As a USC grad, marketer and California native recently relocated to South Florida, I can speak with some expertise on this. There are 5 key reasons sportswriters and football fans are uninformed about the Pac-12 specifically and West Coast/Rocky Mountain football generally: Time zone, editorial bias, poor marketing, institutional ignorance and saturation.
1) The time difference is enormous. I can recall a great Pac-12 Saturday where I was changing between 3 different games that all kicked off at 10:30pm ET. Each game ended after 1am. I fell asleep at least twice. And I cared about the games.
2a) DirecTV is the de-facto content provider for ardent football fans (and Heisman voters). It doesn’t carry the Pac-12 Network. If Commissioner Larry Scott doesn’t recognize this it’s because The Pac-12 has been so obsessed with revenue it can’t bring itself to cut its fees for DTV (ignoring the obvious fact that discounted revenue is still tens of millions of dollars more each year than no revenue at all). So all those opportunities to show games or highlights or other discussions focused solely on the Pac-12 by Pac-12 experts are missed. That leaves voters mostly watching ESPN and ESPN-channels. Which leads to the next sub-point…
2b) ESPN’s East Coast bias is profound. From researchers to production to talent, ESPN largely recruits and hires people from the East, especially the Northeast. Their HQ is in Connecticut, possibly the least-college-football-obsessed state in the union. Their lone token voice from the West, Colin Cowherd, was replaced by Dan LeBatard, whose Gong Show-ish anti-sports sports talk show based in a Miami party hotel rarely discusses college football except as seen through the Miami looking glass. Which means The U, FSU, UF, Alabama — there are as many Tide fans as ‘Canes fans in SoFlo. Otherwise West Coast morning drive time listeners hear LeBatard obsessing over the Heat, sometimes the Dolphins and tossing in an occasional mention of the Marlins. Any other mentions of West Coast teams is because they’re trending nationally. (LeBatard has bragged he does no prep or research for the show, which often means discussions are driven by Miami sports news or whatever sports-ish hashtag is trending on Twitter; either of which can be preempted when LeBatard delves into his personal interest bucket of topics, like race, LeBron James, race, social justice, race, Cuba, race and Zoo Miami.) BTW his favorite fact-free explanation for any criticism is “You don’t get the show” separating the words with periods, creating five declarative (and grammatically incorrect) sentences. It’s similar to the reason Henry Ford used when he fired someone: “Well, you know.” It’s left to your imagination why you’re inferior. Apparently lots of people don’t get the show as ratings have plummeted in the time slot since Cowherd’s departure. The net result also is the West Coast’s solo advocate has been replaced by a show best summarized as Today in 305 Sports.
3) Whether by design or ability, Stanford does a poor job of marketing individuals like McCaffrey for major awards. USC learned decades ago they had to aggressively promote Heisman, Outland and other national trophy candidates early and often, spending tens of thousands of dollars and dedicating personnel resources solely to the task. Like good marketeers and movie studios, they didn’t just promote the best, they promoted the best talent they had nearly every year. Example: Cody Kessler was mentioned more often as a Heisman candidate going into 2015 than McCaffrey. That was a triumph of marketing. USC learned that as generations of USC players came to national prominence, it built USC’s brand as well as the players. Stanford could learn something from Tim Tessalone, USC’s highly respected sports information czar.
4) General cluelessness/intellectual curosity about Pac-12 football by voters. Example: In 2015 Ole Miss finished 10–3, 3rd overall in the SEC, ranked 10th in the nation. AP’s 2016 preseason poll of journalists — supposed sports experts, many of whom are also Heisman voters — put Ole Miss 11th. Utah, which also finished 10–3 and 3rd overall in the Pac-12, beat Michigan in Michigan and finished 2015 ranked 17th. Like Ole Miss they return the same coach and much of the team. However, AP voters didn’t include the Utes anywhere in the Top 25, instead ranking Oregon and Washington, two largely unchanged teams that Utah beat in 2015. Also ranked is UCLA, which struggled to edge out Utah in 2015 and must travel to Salt Lake City this year. Why was Utah ignored? It wasn’t because of research. It was solely on brands and celebrity: UCLA has Josh Rosen, Oregon still has Chip Kelly afterglow (and a Stanford upset), and a mysterious love for the as-yet-unproven-in-the-Power 5 coach Chris Petersen at UW. If any SEC coach had back-to-back 4–5 conference records like Petersen has in the Pac-12, the discussion would be on his prospects for being fired, not for being ranked in the Top 25. Which is the upside for most journalists’ ignorance of West Coast Football: coaches outside of USC are rarely on the hot seat until they’ve lost 4 or 5 years in a row.
5) The biggest challenge in the last few years isn’t just the 10:30pm ET kickoffs, it’s those late Pac-12 games have been preceded by 40–50 games earlier in the day. As consumers we’ve replaced a Chef’s prix fixe 4- or 5-course meal with an all-you-can-consume smorgasbord of games. Instead of pre-ESPN ABC serving up one game at a time from the East, Midwest and West, ESPN alone has more than a dozen games on its various cable channels, including the SEC Network. Today ESPN/ABC is joined by Fox, CBS, and NBC which also have college games. Fox is all-in with a bunch of regionally branded feeds plus national coverage on Fox, FS1 and FS2 (if you can find it)— including a healthy portion of the Pac-12 schedule (although ABC retains the premier games and the rest on the Pac-12 network). Extending the meal analogy, when you only were served a few courses, you looked forward to a memorable dessert, with the best then-Pac 10 games played at 4:30pm and 6:30pm ET. But at the smorgasbord you’re usually too stuffed from the beef, chicken, ribs, pasta and side dishes to pay much attention to the dessert island, which doesn’t even open until you’re ready for bed. You can DVR the games, but then the NFL is ready to draw your attention.
The good news for West Coast football fans is the surprise growing presence of Fox Sports One and The Ringer, both HQ’d in Los Angeles. FS1, aside from NASCAR coverage, is showing every bit of West Coast bias that ESPN reflects in the East. And The Ringer has discovered the wonders of spending an entire day observing college and NFL football without having to stay up past 11pm. The Pac-12 has also recognized they have too many 7:30pm games and are actively pushing back on broadcasters whose priority is building ratings via live prime time sports. That certainly helps McCaffrey’s quest for the Heisman and the Pac-12's efforts to be relevant east of the Rockies. Now if someone can just get The Pac-12 Network on DirecTV, then as Steinbeck might say, the sports world would be spinning on greased grooves.