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2021 Pac-12 Football Media Days: Takeaways from Kliavkoff and conference realignment

A critical competition point for the Conference going forward in 2021 and beyond

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 27 Pac-12 Media Day Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The hot topic in college football for the past weekend has been the Red River Rivalry moving to the SEC.

However, lost in the fold of the news that Texas and Oklahoma are finally going to exit the Big 12 — nearly a decade after Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri all left the sinking ship — was new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff laying out a clear vision for the conference on Tuesday.

The former sports and entertainment executive showed strength in the first public forum and delivered his expectations which emphasizes success in football and men’s basketball, the Pac-12’s “bread and butter.” Speaking before the mixed kickoff at Football’s media days, Kliavkoff’s tone centered around getting the conference back to the College Football Playoff and competing for a national championship. That hasn’t been accomplished in the modern playoff format.

“We will make all of our football-related decisions with the combined goals of optimizing CFP invitations and winning national championships,” Kliavkoff noted.

While only Oregon (2015) and Washington (2016) remain the only Pac-12 teams to make the CFB Playoff, the talks about expanding the field to a possible 12-team format gives Kliavkoff renewed optimism for a future conference champions to compete for a title shot and not get held back in favor of a team with a better overall record.

What will be critical for the Pac-12 is establishing a strong national presence along with at least one dominant team. In the early 2000’s, USC and Oregon were the schools pulling the conference into the national conversation. They didn’t just want to be involved in the process and it turned out to be a good era for Pac-12 football. Since the high point, the conference has fallen short of expectations consistently for the past 15 years.

One would ask how does the Pac-12 compete among the other Power Five conferences? Well, it’s not a one answer fix, but rather multiple things that need to be addressed by Kliavkoff in the coming years. A better overall product is the key component. Many feel a majority of games during the season get buried in the late hours of the night, and in most case are disregarded in Sunday’s headlines.

We may love ‘Pac-12 After Dark’, but for the sake of competing in the TV ratings game, it’s time for a better schedule where the rest of the country (and postseason voters) can see the best players the Pac-12 has to offer. With that being said, it’s time for the Pac-12 Network to settle their losses with DirecTV and give the people what they want.

Pac-12 expansion on the agenda?

With the Big 12 in an eleventh-hour crisis to resolve the future of their brand, some believe leftover teams may approach the Pac-12 seeking membership. Kliavkoff addressed the possibility for the conference loading up with additional teams and really said ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

“We do not think expansion is required to continue to compete and thrive,” said Kliavkoff. He also mentioned being the only power conference in both the Pacific and Mountain time zones strengthens the Pac-12’s “unique position” over other conferences further east.

“That said, the fallout from Texas and Oklahoma gives us an opportunity to once again consider expansion, and we’ve already had significant inbound interest from many schools,” Kliavkoff said. “We will work with our presidents and chancellors to evaluate these opportunities.”

Is USC hot or not in 2021?

All eyes are once again on USC to revive the conference into being a national competitor. The preseason media poll has the Trojans as an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champions this season, earning 27 of the possible 40 first-place votes. USC head coach Clay Helton has been on a roller coaster while in SoCal over the past six seasons, but has yet to produce anything significant in the postseason. The Trojans are 1-3 in bowl games under Helton with their only win coming in a 2017 Rose Bowl shootout against Penn State by a score of 52-49.

But after USC is who?

Oregon is once again a favorite to win the Pac-12 North, setting up a projected rematch in this year’s Pac-12 Championship game. The Ducks will be the team to beat and it will be their division to lose with lots of talent returning to Eugene, including Boston College transfer Anthony Brown, who is primed for a breakout.

Getting the shot is a non-issue

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich caught some heat for disclosing he will not be vaccinated before the start of the 2021 football season. He was not present with his coaching counterparts in Los Angeles on Tuesday and said he will not get inoculated for “reasons which will remain private.”

Rolovich took questions for the media remotely and even said as of last week his team as a whole is over 75 percent vaccinated. Still, that figure lags behind a majority of other Pac-12 teams with most of them above 80 percent fully vaccinated. Colorado is one of four teams with a rate of 90 percent or more.

Kliavkoff stressed the importance of the Pac-12 conducting regular screening for COVID-19. He said the conference plans to test athletes who plan to go unvaccinated and anyone who displays symptoms of the virus on a regular basis.

He also said they’re still considering what its forfeiture policy will be for 2021. But Kliavkoff did hint that this year’s version could be a carbon copy to the one in 2020 for teams who are not able to compete.

The Pac-12 kicks off the 2021 football season next month with Hawaii visiting UCLA on Saturday, August 28 (1:30 p.m. MT/ TV:ESPN).