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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, April 13, 2024
The Echo
Shedeur Sanders (Colorado Athletics).jpg

Don't cry because it's over - savor the Pac-12 before it’s gone

The conference is going out in style

“It’s a blackout, a packed house, and there’s no escape from the ferocious heat,” ESPN’s Dave Pasch said as Herm Edwards and the Arizona State University (ASU) Sun Devils prepared to storm onto the turf in Tempe.

This was September 2018, and ASU was welcoming a ranked Michigan State team to Sun Devil Stadium on a 100 degree night.

With many Americans snug in their beds, ASU kicker Brandon Ruiz booted a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Sun Devils a 16-13 win. It was Pac-12 After Dark at its finest. An unpredictable affair full of excitement, suspense and every other element that makes college football so special.

But signature Pac-12 games — and perhaps the conference itself — are on the verge of extinction.

Starting in 2024, UCLA, Oregon, USC and Washington will bolt for the Big 10. Arizona, ASU, Utah and Colorado will be battling in the Big 12. It was announced on Sept. 1 that the ACC would be plucking California and Stanford. At this time, only Washington State and Oregon State remain.

Conference realignment has changed the game and has left many schools scrambling to survive in the now ever-changing landscape of college sports — as far as the Power Five conferences are concerned, nobody has been hit harder than the Pac-12.

Soon, Huskies will be playing in Bloomington and Ducks will be flying into West Lafayette. Bearcats will travel to Tempe, Arizona and Jayhawks will be on the gridiron in Boulder.  

However, if this is the end of the Pac, then this season it looks prepared to go out with a bang. USC’s Caleb Williams is appointment viewing, as he looks to become just the second human to win two Heisman Trophies (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975).

“Yeah, we’re all excited to watch the magic man (Williams) do his thing,” ESPN college football analyst Pat McAfee said on an August edition of “College Gameday.” “They compare him to Patrick Mahomes. Anytime you’re getting that type of comparison you’re saying, ‘Wow, this dude, he is a dude.’ And he is just that.”

Williams didn’t waste any time establishing himself as a Heisman front-runner in USC’s season opener at the Coliseum on Aug. 26: The QB tossed for 278 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He followed up that performance by throwing for 319 yards and five touchdowns against Nevada.

And odds are Williams won’t be the only Pac-12 quarterback to put up eye-popping numbers. 

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix and Utah’s Cam Rising were also named to the 2023 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award Preseason Watch List. (The Davey O’Brien Award is presented annually to college football’s top QB.)

How about Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders? In his first FBS game, he threw for 510 yards — a school record — and four touchdowns en route to an upset victory over a ranked TCU in week 1.  

The conference is giving fans quite the finale before it dissolves.

“It’s the best the (Pac-12) has been in terms of football I would say in 20 years,” Braiden Bell, a professional play-by-play announcer based in Los Angeles, said. 

Bell graduated from ASU and covered both Sun Devil football and basketball during his time as a student.

As of this writing, the Conference of Champions is off to a 13-0 start in football. The last time the Pac-12 got off to that hot of a start was in 1938.

World War II started in 1939.

If Week 1 is a sign of things to come, then there might not be a more exciting conference in college football this year.

So, stay up later this season. Keep the TV on. And order an extra pizza for a late kickoff in Seattle or LA.

After all, sometimes the most magical moments on the gridiron happen after dark.