The last time the BCS Championship is awarded, it will happen in Pac-12 country. But in a finish to the 15 years of BCS football befitting the host conference’s fate, the Coaches Trophy will not go to a Pac-12 team.
In 16 BCS seasons, the Pac-12 played in all of three title games and won only USC’s 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
Whether it be the result of perceived league strength or missed opportunities, the BCS was not kind to Pac-12 teams with championship aspirations.
Based on the conference’s various near misses, the expansion of the sport’s championship round to include four teams instead of just two may not be a conference that benefits more from the beginning of the College Football Playoff than the Pac-12.
The quintessential example is USC in 2003, a team that opened the season with a 23-0 rout of Auburn in Jordan Hare Stadium.
USC was voted national champion by the Associated Press, forcing the only split in 16 years of the BCS with Championship Game-winner LSU.
"All I know is the powers that be selected us to be here," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said per The Los Angeles in January 2004. "They just gave us the national championship trophy. I don't know how you couldn't consider us national champions."
The "powers that be," whether media, coaches poll voters or computers, just didn't quite like the Pac-12. Over the course of the last 16 years, the Pac-12 earned fewer BCS Championship Game bids than the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, and as many as the Big Ten and former Big East.
|BCS Championships by Conference|
|Conference||BCSCG Appearances||BCS Championships|
|ACC||4 (1998, 1999, 2000, 2013)||1 (1999)|
|Big East||3 (1999, 2001, 2002)||1 (2001)|
|Big Ten||3 (2002, 2006, 2007)||1 (2002)|
|Big 12||7 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009)||2 (2000, 2005)|
|Pac-12||3 (2004, 2005, 2010)||1 (2004)|
|SEC||11 (1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 x2, 2012, 2013)||9 (1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)|
Before USC's snub in 2003 in favor of Big 12 title game loser Oklahoma, there was precedent for a Big 12 team that failed to win the conference playing for the BCS Championship ahead of the Pac-12 champion. Just two years earlier, Nebraska earned the privilege of being Miami's last victim despite losing in spectacular fashion to Colorado. The Buffaloes later lost the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon.
As the conference’s flag-bearer for much of the BCS era, though, USC accounted for the majority of the Pac-12’s BCS snubs. In 2007 and 2008, USC finished tied in the loss column with at least one of the two championship game participants.
Both seasons, an SEC team got the call while the Trojans went to the Rose Bowl.
The 2008 USC team may be the most egregious exclusion in BCS history. The Trojans boasted the nation's best defense and one of the stingiest units in college football history, and their sole setback was a Thursday night, early-season nailbiter at Oregon State.
Then-USC head coach Pete Carroll refused to politick after wrapping up the 2008 regular season, saying in a press conference he accepted the BCS system for what it was and had no alternative.
With the coming of the College Football Playoff, there is an alternative. But it's on the Pac-12 champion to seize the opportunity.
While USC was on the wrong end of national perception, the Pac-12 teams whiffed plenty, too. In the first year of the BCS, UCLA ran through its regular season slate undefeated, including a dominating win over a top-10 ranked Arizona team. But a hurricane pushed a non-conference date with Miami back to December, and on the regular season's final week, Edgerrin James and the Hurricanes blew away the Bruins' title dreams.
The Trojans also came up on the wrong end of a few perplexing losses that prevented them from punching their tickets to BCS title games—none more perplexing than the 2006 regular-season finale at UCLA.
Stanford, along with Oregon, picked up the mantle USC dropped after it was handed severe NCAA sanctions. At last summer's Pac-12 media day, Cardinal head coach David Shaw touted his team as a playoff team had the system existed in 2012.
Even in a system that invites four teams to play for the national championship, the Pac-12 champion cannot afford the confounding hiccups. To that end, Stanford would have been on the outside looking in in 2013, a campaign in which national pundits lauded the Pac-12 as one of the sport’s strongest conferences.
Because of two road losses, at Utah and USC, Stanford would have been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention. While a three-point defeat to a Top 25 team like USC is not too harsh of a blemish, Stanford’s 27-21 loss at Utah ostensibly scrapped the Cardinal’s championship resume.
There’s no telling how different the conference’s place in the national landscape might be had it won more championships. Perhaps the groundswell that landed a record nine teams in bowl games and another record five with at least 10 wins would have started earlier.
Regardless, the BCS is soon to be in the past, and the Pac-12 is starting the new playoff era on the right path.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.