Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
The regular season is complete, the data has been compiled, and the eyeballs have been counted. The Pac-12 performed exactly as well in the TV ratings game as you'd expect: Not markedly better or worse than in prior years.
At least by the standard applied here on the Hotline.
The conference participated in five games that drew at least 4 million viewers during the 2021 regular season, according to ratings data taken from the SportsMediaWatch database.
(Why 4 million? Because in our view, that threshold separates Pac-12 games with coast-to-coast resonance from those with merely strong regional appeal.)
That total is a tick better than the conference's performance in 2019 and comparable to the number of 4 million-viewer games it generated in 2018.
We didn't even bother with last season, which was a one-off in so many ways: From the delayed start and the spate of cancellations to the adjusted kickoff times and COVID's broad impact on viewership throughout the sport.
Here are the Pac-12 regular-season games that have drawn at least 4 million viewers in the past five (normal) years.
7.9 million: USC vs. Alabama
5.7 million: Washington vs. Colorado (Pac-12 champ game)
5.7 million: Notre Dame at USC
4.3 million: USC at Washington
4.2 million: Oregon vs. Nebraska
5.3 million: Notre Dame at Stanford
4.9 million: Texas at USC
4.0 million: UCLA at USC
7.7 million: Notre Dame at USC
5.3 million: Washington vs. Auburn
4.2 million: Stanford at Oregon
4.1 million: Washington at Washington State
4.1 million: Washington vs. Utah (Pac-12 champ game)
6.9 million: Oregon vs. Auburn
5.9 million: Oregon vs. Utah (Pac-12 champ game)
4.1 million: Oregon at Arizona State
7.7 million: Oregon at Ohio State
4.8 million: Oregon at Utah
4.7 million: Washington at Michigan
4.5 million: Texas A&M vs. Colorado
4.2 million: Utah vs. Oregon (Pac-12 champ game)
Before we address team-specific data, a morsel of context:
Having five games with at least 4 million viewers doesn't compare optimally to other Power Five conferences.
For example, the SEC had eight games over 6 million viewers this season, and the Big Ten had seven. Meanwhile, the Big 12 had three games over 5 million.
But it's what we should expect given the population and passion within the Pac-12 footprint and the mediocre level of play in recent years. Fans watch games that impact the College Football Playoff, and there have been precious few in the Pac-12 of late.
As for the team numbers …
Over the course of those five seasons, the Pac-12 produced 21 games at/above the 4 million mark.
Oregon was involved in eight, followed by USC and Washington with six each, then Utah with four.
The Ducks' success in the ratings game is the result of their appeal regionally and nationally; their performance on the field, which leads to participation in important games; and their willingness to play marquee non-conference foes (Auburn and Ohio State).
But the numbers underscore a key point impacting every aspect of Pac-12 football:
Because of their tradition, resources and brand appeal, USC, Oregon and Washington are the programs best equipped for success.
The conference needs them to be relevant on the national scene, consistently and concurrently.
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at email@example.com.
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