It isn't a surprise that the Pac-Ten has once again rejected the possibility of expanding into Utah. They've been fairly consistent in their wanting to keep the ten-team structure. Unfortunately, whether they want to admit it or not, that structure continues to cost the conference in both national success and perceived standing.
The problem with the Pac-Ten is that not many programs recently have been able to carry their own weight. Instead, the perception around the nation is that the conference is USC and Those Other Guys. That works for USC, to an extent, but how much does that actually benefit the conference? I think if you look at the past few seasons, you'll see the answer is not much.
It doesn't help because the other Pac-Ten programs outside of USC just don't have the clout at the national table to bring the needed respectability to the conference. So when the Trojans do lose a game, they're instantly removed from the national championship picture, even though an SEC or Big 12 team is still well-positioned after their first loss.
We saw first-hand last season at just how big of a disadvantage a program like USC is when fighting other one-loss teams for a spot in the national championship game. Right now, whether the Pac-Ten schools really want to admit it, their conference is no more respected on the national stage than the Big East and ACC.
Much of this has to do with the fact that there has not been a consistent second team in the Pac-Ten since the Trojans began their dominating run in 2002.
It's true programs like Cal, Oregon and Oregon State have been able to rattle off a few 10-win seasons, but their inability to really push beyond that and contend for a championship themselves really has hindered the entire conference. Because of this, when USC does lose to a conference foe, they take a harder hit than if Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and even Ohio State would when they lose in conference play.
So what does this have to do with Utah and possible Pac-Ten expansion?
Well one way to undo a negative perception is by changing that perception. The Pac-Ten needs more talent at the top to really balance out the struggles of Washington State, Stanford and the Arizona schools. Frankly, right now, there just isn't enough outside of USC to really elevate the conference.
Of course, I understand it isn't that easy. I get that the Pac-Ten doesn't feel expanding is viable at this point and I don't like pimping the Utah program out knowing full well most Pac-Ten fans don't want them in their conference. It's a harsh reality and I get it. I get that that they would easily rebuke my claim by pointing to the fact that the conference is extremely rife with parity and bringing Utah into the fold would only add to it. It's something I actually agree with. Outside of USC, there is extreme balance between the likes of Cal, Oregon and Oregon State. But I think that speaks more for the current state of each program than the future prospects of the Pac-Ten.
On a whole, I do believe the Utah football program is well positioned to succeed at a higher level. The transition might take a couple of years, but in a half-decade, it's not hard for me to see the Utes as a consistent threat to USC. Now let me make this clear, I am not suggesting Utah could dethrone the Trojans, but I do believe they would be well suited to contend for an undefeated season and a national championship. The last time a team not named USC did that in the Pac-Ten late into the year was Oregon in 2001, quite a while ago.
I guess what gets me the most is that the Pac-Ten, specifically the Trojans, make a big stink about constantly being marginalized by the other BCS conferences and yet they don't seem to want to do anything about it. Instead, they expect those other conferences to change, conforming more to what they've established and it just isn't going to happen.
The lack of a conference championship really hinders the conference when it comes to laying a foundation for a national championship berth. Now the Trojans do face UCLA during the first week of December -- generally around the time of the SEC championship game, however, that doesn't really get to the root of the problem. The SEC championship acts as a thirteenth game for a team that might be in line for the championship. Their opponent also is generally higher rated and more respected than the current Bruin program. Now obviously USC can instantly boost its stock if their crosstown rival becomes good again, but that still doesn't account for losing an extra game. And whether they want to believe it or not, 13-0 or 12-1 looks better than 12-0 or 11-1.
If the Pac-Ten is realistic about reshaping its image, and who knows, maybe they're not, then they're going to have to address the possibility of expansion. An expansion that includes Utah will instantly bring a program that already could outperform Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State and dare I say both Oregon schools. That most certainly would bolster their standing nationally and provide true competition for the Trojans, who are sinking in the pool of perception under their current structure.