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Old myths in college football never die
Richard Linde, 3 January 2007

Old myths in college football never die; they just fade away -- for one season.

There are a number of unfounded beliefs in college football that get perpetuated each season depending on how the season plays out.

There are as many myths in college football as there are parallel universes in M-theory. Are sportswriters as whimsical as theoretical physicists, who seem to invent extra dimensions on the fly to make the mathematics of a non-testable theory work on paper?

Sports-wise, one of the oft-propagated theories concerns the Pac-10. Over the years, we have been told that the Pac-10 is the weakest of the BCS conferences, or one of the weakest.

Falsehood (n; where n=1...infinity): The Pac-10 is made up of kids who surf at the beaches, go to Disneyland and spend their idle time in LaLa land. It is a soft, pass-happy conference that can’t run the ball or play solid defense.

This canard dug in its roots more than fifty years ago when the old Pacific Coast Conference went 1-12 against the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl in games played from 1947 through 1959. And when the Pac-10 went 16-2 against the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl in the period from 1970-1987, it was called pass happy. Forget about “Tailback U” and student body right.

And the cherished myth is still alive today, much like Stephen Hawking's sudden reliance on infinite universes to disprove his own paradox about black holes and lost information. 

After Hawaii, Brigham Young, and Florida State beat up on Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA, respectively, in the conference’s first three bowl games, the eastern mafia was propagating that old shibboleth ("soft") on television, on the Internet, and in the print press again.  Forget that Oregon State had beaten Hawaii and that Arizona had beaten BYU during the regular season. UCLA’s loss to the Seminoles had fluke written all over it, considering the give-away that took place.

After those bowl losses, Seattle Times reporter Bob Condotta (photo above) wrote in his blog (“Sorry Pac-10), “It's looking like the Pac-10 was as bad as a lot of people thought it was as the conference is getting crushed in bowl games like a Joel Pineiro fast ball.”

Condotta’s simile was an old canard with a new spin -- a fastball with plenty of backspin, that is.

Don’t get me wrong, Condotta isn’t a member of the eastern mafia; he’s a west coast reporter who does his job impartially. He’d much rather write about Washington when it’s winning rather than when it’s losing.

But who are the people who thought the Pac-10 was so bad?

Answer: the guys in the media, particularly those who have an east coast bias.

Case in point: During California’s game with Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl, the TV analysts, at least in the early part of the game, were all over the Pac-10’s case. Their producers pasted the results of the three aforementioned bowl games over the live feed and kept it pasted there for what seemed to be an eternity, talking about the bowl losses ad nauseam in the spirit of the old canard.

They talked about the toughness and physicality of the Big 12 Conference, implying that Pac-10 is made up of 90-pound weaklings whose undernourished sinews need some dynamic tension.

I have got news for those TV guys, the Pac-10 owns the Big 12.

Cal ended up thrashing the Aggies, 45-10, in what turned out to be a physical beating, along with a few contributions donated by some gifted playmakers.

Earlier in the season, USC beat up on Nebraska, which played in the Cotton Bowl, Oregon beat Oklahoma, which went to the Fiesta Bowl and, lastly, Oregon State beat Missouri in the Sun Bowl. Arizona State also posted a win over Colorado this past season. (*)

During the regular season, USC also thrashed two other bowl teams, Arkansas and Notre Dame, and dominated number-3 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Over the past two years, the Trojans have made Arkansas, out of the South Eastern Conference, look like a high school team, with a 70-17 victory in 2005 and a 50-14 win at Fayetteville in 2006.

The media repeatedly tells us that the South Eastern Conference is the strongest conference in college football, which in my opinion, is another canard.

Referring to the Pac-10’s strength as a conference, Coach Pete Carroll says it best, this in another blog entry by Condotta, which was posted after ‘SC’s victory in the Rose Bowl.

“’We obviously had harder games in our conference than out of the conference,'’ (Carroll) said, alluding to the fact that USC lost to Oregon State and UCLA but beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, Arkansas and Michigan with relative ease. ‘I think our conference is a fantastic conference. I was shocked that we dropped a couple of games in the bowl season as it started up.

"’I think we're so strong. The speed in this conference, the skill positions, players that we play week in and week out, are the best we see no matter who we go against. And when we play all those schemes that our coaches in this conference put forth, the problems and the challenges as we go against them, it's the best that we see.’”

No team in the Division I-A football could go unbeaten playing a 9-game Pac-10 schedule, in my opinion, not even unbeaten Boise State. Boise State’s win over Oklahoma proves the fact that there is a lot of parity in college football.

There is probably more parity among teams in the Pac-10 than in any other conference. That’s why USC lost to UCLA in its last game of the regular season. Its loss shouldn’t have surprised anyone. USC had just come off three punishing games in a row, against Oregon, California and Notre Dame, while UCLA was playing at home after two weeks' rest.

So has the old canard about the Pac-10 being soft been laid to rest? You bet your bippy it hasn’t. If Pac-10 teams lose some tough out-of-conference games next season, the old "soft-conference" falsehood will be fit as a fiddle and roosting in the sports media’s house of myths, as if this past season had never happened.


(*) Oklahoma beat Washington during the regular season and Oregon's win over the Sooners ended controversially.

In the photo above, Condotta is interviewing Khalif Barnes at Washington's Olympia training camp.


Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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