Take 2: Grading the Pac-12 in 2012

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
12:00
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We've been handing out individual grades to each team with our 2012 team-by-team season review. But on the whole, what grade does the Pac-12 get? That's the question your bloggers are tackling this week.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12's 2012 season gets a B-minus.

There were some positives and some negatives. The poor showing in the bowl games, however, did significant damage. The conference was favored in seven of eight bowls and went just 4-4.

That led to just three Pac-12 teams ending up in the final top-25 rankings. Instead of showcasing the depth that had typified most of the season, the Pac-12 ended up looking top-heavy.

The good news is two top-seven teams, with Oregon finishing No. 2 in both polls and Stanford finishing seventh and sixth (Associated Press and coaches' polls, respectively). Both won BCS bowl games. Despite USC's epic and widely mocked collapse as the first preseason No. 1 to lose six games, the Pac-12 remained relevant nationally.

The Pac-12 was 21-14 versus FBS competition this year, including an 8-8 mark vs. other AQ conferences. Best victories? Oregon over then-No. 5 Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona over Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Stanford over Wisconsin and UCLA over Nebraska. Stanford's win over San Jose State certainly looked much better by season's end, too.

The conference had a strong position in the debate versus the Big 12 for second best league. It moved solidly in front of the Big Ten and ACC along those lines.

But there's a lot of what-could-have-been had the end of the regular season and bowls gone differently. Arizona, UCLA and Washington were in position to join Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State in the final polls if they'd taken care of business. The Wildcats and Huskies both lost rivalry games as favorites -- the Huskies as a substantial favorite over Washington State. UCLA imploded in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor, while Washington yielded a last-second field goal to Boise State, which killed an impressive MAACO Bowl comeback.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY SportsOregon's Fiesta Bowl dismissal of Kansas State was one of two Pac-12 BCS victories.
Five or six ranked teams along with two in the top seven would have made a strong statement nationally, one that would have carried over to the 2013 preseason ranking. While folks often say it's not where you start, it's where you finish, college football followers know that the former tends to help the latter.

So it was a pretty good season for the Pac-12. It just could have been much better.

Kevin Gemmell: There's really only one way to describe the Pac-12 on the whole this year: inconsistent. It was so top-heavy with Stanford and Oregon, so bottom-light with Colorado and Washington State, and just a glob of good, bad and what-the-heck-was-that? jammed in between.

So grading the overall season creates some challenges. You'd like to give an A to the conference for winning two BCS bowl games. Not unlike the NCAA tournament, this is where conference reputations are earned. And the fact that only the SEC and Pac-12 had multiple teams ranked in the final top 10 is impressive. But it could have been so much better.

As Ted notes, losing four bowl games -- when the conference was favored in seven of eight -- is a blight on the season. And I'm going to ding the conference a little harder for that and hand out a C-plus overall.

The expectations for the Pac-12 as a whole were much higher than where it actually finished. Stanford picked up the slack by exceeding expectations, so big snaps to the Cardinal for its second BCS bowl victory in three seasons. But no team in the history of college football disappointed liked USC. Three losses would have been a bummer of a season for the Trojans. Six is inexcusable.

Much like a driver's test, I started with a perfect score of 100 and deducted points along the way as I went through the season in my head.

  • Failing to win a national championship despite having two teams ranked No. 1 early and later in the season: minus-5 (95 total)
  • The preseason No. 1 lost six games for the first time since the history of history: minus-5 (90).
  • The league lost three bowl games in which its teams were favored, including two against the Big 12 (the window has passed for the Cody Vaz just got sacked again jokes): minus-5 (85).
  • A conference member lost to an FCS team: minus-5 (80).
  • No Heisman Trophy finalists (though there should have been): minus-2 (78, final grade).

Ted has talked about as many as eight Pac-12 teams being ranked to start the 2013 season. Of course, I'd like to see that -- but I don't believe it will happen. Because the national perception of the league right now is that it's Stanford and Oregon -- and then a stew of teams with an abundance of question marks. And people are right to think that way given what happened in the postseason. Besides the BCS wins (again, very, very good), the other two victories were a blowout over an independent service academy and a miracle against a Mountain West team. Don't get me wrong, I loved Arizona's win. But the Cats certainly didn't leave people thinking the middle of the Pac-12 is a force to be reckoned with.

Utah saw its nine-year bowl stretch come to an end. Washington State was one bad storyline after another and poor Colorado, bless 'em for the effort, just looked lost. There were too many gags and gaffes along the way to merit anything better than slightly above average when looking at the league on the whole.

Ted Miller | email

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