Welcome to the Hotline’s breakdown of the 2020 Pac-12 football schedule, version 3.0, which was unveiled this morning.
The inter-division matchups provided the primary source of drama for fans, so let’s jump into that piece first.
*** The crossover schedule.
Here are the North vs. South matchups …
Week Two: Cal at Arizona State, Colorado at Stanford
Week Three: UCLA at Oregon (Friday), Arizona at Washington
Week Five: Washington State at USC (Friday), Oregon State at Utah
You’ll notice that USC and Oregon, originally scheduled to collide in Eugene, aren’t squaring off in the seven-game model.
They happen to be preseason favorites in their respective divisions.
Clearly, the Pac-12 wanted to protect the top teams to increase the possibility of an undefeated champion and create the most attractive matchup for the title game.
Err … not quite.
The options for crossover matchups were framed by two principles:
1) The desire for each team to play three home and three road games, and
2) A strong aversion — on the part of the conference office and the schools — to changing the location of the division games.
Had the location of intra-division games been flipped, the Pac-12 would have been forced adjust next year’s schedule … or teams would have played in the same location three years in a row.
Oregon is supposed to play WSU in Pullman this year.
If that game had been moved to Eugene in order to free up the Ducks to play USC on the road — all while maintaining the three home/three road structure — then the Oregon-WSU series would have been in Eugene three years in a row (2019-21).
Or the conference would have been forced to change the location of next year’s matchup.
“At the end of the day, there were two charges,” Merton Hanks, the senior associate commissioner for football operations, told the Hotline on Saturday morning.
“We wanted to produce a schedule that was compelling for our fans and network partners and grab the attention for the CFP committee quickly.
“And we wanted to protect the 2021 season and not upset the balance.”
The following teams have only two division games at home this fall and therefore needed to host their crossover matchup: Oregon, Washington, Stanford, USC, Utah and Arizona State.
Oregon-USC wasn’t going to work, either in L.A. or Eugene.
*** The 9 a.m. kickoffs
There is one scheduled thus far: Arizona State at USC, on Nov. 7.
That’s right: The first game of the Pac-12 season — featuring two South contenders and the top returning quarterbacks in the conference (USC’s Kedon Slovis and ASU’s Jayden Daniels) — will start at 12 p.m. ET on the FOX broadcast network, as part of the Big Noon package.
(Smart move by the conference, which will be desperate for exposure after joining the party two weeks later than the Big Ten.)
“That’s a tough game to make on Week One,” Hanks said. “It’s great exposure, but the two institutions stepped to the plate and said, ‘We’ll take it on.”’
Additional 9 a.m. games have not been ruled out, according to a source.
*** About the Pac-12 Networks …
ESPN and Fox will broadcast every game for the first six weeks, plus the conference championship on Dec. 18 (FOX).
“One of our priorities was exposure,” said a conference source familiar with the scheduling process. “To ensure all 36 games (through six weeks) were on ESPN and Fox was too good to pass up.”
That leaves zero games for the Pac-12 Networks, at least until Dec. 19 (Week Seven), when there will be a full lineup of games not involving the division champions.
The Pac-12 Networks will have a heavy load of basketball games starting Nov. 25, although the conference hasn’t ruled out a football game or two on the P12Nets on the final weekend.
The TV assignments for Dec. 19 have not been finalized.
*** The TV selections
Kickoff times will be announced in-season, with ESPN and Fox once again using both 12- and six-day selection options.
They have four of the latter (two each), according to a conference source.
Because of the week-to-week uncertainty — the potential for games to be postponed/canceled — we assume the networks will treat the six-day options as gold.
However, the conference is expected to push for marquee games to be set 12 days in advance, an approach it has taken (with mixed success) in the past.
*** Need for balance
Each team has one home game and one road game in the first two weeks, which Hanks attributed to a collective desire to ensure rest for the players.
The conference was also mindful of competitive balance across the six weeks.
“We didn’t want to backload or frontload the schedule,” Hanks said. “We have what are perceived as big games … scattered through as evenly as possible.”
For instance …
Week One: ASU at USC
Week Six: Oregon at Washington
In addition, the rivalry games have been grouped into two weekends: The North games are Week Four, while South games are Week Six.
All rivalry games except USC-UCLA are on Friday nights.
*** Rules of engagement
Two questions remain unanswered:
How will teams report positive Covid-19 cases to the conference office and their opponent on a weekly basis?
How many healthy players will be required for competition?
Hanks said both issues are being assessed by the athletic directors and the medical advisors, with protocols expected to be announced in coming weeks.