Last Saturday Stanford rolled over UCLA 35-17 at the Rose Bowl and in the process, grabbed a share of the Pac-12 North's division crown with Oregon.
According to an official Pac-12 email, "By virtue of its 17-14 overtime win last Saturday in head-to-head competition with Oregon, Stanford earned the tie-breaker and will represent the North Division. As the team with the best conference record, Stanford will host this year’s Pac-12 Football Championship Game at Stanford Stadium."
The Pac-12 Championship will be held this Friday at 8 p.m. ET and be televised by FOX. Six days after the two teams played each other the first time, they're going at it again.
Already the boo birds are out and in full force: Twice in one week? How is this fair?
If we're going to be honest, conference championships in general aren't "fair." Designed to pit the two best teams against each other, the two-division conference is really just about making more cash. If the Pac-12 wanted the two best teams in the conference to play for the title, wouldn't those two teams be Oregon and Stanford?
The problem with conference championships is simple: Most of the time, the two best teams aren't playing for the crown.
This year the SEC and the MAC have the right participants—the Pac-12, Big Ten (due to ineligible teams) and the ACC do not. Case in point: Florida State and Clemson are the two best teams in the ACC—both have a 10-2 record—but both play in the Atlantic and thus, Florida State will be playing Georgia Tech (6-6) in the ACC Championship.
The fact remains that a conference championship is not about pitting the two best teams against each other. It's about placing emphasis on a division competition rather than the actual cumulative work of one team in an entire conference.
Who wins the Pac-12?
But playing the same team twice within a week?
Yeah, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth for several reasons, the biggest is perhaps this: How difficult is it to beat the same team twice in one season, much less in one week?
LSU couldn't do it last year against Alabama. Neither could Michigan State against Wisconsin. But Clemson did beat Virginia Tech twice last year.
It's difficult, but not impossible.
UCLA now has the blueprint for Stanford's game plan and head coach Jim Mora can focus on fixing things that the Bruins failed to do in the first go-around. But if you're Stanford, do you change anything as well? Why fix something that isn't broken? And that's the problem for Stanford—UCLA knows what Stanford will do but Stanford doesn't know what UCLA will do.
Maybe it won't matter.
If fans hate the whole idea of "Game of the Century I" and "Game of the Century II" then they might as well put their pom poms away for the playoffs coming their way in 2014. Granted, it's only a four-team playoff but consider this: If the playoffs were held today, Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia and Florida would all be in. Georgia and Florida play each other every year so the possibility of a "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party II" certainly is in play.
But Florida and Georgia also didn't play each other in the last week of the regular season—they played in late October. And therein lies the secret to getting around this whole "flaw" in the system: Play one of your non-conference games or an in-division team at the end of the season like many of the SEC Big Boys do.
This year in the SEC, only two teams from different SEC divisions played each other in the final week of the regular season: Missouri (East) and Texas A&M (West). The rest of the SEC teams either played a division or a non-conference foe. You can't play a division foe or non-conference foe in a conference championship—you play a cross-division foe.
Voila! An SEC two-fer in one week has been solved.
The system isn't flawed.
The Pac-12 just hasn't caught up with the SEC on how to tweak the system.