SANTA CLARA—It has long been the mission statement of USC football to compete for national titles and, if that fails, win the Pac and go to the Rose Bowl.

That’s what made Friday night’s 31-28 win over Stanford so Silicon strange. The Trojans won the Pac 12, their first crown since 2008 and first in the four-team playoff era, yet were left begging for national title consideration.

“We sit here with 11 wins,” USC Coach Clay Helton said in the post-game press conference at Levi’s Stadium. “We sit here as conference champions and we sit here with an unbelievable strength of schedule.”

Those would be gold standard credentials for the Southeastern Conference, or Big Ten, but not in the Pac 12.

At least not this year. Helton also sat there with two losses and ranked No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking.

And here’s the real crap kicker: winning the Pac 12, this year will likely earn USC a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Rose Bowl has been leased out for a national semifinal game this season. And the Trojans, who have won 25 of those suckers, won’t even get to sublet a place they’ve owned.

Friday night summed up, neatly, the plight of this Pacific Coast league. The Pac 12 put on a good show in an atmosphere of ambivalence.

The game was mostly compelling, the stadium was mostly filled (48, 031), with seats mostly not covered up in tarp. And we can assume a nation was mostly watching.

USC will almost make the playoff and a Stanford player will almost win the Heisman Trophy.

What is it about the Pac 12 that causes it to, so often, end up (mostly) with the short end? The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.