Commentary on the latest Pac-12 developments …
Falling: Likelihood of CFP expansion sooner than later
The commissioners of the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame’s athletic director will meet this weekend in Indianapolis and attempt, once again, to reach consensus on the format for College Football Playoff expansion.
Don’t expect a satisfying resolution. There are too many conflicting priorities and, to this point, not enough reasons for compromise.
With each passing month, the chances of the existing model remaining in place through the current contract cycle increase exponentially.
Which means the earliest we could see a 12-team event is the 2026 season.
Which would mean four more years of the four-team format.
Which would be bad for the Pac-12. Very, very bad.
The conference hasn’t appeared on the playoff stage since 2016 and accounts for just two of the 32 semifinal slots in the history of the event.
It needed expansion to happen yesterday.
Every season that comes and goes without a playoff berth feeds the narrative that the Pac-12 has fallen behind and provides elite recruits with reasons to leave the footprint.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff believes the best path to resolution might be to focus on the future.
Playoff expansion at any point in the 2022-25 seasons would require a unanimous (11-0) vote, but playoff expansion starting in the 2026 season — for the next contract cycle — would not.
If a collection of conferences agreed on a model for ’26, they could use strength in numbers to bring any holdouts along.
That might spur agreement to implement the future model in the present day.
Given the impasse, it’s worth a try — anything is worth a try.
But this much is certain:
Once the timing of expansion becomes clear, the Pac-12 must move swiftly to implement any strategic changes (eight conference games, no divisions, etc.) that create the best chance to improve its playoff opportunities.
Even if that means tweaking the structure of the regular season for the near term, then adjusting again when the new format begins in 2026.
Rising: Utah’s 2022 outlook
The Utes’ pursuit of a second consecutive conference title received a 21-touchdown boost this week when star tailback Tavion Thomas announced he would return for the ’22 season.
The news came as a mild surprise — Thomas looks like a high-round draft pick to us — and seemingly elevates Utah to the role of heavy favorite, not only within the division but the conference.
Also due back for the Utes: quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe, multiple starters on both lines of scrimmage and two elite defensive backs, Clark Phillips and Cole Bishop.
(Alas, Britain Covey will not return for his 17th season; he’s entering the draft.)
Thomas should be one of the top tailbacks in the country and will have a massive early platform to show his talents to anyone currently unaware:
The Utes open the season at Florida.
Falling: Pac-12 QB certainty.
The quarterback play was not nearly good enough across the conference in ’21, and the Hotline plans to track developments closely throughout the coming offseason.
Just in the past few weeks, the situation has changed substantially for several teams:
— Auburn’s Bo Nix is transferring to Oregon, muddling the situation in Eugene and creating competition for touted freshman Ty Thompson.
— UCF’s Dillon Gabriel was headed to UCLA, then reversed course this week and is bound for Oklahoma.
— Purdue’s Jack Plummer picked Cal and instantly became the favorite to replace Chase Garbers.
— Indiana’s Michael Penix selected Washington, where he will compete with Sam Huard and perhaps Dylan Morris for the starting spot.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s Dorian Thompson Robinson has yet to announce his plans for 2021 (return to Westwood or enter the draft), and several schools are examining options in the transfer portal.
One name to watch, in particular: Could Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams follow Lincoln Riley to USC?
While the move makes sense on several levels, the Hotline doesn’t view the Trojans as the clear favorite at this point.
Rising: Pac-12 basketball postponements
In what comes as a distinct surprise, three conference games were played Thursday night: Colorado held off Washington State, USC thumped Cal, and Washington surprised Utah.
That said, three of the five matchups scheduled for Saturday have already been postponed.
While the disruption to round-robin play has been significant, remember: Better now than later.
If you consider it inevitable that every program will get whacked by the current COVID wave — and we do — then the sooner the better.
In an ideal situation, all 12 teams will have gone on pause, and returned to the court, by the end of this month.
That would set up Pac-12 for a relatively smooth February and allow its NCAA tournament teams to be at their best by the middle of March.
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