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Washington gives Pac-12 final chance to be conference of champions

Jan 2, 2024, 1:22 AM | Updated: 12:05 pm

Michel Penix Jr, Washington Huskies quarterback in the Sugar Bowl...

Washington Huskies defensive end Bralen Trice (8) and Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) raise the trophy for winning the Semifinal All State Sugar Bowl football game between the Texas Longhorns and Washington Huskies at the Caesars Superdome on January 1, 2024 in New Orleans Louisiana. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The curtain will close on the Pac-12’s final season as a Power Five football conference on the biggest stage in the sport.

Washington, one of 10 schools leaving the conference this coming summer, beat Texas 37-31 in the Sugar Bowl to earn a spot in College Football Playoff national title game against Michigan on Monday in Houston.

Lack of playoff success, or even participation, was one of several issues that brought upon the Pac-12’s demise.

The second-ranked Huskies (14-0) snapped a six-year CFP drought for the Pac-12, winning the conference in its most entertaining and competitive season in years. The Huskies are just the second Pac-12 team to reach the championship game, and the first since Oregon lost the first to Ohio State after the 2014 season.

The last Pac-12 team to win a national title was Southern California in 2004.

“Happy for the kids,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff told Yahoo Sports! after the game. “They don’t deserve all the nonsense going on around them. We were focused on rebuilding football. Took 2 1/2 years. I wish it would have happened quicker. If some of our schools would have been a little more patient, it would have paid off.”

The damage, though, was already done.

Before the season even kicked off, the Pac-12 had been plundered by the Big Ten and Big 12.

Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 leadership’s inability to land a media rights contract competitive with it Power Five counterparts caused its members to look for a better deal and more money.

The decisions by Washington and Oregon in August to move to the Big Ten, joining USC and UCLA, drove a dagger into the Pac-12, prompting Arizona State, Arizona and Utah to follow Colorado to the Big 12.

A couple of weeks later, Stanford and California found a landing spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Pac-12 is down to two now, Oregon State and Washington State. Those Pacific Northwest rivals plan to keep the conference alive with only two teams for at least another year.

But its days of being the conference of champions appear to be going away.

“Surreal. It’s surreal,” Kliavkoff told Yahoo Sports! “It’s upsetting that some of our schools weren’t more patient because if they saw what we were building it would have paid off.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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