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Howell: Pac-12 did no favors for CU Buffs, USC

On standby all week, Colorado will not play this weekend

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Utah’s Cole Fotheringham hurdles Colorado’s Derrion Rakestraw on Saturday at Folsom Field. The Pac-12 played leapfrog with Colorado this season, failing to reward a team that had the second-best record in the conference.

On Friday, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will get to watch the conference’s two most marketable teams battle on national TV.

And, he sure does feel bad for Colorado.

All week, the Pac-12 asked the Buffaloes to stand by – just in case they were needed in Los Angeles.

They’re not needed, as South division champion Southern California (5-0, No. 13 in College Football Playoff rankings) will face North division runner-up Oregon (3-2) in Friday’s championship game at Los Angeles Coliseum. Both teams have passed COVID-19 testing throughout the week.

Meanwhile, the Buffs (4-1, No. 25 in CFP) will sit home off after spending the week being the Pac-12’s backup plan.

Sorry, CU, but thanks for understanding!

On Sunday, North champ Washington (3-1) was lined up to face USC for the title, with Oregon taking on CU. When COVID-19 issues caused Washington to back out, Oregon took the spot.

Left without an opponent, the Buffs – who have the second-best record in the conference – spent the week preparing to face Oregon and USC, just in case. CU went as far as sending its equipment truck halfway to L.A., making a possible last-minute trek to the Coliseum more manageable.

“I’m not really up to speed on the details of that or who is paying for what,” Scott, during a virtual press conference Thursday, said of the truck saga, “but I do have a lot of empathy for Colorado.

“Obviously a new coach, a lot of optimism, a lot of bright spots and a lot of frustration about having so many games canceled. I completely understand the frustration.”

He may understand, but not completely.

This is the third time CU has had a Pac-12 game canceled this season because of COVID-19 issues at other schools.

“Very unusual and challenging year,” Scott said when asked about the Buffs’ situation. “There hasn’t been a playbook for much of what we’ve had to deal with this season.”

Scott spoke of the conference having “flexibility and nimbleness” this year. Waiting until Thursday to give CU a final answer was part of that.

When games were canceled, the Pac-12 found ways to pair up healthy teams on short notice. When CU had two games canceled in a row because of COVID-19 issues with other teams, the Pac-12 changed its original plan of not permitting nonconference games; that allowed CU to face San Diego State, from the Mountain West, on Nov. 28.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Head Coach Karl Dorrell of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on while his team warms up prior to the start of an NCAA football game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

There was also flexibility in moving games into different time slots, or even different days, to accommodate teams getting through local health guidelines.

The Pac-12 wasn’t going to budge on the North vs. South title game, though, and when asked what he’d say to frustrated CU fans, Scott pushed flexibility and nimbleness aside.

“These are protocols that we all agreed were going to be followed,” he said. ”Early on, our schools believed that, in a year we were going to have a very truncated season and you might not even play all the teams in your division, that we needed to play a Pac-12 championship game and we would have replacement teams.”

There just apparently wasn’t flexibility to make sure the two best teams – based on record and rankings – got to play each other for the title.

“These were decisions made by the football experts in our league,” he said.

Scott then threw a subtle jab at the Buffs, who could have tried to line up a nonconference opponent this week rather than sit idle.

“Obviously Colorado chose to not take advantage of that, but they had the option,” Scott said.

Hey, Colorado, we need you to be ready to face Oregon – and maybe USC – but try to schedule another game and prepare for three different teams. And, if you don’t play, that’s your problem.

Meanwhile, Scott complained about USC’s spot in the CFP rankings. USC is one of four undefeated, Power 5 teams. The other three are among the top four and in good position for playing in the CFP semifinals. At No. 13, USC has no shot.

“We don’t think USC has gotten the respect they deserve,” Scott said. “The good news is they’re going to have a chance to showcase themselves in a Pac-12 championship game.  The committee has always said winning a championship in your conference is a very, very important data point.”

Collecting some Top 25 wins is important, too. USC is the only team in the CFP’s Top 20 that hasn’t defeated an Associated Press-ranked team this season. The Trojans haven’t even played a winning team, let alone one that’s ranked.

With some flexibility and nimbleness, the Pac-12 could have given USC a shot at a top-25 win last week by pairing the Trojans against the then-unbeaten Buffs. They could have done the same by matching those teams up this week.

“I certainly feel we’re doing everything we can to advocate for (USC),” Scott said.

Well, not everything.

In part, the Pac-12 will get what it wants Friday when its two highest-profile programs take the national stage, but the conference did itself no favors in seriously getting CFP attention.

The conference also did no favors to the Buffs, who have been healthy enough to play every week this season, yet now sit idle for a second time in five weeks.

But, hey, at least now the equipment truck can head back to Boulder.