I have a lot of pet peeves about college football, and I will share some of them with you now.
Let’s start with the names of some the “Big” conferences today. If I were to recommend a motto for the PAC 12, it would be: “At least we can count!” Most local readers undoubtedly recall that not so long ago, the PAC 12 used to be the PAC 10, back when it had, duh, ten teams in it. Now that we have expanded to twelve teams – try to follow the logic, if you can! — we are called the PAC 12. Elementary, right?
Compare that to the geniuses in the Big 10, who are still called the Big 10, even though they now have fourteen teams. Do some of those teams feel slightly overlooked?
Or then there is the conference once known as the Big 8, back when they had – stay with me – eight teams, and who later expanded to twelve, so they changed their name to the Big 12. But now their conference has been whittled down to ten teams, yet they still cling to their adopted name of the Big 12. Not so Big after all, are they? All hat and no cattle, as they say down there.
Then there is another of my favorite gripes, which is the way teams already have national standings even before they have played a game that season. And somehow those standings always seem to favor my least favorite conference, the SEC, which is indeed mostly southeastern, especially if you count Missouri and Texas as being in the southeast.
The bias of the national ranking system in favor of the SEC is already obvious after four weeks of regular season games. Currently the SEC has five teams who are undefeated, ranked 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9. Compare that with the only undefeated PAC 12 team, Cal, who couldn’t even break into the top 25 rankings until after their third victory, and who climbed only as far as #15 even after they beat an SEC team, Ole Miss, in week 4. Meanwhile all those undefeated SEC teams were perched in the top ten right after week one!
The usual rationale for the high ranking of the SEC is that their teams allegedly have the toughest schedule. Balderdash! This year’s perennial powerhouse, Alabama, has only three nationally ranked opponents on their docket. Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn are legitimately tough match-ups. But most of the SEC teams Alabama plays this year – South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi State – are mediocre programs who usually qualify for bowl games only by padding their schedules with four or five out-of-conference cupcake games and beating each other a couple of times. Even Alabama props itself up with games against Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi, and Western Carolina. Seriously, Nick? And yet coach Saban whines about his fans and students leaving blowout games early.
Meanwhile, PAC 12 teams typically play nine or ten games a year against conference opponents, all but a few of whom are very tough to beat, week in and week out. So it is no surprise that even top-notch PAC 12 teams rarely emerge from that grind undefeated at the end of a season. And you will never find a PAC 12 team that qualifies for the national championship game that didn’t also win its own conference championship or that suffered two losses during the season – unlike some overrated SEC teams, who have finagled their way in this fashion to national championships in recent years.
Then there is my favorite peeve of all, which is the way that UCF, the University of Central Florida, continues to be disrespected in the national ranking system. This superb program has lost only twice in the last two and a quarter years, and as I pointed out in a previous column, they even earned a national championship rating according to one metric system that measured their unique status of being undefeated in 2017 by both record and strength of schedule. They have also gone toe to toe with the SEC in bowl games in the last two years, upsetting Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2018, while dropping a close game when playing behind a second string quarterback against LSU in this year’s Fiesta Bowl.
And I bet you would never guess which conference posted the best record in wins over losses in last year’s bowl games. Would you believe the lowly Conference USA, with a 4-2 bowl record? By comparison, our much maligned PAC 12 finished with a below average 3-4 record, while the Almighty SEC managed a similarly unimpressive 6-6 showing, with their highly rated teams often losing to worse-ranked or unranked opponents.
My best hope for fairness for the PAC 12, and for great teams like UCF who are outside the “Power 5 Conferences” (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12, and SEC) would be an expanded playoff system that would have eight rather than just four teams competing at the end of the season. Even in the last five years, since the four team playoff replaced the old BCS ranking system, we have seen a more balanced array of champions, with the ACC and SEC each winning twice and the Big 10 winning once, as opposed to seven consecutive national champions for the SEC under the skewed system used prior to that. A broader playoff pool would give more teams a chance, and would allow teams like UCF to prove that they can match up with Alabama or Clemson.
But unfortunately, as things stand now, neither Alabama nor Clemson have the guts to put UCF on their schedule. Kudos to Stanford and Pitt for doing that, and for proving how tough UCF really is!
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph.