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Uncertainty casts “after-dark” cloud over 2016 Pac-12

(Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

Pac-12 After Dark has been appointment viewing every autumn for the last few years, guaranteeing those dedicated to some drowsiness on Sundays excitement and unpredictability for their time.

That’s no different early into the 2016 season, but for reasons that might prompt the league to encourage would-be viewers to catch up on their rest.

#Pac12AfterDark spread in popularity as social media’s signing light over the city of College Football Twitter, alerting fans to an outstanding individual performance or remarkable game. In 2016, it feels more like the call to another calamity in what is increasingly looking like a rebuilding year for the conference.

Aside from Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage going one-man wrecking crew on the Texas Tech defense, and Oregon routing a rebuilding Virginia, the Pac-12’s Week 2 offerings that finished after midnight Eastern time probably won’t make it onto the conference’s annual sizzle reel.

Cal’s torrid comeback effort against San Diego State, which included a recovered onside kick, fell short by inches. That’s inches in the most literal sense, as quarterback Davis Webb’s pass to a wide-open Chad Hansen sailed barely beyond the wide receiver’s grasp.

One Demontae Kazee interception later, the Aztecs extended the nation’s second-longest winning streak to 12 games. Hope of an undefeated regular season remains very much intact for San Diego State, and the same is true for Mountain West counterpart Boise State.

The Broncos spoiled #Pac12AfterDark for Washington State, which now has lost to Eastern Washington and Boise State by a combined six points over the first two weeks.

Late-night Saturdays haven’t been this hard on a recurring character since Toonces The Driving Cat.

With the Mountain West putting two sizable notches in its belt at the Pac-12’s expense, Rocky Long’s 2015 declaration that Power Five programs did not want to schedule Group of Five opponents on the road, because the big guys did not want to risk losing, looks awfully prescient.

One might understand a Pac-12 moratorium on scheduling Boise State anywhere. The Broncos have three straight wins over the conference, beating Washington to open last season, and Arizona to cap 2014.

Speaking of Arizona, the conference’s lone late-night winner Saturday, the Wildcats scored 28 unanswered points in the second half, rallying from a 21-3 halftime deficit.

A 28-0 run is impressive, though still 15.5 points below the point spread Las Vegas set for the Wildcats.

A win is a win — “we’ll take it,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said bluntly in his postgame press conference. After the Wildcats let another rally slip away in the closing seconds Week 1 against BYU, they needed that one against Grambling.

Therein is a telling indicator of the Pac-12 as a conference through just two weeks. Half the conference already sports at least one loss, and Washington State sits at 0-2.

While the Mountain West boasts two title contenders with realistic designs on perfect regular seasons, the Pac-12 is down to five teams with 2-0 marks — Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington — and one 1-0 team, Stanford.

The Pac-12 lovingly embraced the After Dark movement in recent seasons. The rationale was simple: anything to provide more exposure for a conference that, because of late kickoff windows, struggled to gain traction with the national football media.

In a year with so much turmoil around the conference, however, early bedtimes may not be such a bad thing.

Uncertainty casts “after-dark” cloud over 2016 Pac-12

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