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Washington vs Auburn Preview: the weight of conference expectations

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“Mike Leach, David Shaw and Chip Kelly walk into a bar…”

Ok. I’ll stop there. You can imagine the punchline that is to follow. To most of the college football watching world, it likely falls into one of the following themes:

a) … and they didn’t make the Playoff

b) … and they lost in the Pink Carnation Bowl

c) … and they still couldn’t get into the SEC

d) … who?

It’s no secret that the PAC 12 conference has fallen on hard times. Whether we are talking about declining value in media contracts or performance on the field, the Conference of Champions looks more like the Conference of Chumps in the eyes of the nation. Consider the evidence:

  1. a PAC team hasn’t won a national championship in 14 seasons – the longest stretch of a Power 5 conference
  2. the PAC is tied with the BIG 12 with the fewest total playoff appearances of any Power 5 conference (2)
  3. the PAC’s 2017 season bowl record (1-8) was the worst by any Power 5 conference in history
  4. the PAC is currently fourth out of the five Power 5 in per school media contract payouts, but is expected to fall to the fifth once the ACC launches its TV network

Given all of this backdrop, is it surprising that the world is looking for a PAC 12 savior?

For better or for worse, Chris Petersen and the Huskies seem to be the bearer of the standard when it comes to rescuing the PAC 12 from the precipice of perpetual mediocrity. Their opportunity to save the conference begins one week from today.

When the Huskies travel to SEC country to take on the Auburn Tigers, the college football world will be tuning in. Not only is it the only match-up of top ten teams in what is the official opening weekend of the season, but it is the one game on the docket with significant College Football Playoff implications. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Huskies would have a 51% chance at finishing in the top four of their “strength of record” metric should they win in Atlanta. In a world where CFP hopefuls are competing for just two spots in any given season (after Alabama and Clemson take their god-given playoff berths every year), “51%” is a favorable position to be sure.

That a PAC 12 team has to go through an SEC team in order to earn that favorable position is not a trivial detail in this equation.

As such, hyperbolic media members have labeled this not only a must-win for UW but a must-win for the conference. This, of course, is a canard. Whether or not UW beats Auburn, there will be no tangible consequence flowing back to the conference as a whole. The odds of a PAC 12 team not named Washington making the College Football Playoff will not materially appreciate. A windfall of cash will not magically be infused into Larry Scott’s coffers. A tsunami of east coast talent isn’t going to all of a sudden find itself taking previously unplanned official visits to any number of west coast schools.


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