Conference season takes a toll in the Pac-12

AP

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Gardner Minshew

There’s talk every season about how the Pac-12 cannibalizes itself.

Just last week, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal used the word following the Ducks’ 34-20 loss to Washington State in Pullman. Then Oregon fell 44-15 on the road at Arizona on Saturday, which was marked by dramatic conference upsets.

After the chaos, the Cougars were still the only one-loss Pac-12 team left, and they have only a longshot of making the College Football Playoff.

Conference coaches often point to parity in the Pac-12 as the reason that it’s difficult for a league team to rise to the top of the national conversation. And yes, it seems antithetical that parity might be hurting the Pac-12, but the heart of the issue is the schedule.

It’s notable that no Pac-12 school has played in the CFP championship game since Oregon faced Ohio State following the 2014-15 season, the first year of the playoff. The ACC and the SEC are the only conferences to have teams represented in the playoffs each year since.

Coincidentally, the three other Power 5 conferences, including the Pac-12, play a nine-game conference schedule, one more than the ACC and SEC.

The nine-game league schedule has been criticized because it’s obviously more difficult, and there’s less likelihood that a team will finish undefeated — which lowers the odds of getting coveted playoff berths. That challenges a conference where some key matchups are played late.

Stanford coach David Shaw pointed to how some Pac-12 teams will play a grueling stretch of consecutive conference games without an off week, while other conferences schedule less taxing nonconference games later in the year. Late season nonconference games in the Pac-12 tend to be against higher-profile opponents, like Notre Dame, he said.

“My point, for the longest time, is to make sure all the conferences have very similar ways to schedule,” he said. “That’s the only way we can truly evaluate or compare.”

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