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Commentary on developments around the conference — and beyond its borders …
Falling: Likelihood of Alliance games
Almost six months to the day the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC formally announced their informal alliance, a key player pronounced an intriguing piece comatose on arrival.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters Wednesday that the Big Ten is leaning against adopting the eight-game conference schedule model seen as essential to swift implementation of intra-Alliance matchups.
What's more, Smith said his peers in the Big Ten determined last fall — soon after the Alliance was unveiled on Aug. 24 — that they preferred playing a ninth conference game over dropping to eight to make room for dates with the Pac-12 and ACC.
"Many of us felt nine was still right for us in our scheduling model," Smith told reporters during a news conference in Columbus.
"We felt that conference contests, from a TV partner point of view, were just as valuable. So we decided to kind of walk away from that a little bit. That doesn't mean it might not come back up, but at that point in time, we walked away."
Granted, the Big Ten presidents will make the final determination. But Ohio State carries immense influence within the conference on strategic matters.
The development is a significant blow to what Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has called the "North Star" of the Alliance:
A series of inter-conference games played throughout the fall that would enhance the value of Pac-12 football ahead of critical media rights negotiations.
The logistics would be vastly easier if the Big Ten drops to eight conference games. The Pac-12 would do the same, immediately, and the voids created would be filled with the intersectional matchups — a clean, simple swap. (The ACC already plays eight conference games.)
In fact, Kliavkoff even suggested the Alliance series could start as soon as the 2023 season, if the Big Ten made its schedule change this year.
Now, it might not happen at all.
The Big Ten's (apparent) decision to continue with nine conference games doesn't preclude Alliance matchups, but it complicates and delays the process.
Many schools in both leagues have most, if not all of their non-conference slots filled for years to come.
There's only one way to create Alliance dates where none exist: Void the contracts with opponents on future schedules.
That would be costly, of course. But it's manageable … if the Big Ten is even interested.
Rising: Likelihood of Pac-12 status quo
The move to eight conference games is one of several structural changes to the football season under consideration in San Francisco. (Eliminating the division format is another.)
But Pac-12 teams must have someone to play — someone of substance for its fans and media partners.
The conference cannot drop the ninth league game and fill the slot with a creampuff opponent that won't generate ticket sales or TV value.
That's why a series against the Big Ten works perfectly and why, absent a series with the Big Ten, the conference may very well stick with the nine-game model — at least for the time being.
Ultimately, Kliavkoff and the athletic directors are willing to make whatever changes give the Pac-12 the best chance to maximize its opportunities for the expanded College Football Playoff.
Those opportunities depend on the process for determining the automatic and at-large qualifiers.
In our view, the most likely outcome is the continuation of a nine-game conference schedule — but with a shift to a single division.
Falling: UCLA football outlook
According to multiple media reports, the Bruins will hire Bill McGovern as their new defensive coordinator.
Not surprisingly, McGovern worked for Chip Kelly previously — with the Eagles — and has spent most of his coaching career on the East Coast. (He hasn't recruited in a decade.)
The hire is likely to generate a tepid response from the angst-filled UCLA fan base, which recognizes the progress made under Kelly last season but remains wary of his long-haul prospects.
But our deteriorating outlook for the Bruins isn't based on the coordinator hire. It's rooted in player attrition — specifically, the news that Mitchell Agude has entered the transfer portal.
Agude is one of the top edge rushers in the conference, an all-league selection who creates turnovers and pressures quarterbacks with equal efficiency.
Combine his departure with the loss of safety Quentin Lake and lineman Otito Ogbonnia to the NFL, and the Bruins will be without three key playmakers from a unit that struggles in critical situations.
In other words, UCLA might need to average 40 points per game next season just to hold its spot in the division.
Rising: Washington state basketball
Think back to the end of February 2020. The pandemic was closing in, Nick Rolovich had been on the job for one month in Pullman, Jimmy Lake was a rookie coach in Seattle … and both basketball programs were in the gutter.
WSU was finishing off an 11th-place season that would be the last for Ernie Kent, while Washington would finish dead last under Mike Hopkins.
Now, the Cougars and Huskies are both in the top half of the conference, contending for an opening-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.
Kyle Smith has rebuilt WSU, and Hopkins has seemingly saved his job.
The upticks are particularly notable against the backdrop of Pac-12 geographic relevance: the benefits of having at least one successful program within each of the six sets of travel partners.
It does the conference no good to have a black hole in any region. The revitalization of the Washington programs helps strengthen the collective and leaves one set of travel partners without any regional traction: Stanford and Cal.
The Bears haven't reached the NCAA Tournament since 2016. The Cardinal hasn't gone dancing since 2014. Neither program can offer evidence to demoralized fans that better times are ahead.
Of course, that was the case in Washington two years ago, and that outlook is markedly brighter today.
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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