Mailbag: Pac-12 downturn in football, hoops; USC vs. Los Angeles Rams

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the questions!

Robert writes: It's March. So I've been thinking about Pac-12 basketball, but also the larger issue of Pac-12 success in the two major revenue sports, and things are not good in the West. [Thursday] the Pac-12 went 1-3 in the NCAA tournament, with flagship program Arizona getting walloped and flagship program UCLA watching from home, buried at the bottom of the conference standings. A Pac-12 program hasn't won the NCAA Championship since Arizona did it in 1997, and hasn't been to the Final Four since 2008. A Pac-12 football program last won a national title in 2004, and last year the Pac-12 was left out altogether of the College Football Playoff. True, Oregon was in the finals as recently as two seasons ago and Stanford dominated the Rose Bowl, but no titles. Every other Power 5 conference has won championships in basketball and football since a Pac-12 school last won. So what is going on here? Can the conference turn it around? Will the Pac-12 ever win another championship in either sport again??? (And also, do you think this is what Sean Miller was thinking about when he was sweating so much last night?)

Ted Miller: Miller's shirt was pretty difficult to ignore, and your point is strong about the Pac-12.

It's a historical fact that every other Power 5 conference has won a basketball and football national title since the Pac-12 last won one. It doesn't really help much that UCLA was in three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, nor does it help that the Pac-12 played for national football titles in 2005, 2010 and 2014. Even if the sample size is fairly small, bottom lines are bottom lines, and the Pac-12/10 hasn't closed the deal.

The explanation for the failures is different for each sport, in large part because of the way national titles are handed out. In basketball, there's no question the Pac-12/10 has struggled over the past decade. The tournament format, while obviously diminishing the value of the regular season, offers up multiple opportunities each season for a conference team to win the title. So that big "Nope" is etched in granite.

Football is a bit different. If the College Football Playoff began in 2000, the Pac-10/12 would have won more titles, particularly USC under Pete Carroll. The most obvious year would be 2008, when few would even argue that the Trojans weren't the nation's most talented team. The BCS was an extremely subjective system, and it never did the Pac-10/12 any favors. The CFP is subjective too, but including four teams increases the opportunities and dilutes the subjectivity somewhat.

Further, college football likely would have been different if the Trojans weren't so unfairly hammered by the NCAA after the Reggie Bush imbroglio.

Still, just about any defense of the Pac-12/10 comes off as whiny, particularly when SEC fans can just wordlessly point to their trophy cases.

So can the conference turn it around? Sure. These things go in cycles. Recall that a few years ago folks were talking about the Big Ten like it was an FCS league. And who would have thought Baylor and TCU would lead the Big 12? Or that Clemson would stop Clemsoning?

For one, USC is no longer laboring under sanctions. The Trojans could immediately transform the national narrative if they beat Alabama on Sept. 3.

Oscar writes: With the Rams back in LA does that add pressure to USC to win or does it do the opposite?

Ted Miller: USC won five national titles while the Rams were in town, so peaceful and fruitful coexistence is possible.

There is always pressure at USC to win. Even when it labored under NCAA sanctions, there is only so much wiggle room for Trojans coaches. If USC goes 8-4 this fall, hot-seat talk will begin for first-year coach Clay Helton, particularly when a new athletic director gets hired. That will have nothing to do with the Rams.

While LA football fans might be excited about the return of the NFL, that won't significantly dilute the dedication of Trojans fans. Or UCLA fans for that matter. If USC is winning, the Coliseum will again be packed with 90,000-plus on Saturdays. If the Trojans are losing, that energy and enthusiasm will transform into grousing and debating about the administration of the program, not a divorce and remarriage with the Rams.

While there is undoubtedly competition for people's entertainment dollars -- particularly with how expensive big-time sports events have become -- there are 19 million pairs of eyeballs in the greater LA area. They will seek out teams that win, and that's no different now than it was in the 1990s when the Trojans and the Rams both played in LA.

Jobu from Parts Unknown writes: Oh, almighty Ted (am I making progress?), I need your wisdom (Ha! You always fall for that one!) Longtime reader, first-time writer. OK, not true either. I've written you a lot and CONFESSION I've sent you fake notes acting like a fan of one team so that team would look bad and you've answered a few times. But enough about me! What I am curious about is your mailbag pet peeves because when I've sent in serious questions, they get ignored but when I insult you OR! tell you you are great they don't. What do your loyal (and disloyal!) readers need to do to get your attention and also what do we do to get ignored. I'll hang up now and listen.

Ted Miller: The squeaky wheel gets the grease, eh?

The biggest deterrent for mailbag inclusion is length. If you send me 500 words (or more, Cal fans), it isn't going to get included. The odd thing about that is I often can edit angry diatribes down to a reasonable length if I believe they will provide entertainment value. But the more well-reasoned notes are typically difficult to cut. For example, Thomas this week sent me an interesting note about Pac-12 football coaching hires -- he was unhappy with them -- but it was WAY too long and I couldn't figure out how to cut it down to a reasonable length.

I also tend to take a pass on perfectly reasonable observations that aren't really questions, notes that don't provide me much of an entry point beyond "Good point."

I admit to having a weakness for angry buffoonery because I know the more reasonable of you will find it amusing. I particularly like folks who tell me to "get my facts straight" and then rant and rave in a purely subjective way without providing any real counter to "facts" I wrote that they dispute.

And, Jobu -- you jaunty guy -- I think I have now figured out who you are. As Francis said in "Stripes," "You just made the list."