February 25, 2024

Out with the old, and before we move on to the new, let’s tally how well that moribund football conference last known as the Pac-12 fared in bowls.

Washington’s exhilarating College Football Playoff semifinal over Texas and Oregon’s ho-hum Fiesta Bowl spanking of clearly inferior Liberty on Monday lifted the conference bowl record since its inception in 1916 to 157-150-5, a .511 winning percentage.

This holiday season the Pac-12 is a respectable 5-3 with the CFP championship game between Washington and Michigan to play Monday. USC and UCLA did their part, with victories in the Holiday and LA bowls, respectively, that capped seasons of dismay with smiley faces.

The showing is the best since 2015, when the Pac-12 set a record by playing in 10 bowls and posting a 6-4 record — no thanks to USC and UCLA, which both lost mid-tier bowls. As recently as 2021 the Pac-12 was 0-5 in bowls (as well as 0-2 in 2020), although the Trojans and Bruins can’t be blamed because neither team played in a bowl either year.

That COVID-colored stretch also produced the only overall records under .500 posted by the conference since 1983 and contributed to the perception that the Pac-12 was spiraling toward oblivion. The conference was 103-113 in 2020-21, its combined strength of schedule dipped to a historic low and no conference team had qualified for the CFP since 2016.

The short answer as to why the Pac-12 has been reduced to Washington State and Oregon State is that the conference was unable to negotiate a television deal that could compete with contracts already in place in other Power 5 conferences.

Now 10 of the 12 teams will begin the 2024 season elsewhere. USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington are headed to the Big Ten, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah jumped to the Big 12, and Stanford and Cal will join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

All of which saps any pride and joy the conference might feel about its resurgence in 2023. Washington and Oregon are a combined 26-2 with both losses a result of the Huskies beating the Ducks. Arizona and Oregon State enjoyed solid years, Colorado brought the buzz of coach Deion Sanders, and the Pac-12’s overall record of 89-65 is its best since 2014.

Sanders, at least, explained the exodus as succinctly as possible, saying, “All this is about money, you know that. It’s about a bag, everybody’s chasing the bag.”

Dismissing Pac-12 teams is an easy default because for practical purposes it no longer exists. Unbeaten Washington was an underdog to Texas, and the early line on the CFP championship game has Michigan a 4.5-point favorite.

Can the self-proclaimed “Conference of Champions” — a slogan built primarily on the undisputed success of nonrevenue sports — disband amid the glory of a national football title? Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is doing all he can to make it a reality.

“The job’s not finished,” Penix said. “I feel like it’s definitely going to take more. I’m going to push myself to get this team more next week. And, man, we’re just super excited for the opportunity.”

In addition to adding to the Pac-12’s current bowl victory total of 157, a win over Michigan would improve the overall record of the Pac-12 and its predecessors over the last 108 years from its current 5,744-4,682-306.

That’s a lot of football for a conference known as the Pacific Coast Conference through 1958, the Athletic Assn. of Western Universities from 1959-1967, the Pacific-8 Conference from 1968-1977 and the Pacific-10 Conference from 1978-2010.

What it will go by in 2024 is unclear. Calling the leftover teams in Corvallis, Ore., and Pullman, Wash., the Pac-2 seems almost cruel. Yet that is precisely what Oregon State and Washington State are, especially after the Washington Supreme Court two weeks ago lifted a stay that was preventing the two schools from taking action to secure the future of the conference.

The short-term solution is the scheduling agreement the Beavers and Cougars entered into with the Mountain West Conference for 2024. And it could result in a more permanent relationship between the schools and conference.

Until that is sorted out, the prospect of the conference shuttering for good remains. The overall and bowl records would be etched in stone, with game No. 10,733 and bowl No. 313 in the hands of an eminently capable Washington team playing for a national championship.

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