We as college football fans are posed with a yearly dilemma come mid-October. There is no correct answer, and when queried retroactively, the opposite of your fervently screamed demands upon the football gods may be to your benefit.
Six games on the Pac-12 weekly slate can provide (potentially) twenty-four hours of Pac-12 Conference football match ups. If we could only get the conference to stagger the games instead of the 7 pm and later kick offs, things would be nearly perfect. For the sake of many relationships and the overall quality of life (at least in my household), it is probably a good thing that this is not the case.
Back to the original point: Who do we root for when our conference partners face one another?
During non-conference play allegiance should be simple: Root for the Pac-12. No matter how despised your conference rival, a loss can only hurt your team. This is due to the rankings and strength of schedule utilized in college football. In this case (unlike the NFL) the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. Think more like “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, and only I can beat him up.” This is inherently a bastardization of the transitive property of equality that is part of this misbegotten system.
Use this example: USC beat Boston College, Washington State beat USC, therefore WSU is better than BC. This is not a perfect example, due to the “Any given day” rule in football, but you get the gist.
This rule goes across the board in all conferences. A victory by Bama is in part a victory for Auburn. The Independents, the poor bastard itinerant nomad football teams, have no such allies. They are limited to root for their opponents year to year. This rule holds fast for all teams (previous opponents’ success can be beneficial for your team).
In case you were wondering, the Pac 12 gets three more no brainers this year: a replacement game for Colorado against Charlotte Southern next week, and Notre Dame playing USC and Stanford. The remaining games become a melee of medieval proportions.
The question remains, on a weekly basis, can one just watch a game, independently, without a rooting interest, for hours on end on a Saturday? If you can accomplish this (or find an offshore means to make the game interesting for personal reasons), then this is not the article for you. However, if you find yourself sitting down at one on Saturday afternoon, and are a Beaver or Coug, what are you rooting for when Oregon marches into Husky Stadium?
The heart of the matter is whether or not parity is positive in a conference. Out of conference the Pac-12 went 28-5 with the three extra games to come. Those losses came to Auburn, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Eastern Washington. With the notable final exceptional blemish dealt to a down Berkeley team (three of the five losses), there really is not a loss to be ashamed of on that list. Going into week seven, ten of twelve need to finish the season one game under .500 or better to be bowl eligible. That is more than 80% of the conference playing in a bowl game.
So conference wise, who do we root for week to week? For arguments’ sake, let us pretend we are Wazzu fans. We are 4-2 with a loss to divisional foe Stanford. If (again, bear with me) the Cougs run the table, Stanford has to lose two games in the Pac. In turn, WSU has already defeated USC, and therefore can only benefit from their success. However, with USC in the South, there are no tie breakers that matter between the Trojans and our Cougars.
With the divisional break down in mind, root outside of your division. An upset of Stanford in Salt Lake City this week would help everyone in the North. Even a UCLA win against Cal is helpful for our hypothetical fandom on the Palouse. This situation may not be the case of home field advantage for the Conference Championship is dictated by conference record. As stated early on, your rooting interest one week may retroactively become the Cougs’ peril.
Two opponents from the South playing each other who WSU has not played, the only thing that can help Wazzu is scouting. If UCLA is playing Colorado (neither on WSU’s schedule this year), there is nothing, positive or negative, that will change in the world of Wazzu.
Immediacy is a problem. College Gameday will begin in the dark for the first time this season. The historic trip to Seattle puts two hated foes against each other, hated, that is throughout the division unanimously. Stanford seems a relatively benevolent champion, where the Ducks and Huskies seem . . . well, arrogantly perched upon pedestals of varying widths.
What does a Coug or Beav fan do while awaiting a frigid kick off in Pullman? There is always the hope that a flash flood from Lake Washington engulfs the field sometime during the third quarter, not hurting anyone, but causing a massive two month bout of pneumonia for both rosters. Listen, Cougar, Beaver, Cardinal, and Bear faithful, we will not see a tie on Saturday, hopefully there will not be a natural disaster, someone will emerge victorious on what appears to be a perfect day for football in Seattle.
Who are we to root for?
There is only one answer: The Huskies. Okay, now that you have retrieved your laptop from across the room, or cleaned the clam chowder off the screen, I will explain why I am not Benedict Arnold. This argument holds firm for all teams in the division save Stanford. The boys from the Farm can stop reading now and go do their homework (as if they need a Hack like me to remind them).
Oregon is undefeated and along with their instate brethren hold their fate in their hands. (Stanford, be quiet I told you to stop reading). The Washington’s have already lost in conference, therefore are already blemished. A victory for the Huskies does not push them beyond the Cougs, numbers wise, as much as it drags the Ducks down to the Coug’s level. This entire argument holds until 7:30 pacific Saturday, and then we have to reevaluate the whole mess Sunday.
This whole exercise assumes that numbers matter more to you than the ingrained hatreds you might possess. Did a man dressed in a Sun Devil costume murder your pet hamster? Does your caller ID constantly identify telemarketers from Corvallis? Did your ex graduate from USC?
More likely, you just hate Purple, and you can not find it in yourself to rationalize cheering for Washington. That is fine, football is not rational. Twenty-two men moving on their own (often seemingly random) assignments is what separates football from the rote reactions of baseball.
We at All Coug’d Up do not claim rationality, but for those who need to root for a team, try to figure out whose victory most benefits Cougar Nation!