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USC Notre Dame Football

USC plays a nonconference game against Notre Dame every season. Stanford and the Fighting Irish also meet regularly.

During the five years of the four-team College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 has been shut out three times.

Oregon made the inaugural field and reached the title game before losing to Ohio State in 2014 and Washington lost to Alabama in the semifinals in the 2016 season.

While no power five conference has had more than two different teams make the playoff, only the Pac-12 has failed to have a team be selected to the field three times.

The ACC and SEC have had teams in each playoff, with Alabama making the field every season; Georgia also advanced in 2017 and faced the Crimson Tide in the title game.

Clemson has been to the last four CFPs and has won two titles. Florida State, which lost to Oregon in the 2014 semifinals, is the other ACC program to make the field.

The Big 12, thanks to three appearances by Oklahoma, and Big Ten — Ohio State twice and Michigan State — have had teams in the CFP three times.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but the two conferences that have played in all five events only play eight conference games while the other three play nine.

There has been much debate about how to level the playing field, so to speak, in regards to scheduling.

“One of the principles that defines the way the College Football Playoff works, there is autonomy that individual conferences have in terms of how they want to schedule, and the job of the selection committee is to weigh up strength of schedule and figure out who the best teams are,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday at media day. “But I don't foresee a time in the near future where it's going to be nationally mandated how conferences have to schedule.”

So would the Pac-12 consider dropping a conference game if the ACC and SEC don’t add one to be on equal footing with the other three conferences?

“We regularly discuss that question, and every time we've discussed that question, the important principles of having a tough schedule, playing as many teams as possible in the league, challenging yourself have been the overriding principles that have defined what our campuses want to do,” Scott said. “So we've been committed to nine conference games.”

On top of those nine games, Pac-12 schools typically play some quality out-of-conference opponents early in the season.

USC and Stanford have their annual battles with Notre Dame while Oregon will take on Auburn out of the SEC to open the season. Other nonconference opponents this season include Oklahoma State (Oregon State), Northwestern (Stanford), Michigan State (Arizona State), Ole Miss (California), Oklahoma (UCLA) and Nebraska (Colorado). Stanford also has a game at UCF, which has been a top-10 team the past few seasons out of the group of five. Utah, USC and Washington all face BYU.

“I think that should indicate to everyone that our schools want their student-athletes to have the opportunity to play on the biggest stages, to challenge themselves,” Scott said. “Our schools do not approach it from the perspective of how do we game the system or simply have it be about the College Football Playoff. But that's a decision our schools make. Our schools come together as a conference and decide what the conference schedule is going to be.”

Another downfall of a nine-game conference schedule is that every other year, teams will play five conference games on the road to just four home games.

That has also been discussed by the Pac-12.

“As our schools have weighed up the balances and the pros and cons, they've decided we like nine games, even with that imbalance,” Scott said. “What we of course do is try to be equitable in terms of how it's distributed so you won't see the same teams with five away games every year.”

Scott also said the conference is not opposed to examining how schedules are drawn up in terms of when conference games are played. For most schools, the three nonconference games happen the first three weeks and then there are nine straight conference games.

“We've been pretty rigid historically and said nonconference games are going to be the first three weeks, and then the rest of the season is conference schedule with the notable exception of the Notre Dame game between USC and Stanford,” he said. “… I think you'll start seeing a little more flexibility in our scheduling and more and more of our schools having some nonconference games later in the season, which is going to mean conference games a little bit earlier in the season.”

In addition to that, Scott said the conference is continuing to try to avoid tougher back-to-back road trips, which have seemingly derailed some teams from potentially making the CFP in the past few years.

"We've made some adjustments to make sure schools individually are not put in extraordinary situations like two away games back to back, a Saturday followed by a Friday night, as an example,” Scott said.

Scott remained optimistic that instead of having to drop to eight conference games, other leagues will switch to the nine-game module.

“I think you'll see nationally schools realizing they have to schedule better games,” he said. “Fans are not going to turn up for games that are not competitive. So I actually think we're a little bit ahead of the curve.”

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald