With the 2022 college football season over and done, our attention turns to 2023.
It’s the last year of the Pac-12 as we have known it — the last year with USC and UCLA, the last year with the four-team playoff and the last year with the conference’s current media rights agreement.
The Hotline cannot let the opportunity to look foolish (or smart) pass without offering our predictions for the Pac-12 on the field/court and off.
Because what happens off the field in 2023 will determine what we see on it in 2024.
Here goes …
Men’s basketball: UCLA reaches the Final Four
The Bruins possess the best combination of experience and athleticism of coach Mick Cronin’s tenure. Comfortable in half-court grinders but plenty capable in transition, they’re built perfectly for March Madness.
As a No. 2 seed, their trek to Houston will include a narrow escape in the second round and convincing victories in the regionals but not the school’s 12th national championship.
The Pac-12’s other powerhouse, Arizona, won’t escape the Sweet 16. The Wildcats aren’t quite good enough on the perimeter to win four games in the NCAAs.
Women’s basketball: NCAA success
Another first-rate season for the conference results in seven March Madness bids and a breakthrough run for Utah, which will reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
We envision Stanford earning a No. 1 seed and reaching the Final Four again (but no title).
And led by freshman guard Kiki Rice, UCLA will join the Cardinal in Dallas to give the school national semifinalists in both tournaments for the first time.
Men’s basketball: Massive coaching turnover
At least four coaches have fallen into, or are rapidly approaching, perilous situations: Cal’s Mark Fox, Stanford’s Jerod Haase, Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle and Washington’s Mike Hopkins.
Our current forecast calls for changes in the Bay Area — both programs — and in Seattle, as well. With football on the ascent, Washington’s administration has budget clarity and can concentrate on fixing basketball.
What’s more, at least one coach will leave the conference for a better opportunity. (WSU’s Kyle Smith is atop that list at the present time.)
The terminations are desperately needed. The overall quality of coaching, like the quality of play, is subpar.
Football: Preseason hype
The stellar lineup of quarterbacks and hiring of Deion Sanders (by Colorado) will lead to unprecedented hype and six teams in the AP preseason poll — the highest total since the summer of 2015.
Washington and USC will crack the top 10, with Utah, Oregon and Oregon State in the No. 11-20 range and UCLA among the final five.
No other conference will have more than five teams in the poll.
Football: Rookie coach results
Because of difficult schedules and roster deficiencies, none of the three newcomers will lead his team into the postseason.
Colorado will be vastly more competitive under Sanders but finish a game short of bowl eligibility.
Arizona State will get walloped by NCAA sanctions, thus delaying Kenny Dillingham’s rebuilding project.
And Stanford will continue to flounder under coach Troy Taylor, whose task is the most daunting because of institutional challenges that don’t exist in Boulder and Tempe.
Football: The 2023 champion
With so much focus on the departing L.A. schools, Washington will be the last team standing after repelling challenges from the Oregon schools, Utah and USC. (The Bruins will experience a notable regression.)
However, the Pac-12 will (once again) fail to place a team in the College Football Playoff.
With a schedule that includes Michigan State (road), plus USC, Utah and the Oregon schools, the Huskies won’t reach the 13-0/12-1 threshold required for a playoff berth.
Football: The Heisman Trophy finalist
For the second consecutive year, a Pac-12 quarterback will reach New York City for the trophy ceremony, but it won’t be the 2022 winner, USC quarterback Caleb Williams.
Instead, we expect Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. to represent the conference. Despite a stellar season, Penix won’t give the Pac-12 back-to-back winners.
Football: The 2024 schedule
The conference has yet to release the 2023 schedule, but the Hotline is deeply curious about the lineup for 2024 — the first season without USC and UCLA and the first without divisional alignment as the basis for the schedule.
Our guesses: The conference maintains the nine-game league rotation but implements a pod system that protects not only in-state but also regional rivalries.
For instance: Washington and Oregon will play each other every season.
Survival: Media rights revenue
The Hotline’s view hasn’t changed since those roiling summer weeks when the Pac-12 seemed on the brink of fracturing: The most likely outcome to the existential crisis is unity, with the 10 remaining schools signing a media deal.
We expect either a five-year agreement that expires in the summer of 2029 or an eight-year deal that terminates in the summer of 2032, following the Big Ten (expiration: 2030) and the Big 12 (2031).
The agreement will average between $33 million and $37 million per school, depending on the duration. The longer the contract, the greater the reward.
That said, nothing is guaranteed until the schools sign on the bottom line. The pressure is on commissioner George Kliavkoff to present the university presidents with an acceptable media rights offer.
Survival: The media rights partners
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Mailbag: Are Kliavkoff, Pac-12 presidents up to existential challenge?
A dozen years ago, Pac-12 presidents directed then-commissioner Larry Scott to chase the media cash at the expense of exposure. The conference learned its lesson and is now seeking a balance between revenue and visibility.
The Hotline foresees partnerships (to varying degrees) with Amazon, ESPN and either Fox or CBS.
In addition, the Pac-12 Networks will continue to function — but only as a streaming platform for Olympic sports. It will not broadcast football or men’s basketball.
Business affairs: Big bet on gambling
As part of a sweeping media rights deal, the Pac-12 will agree to sell its statistical data to a sports gambling company.
Legalized wagering is a massive untapped revenue stream for college conferences, but not immediately. The jackpot is years away, when technology allows mass distributors of live sports to provide real-time wagering options on the big screen in your living room. (Every type of proposition bet will be a mere click away between plays.)
The Pac-12’s deal will be the first of its kind for a major conference and hint at the riches to come for everyone. But the short-term revenue will be in the low seven figures for each school.
Expansion: The newcomers
The Pac-12 passed on expanding its membership in the summer of 2021, and the decision proved costly. (Houston looks pretty good right now.) It won’t make the same mistake twice.
Will the conference add two teams, four teams or more? Will it add schools that don’t play football? Will it grow the footprint or focus on schools in the Pacific Time Zone?
Our best guess: San Diego State and SMU make 12.
*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.
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