If there’s anything that Pac-12 fans dream of, it’s for a shot at the SEC. With the Pac-12 vs. SEC tilts that USC and Oregon have put on in the past decade-plus, in addition to Texas A&M’s surprising spread offense success in the SEC a year ago, the need for the west coast and the deep south to converge in bowl game is boiling over.
Unfortunately for both leagues however, the prognosis of the conferences negotiating bowl tie-ins with the same bowl seem more bleak now than ever.
While the SEC has four non-BCS January bowl tie-ins for the 2013-2014 bowl season, the Pac-12 is stuck mired in a lengthy drought without a single one.
There’s a handful of reasons why it’s difficult for the Pac-12 to get the premium bowl arrangements that the SEC gets, with much of it due to geography, both of the bowls themselves and the schools participating.
For starters, of the seven non-BCS January bowls, all seven are played within the immediate SEC footprint, giving them a distinct advantage during bowl negotiations. Three are in the state of Florida, two are in Texas and then there’s a pair of games in Alabama; though that includes the GoDaddy Bowl, which has become a mid-major title game of sorts between the champions of the Sun Belt and the MAC.
When Pac-12 fans are waking up nursing their hangovers on New Year’s Day, bowls like the Gator and the Outback are nearing halftime. Not mention the fact that there’s 2,500 miles between Seattle and Orlando, making it a stretch for a school like Washington to sellout their ticket allotment for a hypothetical bowl game against Purdue.
So it comes down to the state of Texas, which the Pac-12 has ties to, given a current deal with the Alamo Bowl and a past agreement with the Cotton Bowl during the 1990s.
But, the bowls in the state of the Texas, regardless of whether or not they’re played in December or January, have an overwhelming propensity to cut deals with the Big 12 over the concern of non-regional fans opting not to travel a long distance to Texas.
The result is that the Houston, Alamo and Cotton Bowls have had deals with the Big 12 for years. Meanwhile, the relatively-new Heart of Dallas Bowl alternates yearly between a Big 12 and Conference-USA tie-in to face the Big Ten, leaving them to pray that a Texas-based C-USA gets the bid, as was the case two years ago with Houston. As for the Sun Bowl, which has a Pac-12 vs. ACC flavor? Well, are we really counting El Paso as part of Texas? Only if we have to.
The Pac-12 was dealt a major blow to a future of prestigious bowl games when the Cotton Bowl joined forces with the College Football Playoff. Not only did it effectively kill off any hopes of a rekindling the tie-in that ironically saw Pac-12 foes Colorado and Oregon duel in 1996, it lessened the likelihood for the Pac-12 to someday get their foot into the Heart of Dallas Bowl, as the demand grows.
Until a benefactor step ups in the way Jerry Jones did to propose the already ill-fated Champions Bowl, there’s more of a chance that Florida schedules a home-and-home with USC than the Pac-12 waltzing into a major bowl game with the SEC. And mind you, the Gators haven’t played a non-conference game out of the state of Florida since 1991.
The result, as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury points out, is that the Pac-12 seems set to strengthen their current bowl bids, as opposed to blazing new trails with bowls that they have a slim chance of negotiating tie-ins with.
According to Wilner, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl could get a bump from the Pac-12, which he predicts as hosting the fourth selection of the conference’s bowl-eligible teams, up from a current deal that sees them get the sixth, or second to last pick.
While the bowl currently lacks prestige as it’s played on a baseball diamond in downtown San Francisco, the game looks to get a big boost in capital and sponsorship power next year, when it moves to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the soon-to-be home of the 49ers.
With an NFL venue on board and the prediction of a mid-tier Big Ten squad facing the fourth-best Pac-12 team, there’s considerable more interest than the dismal 2011 edition of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl that saw Illinois give UCLA their eighth loss of the season.
It’s not initially sexy and it’s not a matchup with the SEC. But, with the Pac-12 virtually out of options, their only choice is to enhance the slim pickings they do have, by putting as much makeup as they can on their bowl bids and calling them marquee.
Hence, the soon-to-be-finalized deal with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, and five of eight tie-ins being against the Big Ten or Big 12.
Now, if they could only pass the potato on that vapid New Mexico Bowl…