Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field, and court …
Rising: Recruiting threats
A new marauder has appeared on the recruiting trail, poised to inflict additional damage on the Pac-12 talent pipeline.
It’s not a blue blood or even a recently-risen powerhouse.
It’s a basketball school, in fact.
Don’t look now, but Louisville has become a problem for the Pac-12.
The Cardinals currently own commitments from four Southern California prospects in the class of 2023 — each of them carrying a four-star rating by 247Sports.
A conference struggling to repel the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Clemson and Georgia now must deal with a program that owns zero national titles (in football) and hasn’t posted a 10-win season in almost a decade.
What in the name of the Derby City is going on?
The key to Louisville’s sudden success in the heart of Pac-12 country is Pierce Clarkson, a four-star quarterback from prep power St. John Bosco and the son of noted California-based quarterback coach Steve Clarkson.
Once the Cardinals landed Clarkson earlier this year, they became a destination for blue-chippers who wanted to join him.
But how did the Cardinals land Clarkson in the first place?
Perhaps he was intrigued by those six wins last season. Or the four wins the season before that.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about name, image and likeness.
The Louisville metropolitan area is home to 1.4 million people and zero professional teams. There are limitless private-sector endorsement opportunities for college athletes — particularly quarterbacks with four-star ratings and the potential to become the face of a football program.
That said, the Hotline would be remiss if we didn’t make one final point:
Louisville is an Adidas school, and Steve Clarkson’s quarterback camps are sponsored by … Adidas.
The company’s logo is right there on Clarkson’s website.
His Twitter profile page includes the hashtag #teamadidas.
Now, it should be noted that after Pierce Clarkson’s commitment to Louisville in January, Steve Clarkson told ESPN that the Adidas connections did not impact his son’s decision.
(We’ll pause here for laughter and general merriment.)
The Cardinals aren’t the only non-blue blood program that could leverage NIL opportunities as a means of luring West Coast prospects out of the Pac-12 footprint.
As we have written previously, recruiting success in the NIL era depends to a large extent on the passion of your donors and the depth of their pockets.
The Pac-12 needs its boosters to meet the moment.
Falling: NBA Draft outlook
With the stay-or-go deadline having come and gone, the Hotline examined the latest draft projections.
What we saw was eye-opening.
Only one Pac-12 player, Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin, is considered a lock for the first round.
Granted, mock drafts are inherently flawed (for both the NBA and NFL). But they aren’t always wrong about every player.
From here, it appears that Arizona’s Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko have the best chance of joining Mathurin in the first round — far better than, say, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang or USC’s Isaiah Mobley.
But there’s no reason to view Terry or Koloko as a lock.
If June 23 comes and goes with Mathurin standing alone, it would mark the first time since 2010 that the Pac-12 produced a single first-round pick.
Back then, it was Washington’s Quincy Pondexter.
Rising: USC football pressure
It has become apparent to the Hotline that one Pac-12 football coach deserves next-level attention in 2022, and it’s not USC’s Lincoln Riley or Oregon’s Dan Lanning or any of the head coaches.
Alex Grinch, welcome to the spotlight.
The extent to which USC’s first-year defensive coordinator can squeeze maximum performance out of a flawed unit could determine not only the Pac-12 championship but the College Football playoff race.
With the recent addition of receiver Jordan Addison, the Trojans are beyond loaded on offense.
And they have fortified the linebacking group with Shane Lee (Alabama), Eric Gentry (Arizona State) and Romello Height (Auburn).
But we remain skeptical of the secondary and, especially, the defensive front.
They sure could use Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody right about now — in their 40-year-old bodies.
Even for casual fans, the soaring expectations for USC have been impossible to miss.
Recently, the Trojans rose eight spots, to No. 4, in the updated ESPN top 25 rankings, and they will undoubtedly land in the top 10 when the AP preseason poll is released in August.
But let’s not forget the Trojans were No. 112 nationally last season in yards per play allowed (6.37), perhaps the best measure of defensive performance because it accounts for disparities in tempo.
Meanwhile, the four College Football Playoff teams (Georgia, Alabama, Cincinnati and Michigan) were all in the top 15 in that category.
For Grinch and Co., the climb is akin to scaling the sheer face of El Capitan.
Falling: Pac-12 schedule pressure
Many Pac-12 fans and plenty of campus officials have pointed to the nine-game conference schedule as a major factor in the paucity of playoff berths for the conference over the years.
The data support the notion that fewer league games is an advantage:
The vast majority of CFP slots have been occupied by the two Power Five conferences (SEC and ACC) that only play eight.
But the dynamic could be changing in a manner that (believe it or not) benefits the Pac-12.
The SEC is contemplating a change to its schedule model that would result in teams playing nine conference games instead of eight once Texas and Oklahoma arrive (presumably in 2025).
From here, it’s clear:
You simply cannot play eight games in a 16-team league and maintain the requisite levels of competitive balance and cross-conference exposure.
Both models have support within the SEC footprint, but our guess is the conference eventually settles on nine.
And if that happens, the ACC will stand alone — good luck with that — while the public pressure on the Pac-12 to initiate a change will vanish.
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