Mailbag: Which Pac-12 teams are set for success in the Big Ten and Big 12, Trent Bray’s bar, Pac-12 refs and more

Utah and Oregon have the rosters to win immediate in their new conferences

Every Friday, the Hotline mailbag is published. Send questions to with the subject line’mailbag’. Or follow me on Twitter at @WilnerHotline.

Please keep in mind that some of the questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Which Pac-12 schools will thrive in their new conference, and which will struggle? CamKode (@CamKode)

Great question, and let’s start with this: Following the 2023 postseason, the Hotline will delve deep into the Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC states-of-play.

We’ll project conference races, look at schedules, quarterback depth, and everything else Hotline readers want to know about those conferences in 2024.

But first, the transfer portal, NFL Draft decisions, and coaching changes must all take place.

There is no way to forecast the trajectory of the next season in any conference without first learning the depth charts and coaching staffs.

The month-long transfer window officially opens Monday, but roster churn is already underway, led by two high-profile quarterbacks, Oregon State’s D.J. Uiagalelei and UCLA’s Dante Moore.

Depth charts will look very different by the middle of January than they do now, so let’s wait and see what happens over the next six weeks — the NFL Draft deadline is Jan. 15 — before diving into projections for next season.

Having said that, we can make two broad observations:

— Because of coach Kyle Whittingham’s talent foundation and locker room culture, Utah is always a safe bet for success, whether in the Pac-12 or the Big 12.

Only the pandemic (2020) and an unprecedented number of injuries (2023) have broken Utah’s streak of nine-win seasons since the late 2010s.

It’s not like the Big 12 is devoid of challenges. The conference has four teams ranked in the CFP, with two of them (Texas and Oklahoma) headed to the SEC. Oklahoma State is ranked 18th, and Kansas State is ranked 25th.

The Utes will enter a winnable league with a proven quarterback in 2024, as Cam Rising has already announced his return.

— Based on current rosters, Oregon is better positioned to thrive in the Big Ten than Washington, USC, or UCLA.

Anyone who does not bleed purple should understand this.

The Bruins are a mid-level Pac-12 program (last title: 1998), and their standing in the Big Ten will only worsen.

The immediate success of USC is dependent on a complete overhaul of the defensive staff and personnel. At this point, we are extremely doubtful that the Trojans will compete for a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

Washington will be without quarterback Michael Penix Jr., while Oregon will be without Bo Nix. However, the Ducks have a deeper roster than the Huskies, making them less vulnerable to a performance slump caused by NFL departures and transfers.

Also, before assuming Kalen DeBoer will be back in 2024, the Hotline needs to see if he has agreed to a contract extension.

How do you think the Pac-12 teams will perform in the Big 12 next season? Can Arizona keep up the good work? Will Colorado continue to improve? Will Arizona State continue to struggle? — @kaviti

We mentioned Utah earlier, and the same concerns (the transfer portal and the NFL Draft) apply here in terms of deep dives into the other rosters.

Arizona is clearly the best-positioned of the three to compete because it has a returning quarterback and solid lines of scrimmage.

The Big 12 has a plethora of talented running backs and receivers. The level of skill and depth at the outset determines success. At this point, the Wildcats look promising when compared to the other Big 12 programs. In six weeks’ time? Nobody knows.

While the public’s perception of Colorado has most likely changed in the last two months, the Hotline’s outlook has not: We never thought CU was as good as it appeared in September; Deion Sanders will need several recruiting cycles to create a competitive depth chart.

We’re also keeping an eye on his employees. During the season, Sanders demoted offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, and his offense deteriorated. In 2024, who will call the plays? (Lewis is the new head coach at San Diego State, and the Aztecs made a wise choice in hiring him.)

Without knowing the timing and severity of the NCAA sanctions, as well as the impact any penalties might have on Kenny Dillingham’s roster makeover, Arizona State’s situation is impossible to predict.

The Sun Devils will need at least two seasons to build a competitive roster.

They won’t be in the Big 12 cellar, but a mid-level finish may be out of reach in ’24.

Do you see new Oregon State coach Trent Bray as more akin to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham or Washington’s Jimmy Lake? MeyersMustache (@MeyersMustache)

Given that, like Bray, Whittingham and Lake were promoted from the defensive coaching staff, those are reasonable ends of the spectrum.

Whittingham went on to become a Hall of Fame coach, while Lake was fired after only two seasons.

Because of the unprecedented circumstances in Corvallis, I’m hesitant to make any predictions about the Bray era.

Because the quarterback position is so important (and becoming increasingly difficult to manage with the transfer portal), the Hotline prefers head coaches with offensive experience. But the Beavers couldn’t afford to take any chances with the hire — stability and security were critical in the storm.

Another thing to think about is how Oregon State fans will define success over the next three to five seasons.

The program will (most likely) compete in a two-team league in 2024-25 before merging with the Mountain West in 2026.

Is Bray’s tenure only successful if he wins every available title? Or would 8-4 seasons suffice?

