If you hate what’s happening to college football, here’s the team to root for this season

If you are a college football fan who hates conference realignment, hates the elimination of rivalries, hates the lack of commonality and regionality, hates the assault on tradition, hates how everything is about revenue projections … well … tough break because the entire operation is run by a few television executives and they certainly don’t care what you think.

The Big Ten will have 18 teams in 2024. The Big 12 and SEC will have 16. The Pac-12 may not exist, at least not in any recognizable form.

Change is a constant in college sports because decades of relentless spending by athletic departments on outlandish facilities, bigger administrative staffs and ridiculous coaching buyouts means there needs to be a relentless pursuit of more and more money to then relentlessly spend and spend.

It’s how Rutgers vs. Washington volleyball happens.

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They say pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered, but in college sports all that seems to happen is the hogs get richer.

The truth is, games will be played and the sport will prevail. It always has. Those TV execs are convinced it always will. They are probably correct.

So hate it, lament it, curse it, complain about it. No one blames you.

Just know it isn’t stopping.

There is one collective action however that all of the aggrieved fans out there can rally around.

Root for Oregon State to win the Pac-12 this season, likely the 108-year-old conference’s last.

It won’t change much, but it’s a rallying point against market forces, a shaken fist of the powerless, a nod to the underdog in a big dog-eat-big dog world.

Oregon State is one of the programs on the wrong end of realignment musical chairs. It joined the then-Pac-10 in 1964 and now sits in the ruins of the Pac-4 — with similarly positioned Washington State, plus Cal and Stanford.

In its history, it won the league just twice — that first year in 1964 and then in 2000, when Dennis Erickson coached them to an 11-1 record and fourth in the final AP poll. There have been bursts of success through the decades. There also have been stretches with lots of one- and two-win seasons.

All along the Beavers played to a passionate and proud fan base. They’ve done what they could, especially late, to punch above their weight, including a $153 million overhaul of Reser Stadium.

If there was a single reason why Oregon is headed in one direction and Oregon State the other, it might be that in 1955 a distance runner from Portland named Phil Knight enrolled at Oregon. He then went on to build the world’s preeminent athletic brand and showered all the Nike money and Nike cool necessary on his alma mater. Had Knight studied in Corvallis, maybe it’s all reversed.

Instead, Oregon State is staring into an accounting abyss — cratering revenue trying to handle massive expenses and construction debt.

“Furious,” athletic director Scott Barnes said to the Oregonian. “Conference realignment just doesn’t make sense anymore. What this enterprise was built on was regionality and rivalries. That is gone. That is leaving the Pac-12. Some of the most special pieces about our model is the regionality of competition and rivalries. Those things are forgotten.”

He’s not wrong, but, again, that’s reality.

Oregon State — and Washington State — will likely wind up in the Mountain West. Football will be played. Tailgates will be staged. The band will play. Fun will be had. If these are dark days, then know that some measure of light is coming.

If anything, it’s a better competitive fit. The path to the expanded College Football Playoff is actually easier now. The money is the money and the school will have to reckon with it. If you are a fan or player, though, this is still the great place it always was.

And there is still one season left in the Pac-12 with everyone still around. There is one last season that promises to be a banger full of bitterness and spite. Just look at the quarterbacks: Heisman winner Caleb Williams at USC, Michael Penix Jr. at Washington, Cam Rising at Utah, Bo Nix at Oregon.

There is a reason the Pac-12 has five teams ranked in Phil Steele’s preseason top 18. Each of the aforementioned and … Oregon State.

Yeah, the Beavers should be good, like really good. Coach Jonathan Smith has built up the program — and the talent level. Coming off a 10-3 season, almost anything is possible, in part because they have their own big-name QB in Clemson transfer D.J. Uiagalelei.

If there was a year for Oregon State, then this would be the year … and that’s before this became the only year.

Root for Oregon State? Sure, why not?

This would be the soon-to-be left-behind Beavers getting the last laugh before everyone leaves for their distant, supposedly greener-grassed new homes. This would be the discarded getting in the last shot. This would be the brushed-off holding up the trophy.

It won’t reverse college football’s trajectory. It won’t save the Pac-12 or balance the books.

It might be kind of fun though.

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