The Big Ten Breakdown, Vol II: An ode to the Pac-12

The conference of my childhood is officially gone.

Bo Nix is running with the football and escaping a UCLA defender.

The Big Ten Breakdown, Vol. II is a column by Terence Holton about the new look of college football.

The Pac-12 is a shell of its former self. “The Conference of Champions,” as Bill Walton calls it, is a dry, destitute wasteland of what it used to be. With Stanford and Cal leaving the Pac-12 for the ACC, it is safe to say the conference which I have loved so dearly is no more.

As a diehard Duck fan my entire childhood, I grew up with the electric duo of Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas lighting up opposing defenses. Those two are what turned me and so many others into Duck fans. Then, of course, I came to USC, where I witnessed quarterback Caleb Williams win the Heisman in my freshman year. I think I just attract Heisman winners wherever I go.

The Pac-12 has molded my emotions from the months of August through December for as long as I can remember. All the way back in 2014, I got off an airplane and immediately started crying as I saw Oregon was losing to Oregon State in their yearly rivalry game. I then made my entire family stay back at an airport bar, so I could watch the Ducks come back and win.

More recently, I hold much disdain for Utah senior quarterback Cam Rising and the entirety of the Ute nation after they knocked both Oregon AND USC out of playoff contention in dominant fashion two years in a row. These core memories of the Pac-12 shaped my childhood and teenage years.

As of September 5, 2023, all but Oregon State and Washington State have opted to join other conferences. Personally, I will miss playing against the Beavers and Cougars, and I hope that they are invited to join the Big Ten; however, that seems unlikely.

If I have to watch Oregon State and Washington State slug it out on a Saturday night against the likes of Hawaii or UNLV, I’ll just feel bad for the people of Corvallis and Pullman. Just know that this season, both the Beavers and Cougars will play with a massive chip on their shoulder and will want to prove they deserve to be in a power conference.

One thing I will miss from the Pac-12 will always be “Pac-12 after dark.” A favorite memory of my senior year of high school was driving down to Eugene with my friends for a 7:30 p.m. game, then driving home on I-5 at 1 a.m. While it sounds grueling, it was awesome.

Night games are always more fun. In Southern California, where the sun is beating down on you for nearly all of a 3:30 p.m. game, a night game is literally — and figuratively — much cooler.

Of course, there are upsides to the Pac-12 no longer being media relevant. For starters, the dreaded Pac-12 Network, which made it nearly impossible for fans to watch their team and had lackluster commentary (in my humble opinion).

Secondly, the Pac-12 was one of the greatest examples of mismanagement you will ever see. Commissioners Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff botched this conference so badly. You can blame USC and UCLA all you want for running for the money, but Kliavkoff is the reason there is no feasible amount of money that the Trojans and Bruins would stay for.

The horrific marketing for this incredibly talented conference is what ultimately sunk the ship. Forcing games to be on the Pac-12 Network, instead of ESPN, CBS, etc., is terrible for finances and conference exposure.

While I do blame Kliavkoff and the management of the Pac-12 for its ultimate demise, I will miss the conference.

Saturday, Sept. 9, will be the last time USC and Stanford clash for the foreseeable future. I wish there was a profitable way the Pac-12 could all stay together, but it seems rather impossible at this point.

The good news for us fans is that this is the best football the Pac-12 has seen in years, arguably since the early 2000s. I can’t wait to watch one last great year of college football in the Conference of Champions.