Do the ten schools have to stand together in court, or could an individual or group reach their own settlement with Oregon State and Washington State? — Bogey Cat 85

Because of reading through dozens of court filings and speaking with a slew of attorneys, the Hotline now has a better understanding of the legal process than we did three months ago.

Nothing in our reporting indicates that the outbound schools may or may not reach separate agreements with Washington State and Oregon State.

Money, which would be the focus of any settlement, is not the legal foundation for the case. It all comes down to governance, specifically representation on the board of directors.

Any agreement would appear to necessitate a school relinquishing its board seat. If one school caves on that point, it weakens the case for the other nine.

Our impression is that they are united in an all-or-nothing manner.

Is there a penalty for teams leaving the Mountain West after the media deal expires in 2026? — Fake Paul Blood (@fakepaulblood)

We’re not aware of any.

The fee for leaving the Mountain West before the 2024 season would be approximately $34 million. That is not a viable option.

If you leave before the 2025 season, the price is reduced to $17 million. That’s a little more manageable, but no one is expected to leave.

Because the television contracts with Fox and CBS expire in the summer of 2026, any changes in conference affiliation for the ’26 season (and beyond) would be free of charge.

However, we don’t know the specifics of the schedule agreement announced this morning by WSU, OSU, and the Mountain West. (The Cougars and Beavers will face MW teams in six games.) It’s possible that the agreement includes provisions for a future merger.

Oh, and before we forget: the Pac-12 bylaws’ lack of a departure penalty is yet another example of the presidents’ appalling oversight of the conference.

With all of the conference changes coming up next year, how will bowl games be reconfigured? — from @LawDawgPod

In general, the significance of bowl games outside of the New Year’s Six lineup will be cut in half with the expansion of the playoff following the 2024 season.

The Pac-12 games face an additional challenge: they must find new partners in an unfavorable environment. The absence of a power conference means that there are fewer opportunities to pit one league against another.

The Alamo Bowl, for example, currently pits the Pac-12 against the Big 12. One conference lost ten members, while the other saw the loss of its top two draws (Texas and Oklahoma). In the new era, a partnership with the Big Ten makes sense, but the Alamo is reportedly “scrambling” to rewrite its strategy.

The bowling alley isn’t going away. It means too much to athletic directors and coaches, who are paid based on performance, and ESPN values the programming. (On a Tuesday in late December, more people will watch college football than billiards.)

However, the vast majority of games will be reduced due to the expanded playoff.

Is it correct that the absence of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 board has no bearing on the distribution of Pac-12 reserve funds? — Mike

That is correct, because no dispersal will occur. The emergency reserve fund has been depleted, as the Hotline reported in October.

The presidents agreed to use the reserves to help schools cover unexpected costs associated with the Comcast overpayment saga and the Pac-12 Networks’ move to San Ramon, which went over budget.

“There’s nothing left,” said one source.

If, by chance, you’re referring to the Pac-12’s assets rather than the emergency reserves, that’s a completely different issue — and one at the heart of the lawsuit over governing board control.

Is there a D-I football team that has ever beaten three undefeated opponents in a row in December and January? Duck Daydreamer

I see where you’re going and admire your optimism. We are not aware of any team defeating three consecutive undefeated opponents in the playoff era.

The problem isn’t so much with the CFP results as it is with the lack of conference championship games against unbeaten teams.

However, Oregon has a chance to complete the trifecta. It would be an incredible finish if the Ducks beat Washington in the Pac-12 championship and then defeated two undefeated teams in the playoff.

What happens to all of the Pac-12 officials and referees? Are they picked up by other conferences, or are they out of work? @BrayMb1

The process began earlier this year, when the Big Ten hired a few Pac-12 officials to round out its officiating crew for games on the West Coast beginning next season.

Other Pac-12 officials, we believe, will have opportunities with the Big Ten and Big 12, while others may join the Group of Five conferences.

Every time Pac-12 fans and media members express relief on social media about no longer having to deal with Pac-12 officiating, I laugh.

Many of them will work Big Ten and Big 12 games in the Pacific Time Zone.

What is the best Las Vegas sportsbook? — M.J. Husky

The MGM would be our choice for a place to camp out all day for college football or March Madness viewing.

However, there are a few that would be perfectly adequate.

Do you believe football will be divided into conferences, while other sports will return to traditional leagues? — @rob123454321

It’s amusing that you should inquire. On Thursday, the Hotline addressed that very issue in our 3,000-word magnum opus on the future of college football.

The column sketched a framework for the collapse of the power conferences, the formation of a Super League (backed by private equity), and the subsequent rebirth of the Pac-12 in December 2033.

Except it’s the Pac-14 Conference.

Brigham Young is also involved.

A series of legal challenges to the NCAA’s economic model, in our vision, result in revenue-sharing with athletes, a massive cash crunch, and the formation of regional conferences.

While we can only speculate on the specifics, the Hotline believes college football will change dramatically over the next eight to ten years.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply