Well, the fourth Pac-12 title game is just now history, and you’d have to say Arizona was history almost from the opening kickoff Friday night at Levi’s Stadium.
It was a big night for Oregon, which won 51-13, and not so much for just about anybody else affiliated with the league — unless you consider the fact that a Duck victory was the most certain way for a Pac-12 team to make the first four-team college playoff. And Oregon makes it all but official; it’s the first team to crash the playoff.
In the first neutral-site game since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011, it was less, a lot less, than the league had hoped. I had a colleague in attendance tell me he didn’t think there were more than 38,000 people in the house — which would be 30,000 less than capacity in a place that a 49ers executive predicted back in May would be a sellout.
The weather — rain much of the week, and some before and during the game — obviously didn’t help, but ticket sales weren’t exactly boffo regardless. The league has a three-year deal with Levi’s, and the dilemma of the Pac-12 will continue to be: While other leagues have their title games at a site drivable for most of their fans, that’s not possible in the Pac-12. (That, plus the inescapable fact the Bay Area is not exactly a hotbed of college football.)
The game was a competitive disaster, borderline unwatchable in the first half, as Oregon didn’t play very well, yet took a 23-0 halftime lead. The Ducks had 11 first-half penalties and Marcus Mariota was off. He would pick it up after halftime.
But Arizona was dreadful, getting only three first downs before intermission and 36 yards. Quarterback Anu Solomon eventually was replaced because of a bad ankle by first Jesse Scroggins and then Jerrard Randall. Solomon wasn’t sharp, clearly, but how much of Arizona’s offensive problems could be laid on him is hard to pinpoint. It’s safe to say this was going to be Oregon’s night regardless, as the Ducks wiped away the memory of two straight losses to the Wildcats.
Now the key question for the entire league, and especially Arizona, is: How far do the Wildcats, No. 7 this week, fall in the college football rankings? If they stay in the top 12, they become part of the so-called New Year’s Six — playing in one of the playoff-host bowls that aren’t hosting this year — very likely the Fiesta. If they fall from the top 12, they drop into competition with three other Pac-12 South teams (ASU, UCLA, USC) for the Alamo Bowl. And if that happens, everybody in the Pac-12 bowl pecking order gets pushed down a slot.
The committee couldn’t have been very impressed with Arizona’s performance. A competitive loss would have virtually ensured a top-12 finish. The good news for Arizona, you could say, is twofold: Since the regular season has ended, there isn’t the natural push upward of teams in the mid-teens area that you might see during the season. And second, teams like Kansas State (No. 9), Georgia Tech (11) and Wisconsin (13) are playing and offer opportunities for fallback (although Wisconsin is favored over Ohio State).
The extra spot in the New Year’s Six, much like a second spot in the old BCS, is worth an extra $4 million to the league, to be distributed partly among the membership.
A few thoughts on the Fox telecast:
— I’m not a big fan of the introductory sound effects and glitz associated with Fox, but it’s to be expected that the network makes this more than a mere football game.
— Tim Brando and Joel Klatt did a generally workmanlike job, although Brando in the first half called Oregon kicker Aidan Schneider “Alden.” Later, Brando identified Oregon safety Erick Dargan as being from Pittsburgh, Pa., when he’s actually from Pittsburg, Calif.
— And — pet peeve alert here — what’s up with the guy bellowing over the stadium PA about an Arizona “alumni” military man representing the Wildcats, and Oregon “alumni” Ahmad Rashad representing Oregon? The correct word is “alumnus” or “alum,” and if you’re in a position of announcing to thousands of people, you ought to know that.