The day after Utah lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, I spoke with George Kliavkoff. The state of football in its siege frustrated the Pac-12 commissioner, and that put it mildly.
As he discussed the challenges of getting his president and chancellor to fully embrace the football-first mindset, there was a glimmer of hope.
USC finally decided to re-enter the fray, hiring Lincoln Riley.
“The immediate change in recruiting dynamics that USC has done will clearly help other PAC-12 schools,” Kliavkoff told me. “Kids want to play for a guy like Lincoln Riley, and they want to compete against a guy like Lincoln Riley. I think it will elevate everyone for years to come.”
Keep in mind, Kliavkoff said Caleb Williams chose USC before star transfer quarterback, before Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison decided to finish his college career as a Trojan and before a bit of news shook the college athletic landscape late Thursday morning of June. .
Yes, in a cruel twist, Riley’s arrival in Los Angeles will only be able to boost the Pac-12 for two seasons before USC and UCLA begin their midwestern migration to the Big Ten in August 2024.
And yes, it stings. The Trojans who leave West Coast football behind just as they got their act together, will sting for a long, long time.
But, based on what we saw in Rice’s 66-14 blitz of USC on Saturday at the Coliseum, this could be a very productive two years for the Pac-12, which has not had a team past the College Football Playoff. reach from 2016 and just watched the top two ranked teams lose to the Southeastern Conference powers on the opening weekend – a familiar refrain.
No. 7 Utah lost a heartbreaker at Florida 29-26 when Cam Rebel threw an interception in the Gators’ end zone during the final seconds. If the Rebels don’t make that crucial mistake inside the Florida 10-yard line, the Utes will likely send the game to overtime.
No. 3 Georgia predictably five-matched No. 11 Oregon 49-3 in Dan Lanning’s first game as head coach. The Ducks’ playoff hopes were effectively debunked.
USC, which is ranked No. 14 entering Saturday, a bump in the lead in its prime-time conference opener at Stanford. Sure, it was just Rice, but the Trojans quickly became the most interesting team in the Pac-12.
With Riley and USC, the most frustrating thing is not knowing how good they can be together.
Thanks to three – three! — interceptions returned for touchdowns, the Trojans barely grazed the surface of Riley’s playbook while putting up a punt total. Williams threw just three incomplete passes and Addison caught two short touchdown passes, allowing the former Pittsburgh star to do most of the work. Most importantly, especially after last season’s three-month death march to the end, the Trojans looked like they were having a blast – the same way they looked when Pete Carroll went on the fence.
This week’s overreactions are part of this sport more than any other. In that spirit, the expectations for USC 2022 should be recalibrated. At the very least, the Trojans confirmed my sense that they should be 6-0 going into Salt Lake City on October 15th.
The USC-Utah winner will have a legit shot at the playoffs. Even if the Trojans lose, they will have a chance to finish the season with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Utah in the Pac-12 title rematch in Las Vegas.
In the preseason, I chose Utah to lose to Florida and roll out 12 consecutive victories to take the fourth place in the playoff, ending the drought of the Pac-12. The Utes didn’t surprise me on Saturday, good or bad. They haven’t shown much new in their Arsenal, which makes them so good under Kyle Whittingham. They know who they are.
In Riley’s first game, the Trojans had so much flash we hadn’t seen before that it was hard to keep up. And it feels like they have a lot more up their sleeves in the future.
I’ll be surprised if I think Utah can win 12 in a row. And I’ll be surprised if the Utes improve enough in the coming weeks to beat the USC team we beat on Saturday.
The Trojans are now the league’s best chance for a playoff berth. You are welcome to laugh and save this receipt.
As scary as it is for USC to take the PAC-12 and make the playoff semifinals for the 10 schools left in the league after 2024, George Kliavkoff probably would have an easier time seeing the silver linings.
Of course, it would end the drought before the playoff expands to 12 teams. Who cares if the team that ended the misery turns out to be on the way out?
In addition, the CFP pays a conference $6 million for each team it faces in the playoff semifinals. That money is distributed equally to the schools.
Whether Lincoln Riley’s success ends up writing 11 $500,000 checks with the rest of the PAC-12 or not, his new conference brethren may enjoy the excitement and relevance he brings to the league while he’s here.
Georgia should be No. 1
It’s hard to knock Alabama for beating Utah State 55-0, but anyone who watched Georgia manhandle Oregon — which has a roster with top-10 talent across the board — can reasonably think that the Bulldogs the No. 1 ranking.
First, Georgia is the defending national champion and took down Alabama 33-18 in the CFP title game. Yes, the Bulldogs lost a lot of their ridiculous defensive talent to the NFL draft, but they returned most of their offense, including quarterback Stetson Bennett IV and unstoppable tight end Brock Bowers.
I’m feeling good about predicting Alabama and Georgia to go 12-0 in the regular season, as boring as that sounds. Until the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs, Georgia is coming off a 49-3 win over the No. 1 Ducks. 11 and is ranked No. She deserves 1.
Ohio State should be happy
The tendency would be after a 21-10 win at No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Notre Dame is an afterthought to the Buckeyes’ offense, which was supposed to be the most explosive in the country.
Although Buckeye fans would like to see more of quarterback CJ Stroud throwing the ball around his five-star wideout, they should be encouraged that they were able to win a game with their much-maligned defense.
Ohio State hired defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to produce this result. How much stock can be put against a Notre Dame offense led by Tyler Buchner, a talented quarterback making his first start? That remains to be seen.
Ohio State’s offense will be fine. There is a better argument for the Buckeyes to be a national title contender now than before.
Arizona’s 38-20 win over San Diego State and Oregon State’s 34-17 win over Boise State in Corvallis reversed a recent trend of top teams from the Mountain West embarrassing the Pac-12 rank and file.
Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch made all the right moves this offseason, getting Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura and Texas-El Paso wide receiver Jacob Cowing off the transfer portal. The Wildcats looked like a different team – thank God, because it’s been ugly for a while.
Oregon State continued its upward trajectory under former quarterback Jonathan Smith. The Beavers’ win over the Broncos wasn’t as surprising as the Wildcats’ whipping of the Aztecs.
USC plays both of these teams on the road this year – and the Trojans don’t seem to be taking them lightly.
New weekly feature
For fun, I’m going to rank the teams that will make up the future Big Ten:
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
5. State of Michigan
12. North West