The Hotline has chronicled, at every possible instance, quirks in the 2017 football schedule that have either created competitive advantages/disadvantages that extend beyond what could be considered typical during the course of the season -- and do not exist in other conferences.
The primary instances have featured teams playing Saturday road games followed by Friday road games, or playing road games against teams coming off a bye.
This column addresses another aspect of the conference schedule, which is not only odd unto itself but also a competitive issue and player-welfare matter. (The trifecta!)
You'll notice that Cal and Oregon are idle this week -- their first byes of the season.
And you'll notice that Colorado and Washington State are idle next weekend -- their first byes of the season.
And USC has no byes (although that means the Trojans end earlier and would have an extra week to prepare for the championship game if they advance).
All in all, almost half the teams played into November without a break:
* 10 in a row for the Bears and Ducks.
* 11 in a row for the Buffaloes and Cougars.
* 12 in a row for the Trojans.
The Hotline called upon its crack research staff and determined that it's the largest number, by far, of teams with no September/October byes since the conference expanded to 12.
(Note: I excluded two instances in which Colorado had no byes because it opted for a 13-game regular season (made possible by the Hawaii exemption and the transition to the Pac-12.)
Number of teams playing consecutively from Week One into November:
2012: 1 (Cal: no byes)
2015: 1 (Arizona: no byes)
2016: 2 (Arizona State and Utah)
2017: 5 (Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State and USC, which has no byes)
More this season than the previous six years combined.
Key point: The conference is fully aware of the issues with the schedule this season.
It doesn't want teams to play 10 or 11 (or 12) consecutive weeks ... just like it understands the difficulty posed (on the competitive and welfare fronts) by the road-Saturday/road-Friday back-to-back.
But for a variety of reasons, including the TV contracts that allow for the Thursday and Friday games, the Pac-12 has gotten locked into difficult situations that affect the on-field product and the conference's ability to bowl and playoff position.
Guess how many SEC schools have played 10 or more consecutive weeks this season (i.e., into November without a bye)? Zero.
Guess how many Big Ten schools have done it? Zero.
In addition to the welfare issues for players, the long bye-less stretches have created three situations in which teams have a week off prior to the rivalry game:
Cal is off this week, then plays Stanford on the 18th.
Colorado and Washington State are off next week, then play Utah and Washington, respectively, on the 25th.
Guess how many teams in the Big Ten have byes before rivalry games? Zero.
In the SEC, there are two major mid-season rivalry games: Alabama-LSU and Florida-Georgia. In each case, both participants were idle the week before the game -- no advantage either way.
That's how you do it, but the Pac-12 doesn't have the flexibility.
The situation needs to change, and the Hotline has an idea (naturally). That topic will be addressed in the next installment of this informal series.
Now, for the weekend ahead ...
Best matchup: Stanford TB Bryce Love vs. Washington's defense.
This is as good as it gets from a player vs. unit perspective: The nation's No. 1 rusher (182 ypg) vs. the nation's No. 1 defense (240.9 ypg). Love is good for at least one long run per game, and we have no doubt that he'll get one Friday night. But how many times will he gain six, eight or 10 yards, or will it be all-or-nothing, as it was last weekend in Pullman? His Heisman Trophy hopes depend as much on the churn rate as the breakout runs.
Biggest letdown: USC at Colorado.
This looked like a marquee game when the schedule was released, but Colorado's struggles and USC's dominance of the South have greatly reduced the stakes. CU doesn't need a win to reach the postseason (although it would help), and the Trojans don't need a win to clinch the South (although it would serve that purpose). It's worth watching, sure, but not worth circling.
Sneaky significance: Washington State at Utah.
The secondary ticket market for the Apple Cup will be monitoring. If the Cougars win, the North division is guaranteed to be at stake in Seattle on Nov. 25: WSU would be in full control of its destiny, and the same, possibly, for Washington. But if the Cougars lose this weekend and Stanford beats UW, the Apple Cup might not have the division at stake. In that case, division control would shift to Stanford and Big Game.
Last stand I: UCLA.
Stumble against Arizona State, and the Bruins (4-5) would lose their last sliver of margin for error: Two games to win two games. That, of course, would place their fate -- and perhaps coach Jim Mora's future -- on the line in the Coliseum on Nov. 18. (And they would need to handle Cal, which is hardly a gimme.)
Last stand II: Khalil Tate.
Arizona's wondrous sophomore quarterback is back on ESPN (ESPN2, actually), so he'll have the exposure to make one last case to Heisman Trophy voters. Tate's prospects for winning are ultra slim, if non-existent. But he remains viable as a finalist. In order to reach New York for the ceremony, he needs a huge game Saturday night. (If you're wondering about competition for eyeballs Saturday night, there isn't any: Neither ESPN or FS1 has a night football broadcast.)
Upset special: Stanford over Washington.
This was the Hotline's upset pick back in August -- I projected it to be the Huskies' lone loss -- and I'm sticking with it, partly because it seems less likely now with Stanford's regression. This is the time of year for the unexpected, particularly when the favorite is on the road on a short week and the underdog is at home, desperate, and stocked with big-game experience.
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