Not much is happening in college football these days.
Besides USC and UCLA’s agreement to trade the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024, further destabilizing the sport and leaving several conferences on the edge of extinction, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about.
But — we trust you can smell the sarcasm — let’s open another UW football mailbag anyway.
Let’s begin with a critical caveat: This answer is changing by the day, and sometimes by the hour.
But on Wednesday, July 13, at 10:13 a.m. … I believe UW will be in the Pac-12 (or 10, or 14) in 2024.
That scenario is largely dependent on ESPN. The Pac-12 announced last Tuesday that it would immediately launch negotiations for the conference’s next media rights agreement, set to begin in 2024. Given that ESPN and Fox are the Pac-12’s existing partners, they are granted an exclusive 30-day window to present bids and arrive at an agreement, before the Pac-12’s rights reach the open market.
The general consensus is that Fox — which owns the Big Ten, and played a significant role in USC and UCLA’s Pac-12 departure — will therefore have little interest in submitting a bid.
Which leaves ESPN to make an offer that would satisfy the 10 remaining members and keep the conference afloat … or lob a lowball, which could cause Pac-12 programs to search for $unnier $hore$.
In Scenario A, an acceptable offer might also include a loose partnership with the ACC, allowing ESPN to fold Pac-12 programming into the ACC Network and thus increase prospective revenue for both schools. It could feature annual non-conference football and basketball match ups between the Pac-12 and the ACC, or a champion vs. champion football game in Las Vegas.
A semblance of Pac-12 stability could also cause the conference to expand, though any potential members might be required to accept a partial share of television revenue for the move to make financial sense. San Diego State and SMU are intriguing mid-major options, given their locations and media markets.
Or, heck, the Pac-12 could even merge (in a more unlikely move) with the Big 12 Conference — creating a super league that dwarfs the ACC for No. 3 status nationwide.
Of course, for any of this to work, Washington and Oregon must be onboard … and it might take unequal revenue sharing across the conference to accomplish that. UW and Oregon would also likely prefer a short-term deal that leaves the door open for an eventual move to the Big Ten or SEC.
When it comes to closing the seismic revenue gap between the Pac-12 and college football’s Two Towers, it’s time for commissioner George Kliavkoff to get creative … or the conference he oversees may buckle and sink into the sea.
Which brings us, of course, to Scenario B. Should ESPN’s offer be underwhelming, it’s conceivable that programs such as Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah could board a lifeboat for a suddenly stabilized Big 12. (Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said Wednesday that his conference is “open for business.”)
Assuming the Big Ten and SEC continue to stick with 16 teams, Washington and Oregon would then either A.) follow their former Pac-12 partners to the Big 12, B.) enter the ACC (and be subject to a grant of rights agreement that runs through 2036), or C.) plant a flag in the Pac-12’s rotting remains while waiting impatiently for a Big Ten/SEC rescue.
The Pac-12 should matter to ESPN. It provides access to West Coast television markets, games to fill late Saturday slots and inventory in basketball and other sports. But will it matter enough to warrant an offer that allows for Scenario A?
Not to sound dramatic, but the conference’s very survival depends on the answer.
To recap: Washington has 17 verbal commits in a 2023 class ranked 17th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 by 247Sports.com. Its most recent commit arrived on Tuesday, when three-star Moorhead, Minnesota, defensive lineman Elinneus Davis chose the Huskies over fellow finalists Minnesota and Iowa State.
Of that group, it’s possible a player or two could rethink their decision — as happens in most programs, in most signing cycles. But I don’t expect UW’s lack of conference clarity to cause this class to crumble down the stretch.
Realignment concerns could result in uncommitted recruits reevaluating their options. I’ll be interested to see how things play out with four-star defensive backs Jordan Sanford (Arlington, Texas) and Curley Reed (Lake Charles, Louisiana) — both of whom hail from SEC/Big 12 country, took official visits to UW on the weekend of June 24 and are considered Husky leans.
I’d imagine that programs outside of the Pac-12 recruiting against UW will enthusiastically remind recruits that the Huskies may be lacking a permanent home (and one that positions them for repeated playoff runs).
On Wednesday, the Pac-12 Hotline’s Jon Wilner reported that a source indicated that the Pac-12 could wait until the end of the 2022 football season before its fate is resolved.
“There is no rush,” the source reportedly said.
Except, perhaps, in recruiting.
Wait, what camp?
Oh, right: amid the realignment flurry, it’s easy to forget there will still be a Pac-12 football season this fall.
And as UW prepares for its debut season under Kalen DeBoer, here are lingering questions for the Huskies to answer, presented in order of comprehensive importance:
- Who will be Washington’s starting quarterback?
- Can a new scheme, an inexperienced defensive line and a transfer-heavy linebacker corps consistently stop the run?
- Will the Husky secondary suffer following the departures of Jimmy Lake and standout corners Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon?
- Who will emerge from UW’s running-back carousel? And how will they split the load?
- After earning rave reviews for a second consecutive spring, can UW’s pass rushers — Bralen Trice, Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Jeremiah Martin, Sav’ell Smalls and Co. — convert potential into production?
- Can a reshaped UW offensive line, led by sixth-year senior left tackle Jaxson Kirkland, rebound from a disastrous 2021 season?
- Will associate head coach, wide receivers coach and resident enthusiasm rocket JaMarcus Shephard go even one practice without yelling so loudly and consistently that he loses his voice?
As for your running-back question: in DeBoer’s eight seasons as an FBS head coach or offensive coordinator, only one of his players has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards — Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson, who accumulated 1,067 rushing yards with 5.2 yards per carry and 14 total touchdowns for a 1-11 team in 2015.
Still, I don’t see that as a cause for concern. Fresno State running backs Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims combined for an impressive 1,498 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry and 17 total touchdowns last fall. Plus, Rivers amassed 507 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and nine total scores in just six games in the pandemic-shorted 2020 season, putting him on pace for more than 1,000 yards in a full campaign.
Point being: Running backs can have success in DeBoer’s offensive system. It might just mean that multiple players will carry the load.
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