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Malee: Pac-12 Championship Game isn't what it sounds like



When the Pac-12 Championship Game media itinerary for the week was passed out in the press box on Saturday, fellow sports reporter Lucas Clark and I shared a laugh. Where we had assumed the week would be treated just like any other, with player and coach availability after practice every morning and little more, it looked more like the schedule for national championship week.

Separate press conferences for Chip Kelly and Rick Neuheisel on Thursday, a photo opportunity with the pristine Pac-12 Championship trophy. Also on Thursday, everything printed out nicely with the official Pac-12 letterhead on the [email protected]@http://www.uclabruins.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/[email protected]@

It would be one thing if this were a real “championship game” — if it were USC or Stanford taking on the Ducks with a Rose Bowl trip on the line. That kind of game deserves its own letterhead. This? This Oregon-UCLA joke that we’ll be forced to witness on Friday night? They would have been better off printing the itineraries on recycled circus [email protected]@Thank [email protected]@

Yes, it’s really that bad. In the Pac-12’s first-ever championship game, which should be among the year’s most hyped events, the point spread has opened at 30. And it should be even higher.

The Bruins closed the season with a shocking display of incompetence, making Matt Barkley look like the greatest quarterback ever in a 50-0 loss. They’re 6-6 on the year and rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in scoring offense (10th), rushing defense (8th) and pass offense (11th). And yet here they are, flying up to Eugene for a championship game they have virtually no chance of [email protected]@http://www.uclabruins.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/[email protected]@ @@http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/Football/2011-Stats/HTML/[email protected]@

It’s hard to place blame for this, obviously. UCLA would never have been in this position had it not been for the sanctions placed on USC, but dragging Reggie Bush’s name through the mud again won’t accomplish anything. And you obviously can’t fault the NCAA for actually laying down the law for [email protected]@http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/[email protected]@

This is one of those rare unfortunate situations that just happened, without any real culprit. Who could have predicted that the Pac-12 South would be this atrocious, that a .500 team with a lame duck coach would have earned a place in the much-discussed conference championship game? In the end, the real blame goes to the underachieving teams (looking at you, Arizona, Utah and Arizona State) that managed to usurp UCLA into their mediocrity. Really, not one of them could have stepped up to the plate with USC out of the picture?

It’s all very frustrating, even when the end game will almost certainly consist of Oregon returning to the Rose Bowl in its third consecutive BCS bid. The trip to Pasadena two years ago came on the heels of a rousing Civil War victory and left the turf at Autzen Stadium filled with jubilant fans.

Who’s going to rush the field this time? How can it possibly feel exciting to win a conference championship game over a team that never deserved to be there in the first place? When people across the country turn on the TV and see the matchup, they’ll think someone made a mistake on the scoreboard.

In the end though, nothing can stop UCLA from arriving in Eugene this week. We can’t tear up the media itinerary and pretend this isn’t happening. There won’t be a rematch between Oregon and USC for all the marbles, no matter how fun it would be.

This will be another game that glazes our eyes over, much like the Civil War was this past weekend. There were times that I actually felt like going to sleep on Saturday as the Beavers struggled to hit double digits.

I might have to drink a gallon of coffee to tolerate Friday night.


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