are immediately on the Oregon-Cal game on the first weekend of December. Don’t be surprised if this is the Ducks’ toughest division test in their quest to repeat as league champions. Cal has the home pitch and returning midfielders, Chase Garbers. The Bears have disappointed Washington and Washington State at Berkeley. I also think the USC trip to Pullman, Washington, which is likely to be chilly, on that Friday could be tricky, and Washington-Stanford is usually a fun physical game.
What is the most interesting fight?
Maisel: In Week 1, we have a fight between the two best midfielders in the league: Kedon Slovis USC vs. Jayden Daniels from Arizona State. It also explains another fight I love: the USC Soap Opera and all the Trojan fans’ expectations of head coach Clay Helton before the season was stopped, versus the reality of what the Trojans season is like now. They dumped two national championship contenders from their schedule (Alabama and Notre Dame), as well as a match in favorite North Oregon. Their crossover opponent is Washington State at the Coliseum. The schedule maker is doing USC solidly.
Connelly: If we’re honest, the most exciting fight is “Pac-12 vs. whoever tries to beat his best undefeated team.” It is clear that USC (Washington State), Oregon (UCLA), Utah (Oregon State) and Washington (Arizona) did not have the most dominant cross-division opponents, even though this was not a degree of SEC honesty. intention. However, on the ground, I’m glad we can get to USC-Arizona State right through the gate. Daniels fought back Palaie Gaoteote IV, Todd Orlando and the renovated USC defense will definitely shed some light on what we’re working on in the Southern division.
Bonagura: It’s hard to have any expectations going into this strange season. With no spring practices, no traditional training camps, with restrictions on government practices and the choice not to participate, there are too many unique variables to feel comfortable about anything. Oregon is – was it? – Favorites, so I’m intrigued to see how Duck looks against Stanford in Week 1, but even more so against Washington State the following week as the Cougars kick-start the Nick Rolovich era.
Rittenberg: Jimmy Lake actually had Mike Leach as Washington’s defense coordinator, and he wasn’t afraid to tell everyone about it before and after the Apple Cup. Lake is now entering his first year as Huskies coach, while Leach is away for the SEC. Rolovich operates a system similar to Leach’s, and it will be interesting to see if Lake’s Apple Cup reign can continue when rivals meet.
What are your Pac-12 championship predictions?
Maisel: USC has to play in Oregon. I shove all my chips at the end of the fairy tale. Clay Helton led the Trojans to the Pac-12 championship.
Connelly: We know how it will turn out if we trust USC too much, but the USC violation is perhaps the single most proven entity at the conference, and I would say it counts. Meanwhile, Oregon’s defense is perhaps the second most proven unit. This justifies the very tedious selection of chalk I’m going to make: USC vs. Oregon in the title game. And just to make sure we don’t end up unanimous, I think Oregon won.
Bonagura: I fully allow the possibility that something that is completely outside the left plane happens. Something like a Cal vs. Arizona State in the Pac-12 title race would be the perfect way to finish this season. For now, I agree with Ivan and Bill: Oregon vs USC makes the most sense, and Duck still feels the safer option.
Rittenberg: Even with all the options out, I would go with Oregon in the North, although it doesn’t surprise me to see Cal make the title game with a more balanced team under Justin Wilcox. I will lean with USC in the South as new defense coordinator Todd Orlando makes an immediate impact. USC made a small mistake and let Helton haters hate him for another offseason.
Pac-12 will play a seven-match conference football season starting November 6, the league announced Thursday.
The decision, which was voted on by the Pac-12 group of CEOs on Thursday, was an official reversal after the conference announced in early August that it would suspend all exercise until at least January 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a release, Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball could start November 25 while other winter sports could be started according to the respective NCAA season. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as hiking, soccer and volleyball, would continue to be planned for spring.
The Pac-12 move comes after a similar announcement last week from the Top Ten, which will kick off the football season on October 24.
Conference championship matches will be played on December 18, with sources telling ESPN that all 12 teams will be in action that weekend. Pac-12 will release its full match schedule in the coming days, the conference said.
No fans are allowed to attend Pac-12 matches which take place on campus. The decision will be reviewed in January, the conference said.
The conference is scheduled to hold a conference call at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday to discuss decisions to play.
Pac-12 has yet to receive an indication of not being eligible for the University Football Playoffs due to a reduced schedule, sources said. Even if the Pac-12 does not have a team worthy of being included in a four-team field, the eligibility component is essential in order to be in a position to collect sizeable payouts. Last season, there was a base payout of $ 66 million for each Power 5 conference.
In August, the Pac-12 CEO group, which consists of the president or chancellor of each university, unanimously decided to postpone the season. Explanations for the delay include the need for a daily rapid turnaround test for COVID-19. At that time, there was no belief that it might happen during the fall.
However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide FDA-approved daily tests that were expected to be operational in early October.
Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will have at least one PCR test per week.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all associated with the sport of Pac-12 remains our top guideline and number one priority,” said Pac-12 group chairman and Oregon president Michael Schill in a statement. “Our Group CEO has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decisions, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on growing information and data related to health and safety.”
The conference faces additional pressure after ACC, Big 12 and SEC remain in play in the fall. There is a general belief in the Pac-12, sources say, that after the Top Ten has postponed its season, another Power 5 conference will eventually do the same. When that doesn’t happen and the Top Ten faces significant pressure to – and ultimately – change course, the Pac-12 is left to find a way not to become the only Power 5 conference idle this fall.
Following last week’s Top Ten announcement, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was quick to point to government restrictions in California and Oregon preventing six schools in the state from training. At the end of the day, the governors of both states publicly pointed out that nothing at the state level will prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.
California’s provisional guidelines for college sports prevent teams from training in groups larger than 12, which is impractical for a sport that requires 22 players on the field in a combat situation. On Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement to ESPN that it was not aware of any changes to the guidelines. However a source told ESPN the conference believes the group’s guidelines will be changed in time to allow normal practice to occur.
“It is a testament to the strength of leadership in our football dressing room and a symbol of the central role that USC plays in the Pac-12 that the letter from our players to California Governor Gavin Newsom encourages our collective effort to return to play,” USC athletics director Mike Bohn said in a statement.
Santa Clara County, where Stanford located, requiring schools to submit a safety plan before giving permission for teams to train. The plan, according to the district, has been submitted and is being reviewed.
The latest hurdle to face the conference came on Thursday when the County of Boulder, Colorado, issued a ban on gatherings among students between the ages of 18 and 22. Assuming the order is not extended and Buffalo can start training after 14 days, the team will have four weeks to prepare the opener.
The Pac-12 says teams with health approval can start training immediately.