Clardy's Corner: Evaluating the Newcomers

In 2011, the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 as Colorado and Utah joined the conference. But are the newcomers pulling their weight?

Stanford and Colorado have met six times on the football field. When those two convene in Boulder this Saturday for their seventh meeting, it will mark the first time the Cardinal will be facing the Buffaloes as conference opponents.

Colorado announced its alliance with the Pac-10 two years ago, when the conference realignment dominoes first began to fall. Utah followed suit days later, and in July 2011, the Pac-10 officially became the Pac-12.

I remember a prominent and trustworthy Buffaloes insider telling me back in 1995 that the Pac-10 had standing invitations out to Colorado and Texas to join the conference. The Pac-10 has clearly had eyes for Colorado for years, so their defection wasn't much of a surprise. As for Utah? Sure, they were in the right place at the right time, but they largely earned their way there.

Still, those two additions left me a bit underwhelmed. After all, if you're going to expand the conference, add schools that make the conference's product better. Add schools that make the conference stronger. Add schools that make the rest of college sports take notice. If you're going to expand your conference, do it right.

The Pac-10 appeared to be following this plan when they spent much of late spring 2010 chasing after Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Colorado. That, in my mind, would have been doing it right. But while the plan was ambitious, it wasn't to be.

Five days after Colorado finally joined the Pac-10, Texas announced it would stay in the Big 12. Instead of becoming the new kids in town, the Longhorns chose to continue to be the bullies of their own block and play by their own rules with no serious challengers. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State decided to stay as well (that is, until the Aggies got tired of living in the Longhorns' world).

The Pac-10 tried to create a Frankenconference that would have smashed everything in its path and rivaled only the SEC in prestige, media exposure, and (most important) revenue. Instead, in the end, they settled for Colorado and Utah.

For the Utes and the Buffaloes, joining the Pac-10 was a no-brainer. Based on the total instability surrounding the Big 12 at the time, Colorado had to move. Meanwhile, Utah was desperate for a chance to upgrade from its seat at the kiddie table of conferences and shed the "BCS buster" label once and for all. There is no question that the Pac-12 was good for Colorado and Utah.

But are Colorado and Utah good for the Pac-12?

Here's my knee-jerk reaction: not from a football standpoint. Not as I write this at 10:41 p.m. Eastern time on October 30, 2012. Not as I'm looking at the standings and seeing that both Utah and Colorado are 1-4 in conference play. That indicates to me that the conference's product right now might still be better if it were the Pac-10.

But that's just a knee-jerk reaction based on what's happening at this exact moment. A longer-term view provides a less-judgmental answer.

Last year, Utah football went a mere 4-5 in conference play, but they won eight games overall and beat Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Overall, pretty respectable. However, their men's basketball team, which used to be a staple in the NCAA Tournament, struggled mightily with a 3-15 conference record.

Meanwhile, Colorado amazed a lot of folks by winning the Pac-12 men's hoops tournament in their first year. Unfortunately, their football team stinks out loud.

The good news is that you don't have to go too far back to when Buffaloes football and Utes men's hoops were relevant. If those programs are resurrected, they will make the Pac-12's product better on all fronts.

Personally, I love Denver, and Salt Lake City is actually one of my favorite places to visit (and a great airport too!). They are both great road trips to make, although the white stuff that falls from the sky during the winter may scare some Californians away from heading in that direction. Still, bringing those new locations into the fold help the Pac-12 fan experience.

So the future could be very bright for Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12. And let's face it, the conference desperately needed to be brought into the 21st century. But part me still questions whether the Utes and the Buffaloes were really the catalysts for everything that's happened to the conference since they came on board.

The Pac-12 Network is a reality. That meant I got to watch last Saturday's near-debacle at Stanford Stadium in all its glory from the comfort of my own living room in Pittsburgh. Great. But did Utah and Colorado really need to be added to the mix to make that happen? I'm not totally convinced.

Meanwhile, it could be argued that all Stanford has received from its new, bigger conference is a Big Game that was played a month too early, and kickoff times that now don't get decided until as late as six days before the game. How either of those things serve the fans is beyond me.

They give the conference two new media markets, and they give the conference more bulk. At the same time, they've also given the conference very mixed results in the two revenue sports. But ultimately, the true answer of whether adding Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10 was a good idea will be seen in the conference football standings. And right now, the Buffaloes and the Utes have work to do.

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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

By the way, Boulder's weather forecast on Saturday: partly cloudy, high of 56. Of course, given how Colorado weather usually works this time of year, that means the game will be played in snowy conditions…

To steal the line from Linus in "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown", there are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Stanford QB situation…

By the way, Great Pumpkin airs Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. You're welcome…

Congratulations to Brevin Knight! You'll be seeing him as an analyst for men's basketball games on the Pac-12 Network…

When you give up two 100-yard kickoff returns in the same game, you officially become a punchline. Yes, I'm talking to you, cal…

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… So Texas head coach Mack Brown is complaining that The Longhorn Network—the Texas athletic department's own cable TV channel operated and produced by ESPN—is giving his opponents an unfair advantage. Brown also moans that since he spends at least six hours a week traveling to and appearing on Longhorn Network shows, it has become his second full-time job. Did I mention that The Longhorn Network is bringing his athletic department $300 million over a 20-year period? And that he presumably gets extremely well-compensated for all those long hours he spends on his second full-time job? And that the same things he thinks put him at a competitive disadvantage also give him a sizable recruiting advantage? I'm not a Twitter guy, but if I were, I'd end this paragraph with #MackBrownProblems…

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… nice job, Andrew Luck. Nice job, Indianapolis Colts. Keep it going…

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PAC-12 PICKS

I was too chicken to pick Washington over Oregon State. And I shouldn't have underestimated Jonathan Franklin's ability to take advantage of a Will Sutton-less Sun Devil defense. Oh, well…

Washington @ cal (Friday). The Huskies defense plays like Superman at home (almost 14 points allowed per game) and like Clark Kent on the road (over 48 ppg). But since they're facing an offense that plays like Jimmy Olsen, I like Washington by 10.

Washington State @ Utah. How in the world did Jeff Tuel survive that beating he took at Stanford? Unfortunately, it may not be much safer for Tuel in Salt Lake City. I like Utah by eight.

Oregon @ U$C. Nice job last week, Marquise Lee. Now let's see what you can do against a live defense. I like Oregon by 22.

Arizona @ UCLA. If these teams don't combine for 1,200 offensive yards, I'll be shocked. I like UCLA by six.

Arizona State @ Oregon State. As long as Cody Vaz can avoid throwing the ball to the other team, the Beavers should have enough to get the job done at home. Getting WR Markus Wheaton back would be nice, too. I like Oregon State by nine. Last week: 2-3 (straight-up), 2-3 (ATS). This year: 19-7 (straight-up), 13-13 (ATS). Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).


Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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