LOS ANGELES — The Pac-12 pushed for legislation allowing conference title games to be played without requiring divisions, and it was the first conference to take advantage of it, deciding to have the two teams with the best records this season play against one another in Las Vegas on Dec. 2.
However, it has yet to outline the exact rules that will determine what happens if multiple teams have the same record. Merton Hanks, the Pac-12’s senior associate commissioner overseeing football, said the forthcoming criteria will be exclusively based on conference results, a boon for teams like Utah and Oregon that play notable nonconference games.
“It was very important to our coaches, our administrators, our working unit that the conference decide who the best teams are, not other factors, so those will be reflected in the tiebreakers,” Hanks said.
While Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy went out of his way to bury the rivalry with Oklahoma, declaring at Big 12 media days that “Bedlam’s history” as soon as the Sooners and Texas depart for the SEC, Stanford coach David Shaw sounded a more hopeful note that the Cardinal’s long-standing series with Southern California and UCLA could continue.
“Selfishly being a Stanford alum, a lot of great games between Stanford and UCLA and USC. As I said earlier, my hope is we continue to play those two programs even if they are out-of-conference games,” Shaw said.
Stanford and USC have played 100 times, with the gridiron strife between the two private schools interrupted just once since 1923. The Cardinal and Bruins have played 93 times.
Utah QB Cam Rising spent all his time coming into the 2020 and 2021 seasons battling for the starting spot. After coming off the bench to propel the Utes to their first Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance last season, Rising didn’t have to worry about locking anything down this year, though it never changed his mindset.
“No, I still feel like I have to go out there and improve myself each and every day,” Rising said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s my job. It just means that I’ll probably be getting more one reps, and that’s just the way it is.”
Rising threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns against five interceptions in 13 games as a sophomore. He expects to be even better nearly two years removed from shoulder surgery following a season-ending injury at the beginning of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
“Getting my arm strength back so I can have the deep ball be more efficient and effective for us, and that was my main focus,” he said.
The Ducks are still reeling from the death of tight end Spencer Webb, who fell and struck his head on rock slides at a popular swimming lake near Eugene, Oregon, this month. Offensive lineman Alex Forsyth said the team hopes to use the memory of Webb, a popular teammate whose outgoing personality carried over to wider popularity on social media, to inspire them.
“Spencer’s enthusiasm in life and in football was unlike anything I’ve seen,” Forsyth said. “He was friends with everybody on the team. He didn’t care who you were, where you were from, what year you were, he was gonna reach out and learn your story and make sure you knew his. He was just a special kid and the best way we can do it is just finding a way to honor him during this season, dedicating everything we do for him. And we all got to strive to live like Spencer and live every day to the fullest.”