Instant reaction to Pac-12 developments on the field …
1. When Saturdays are boring …
Another weekend without a major upset to be found as the top-four teams churned to victories.
Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah each scored more than 40 points, won by a combined total of 84 points and improved to 22-3 in conference play.
Their only losses are to each other.
Against everyone else, they are 19-0.
Not since the 2016 season — the last time the Pac-12 sent a team to the playoff — has the conference experienced such a top-heavy season.
And Week 11 could bring more of the same with all four at home.
Three will be huge favorites with USC facing Colorado, UCLA welcoming Arizona and Utah hosting Stanford for what could be an epic beatdown.
Only Oregon, which plays rival Washington in Eugene, has a significant challenge.
If all four survive, then a momentous Nov. 19 awaits with Utah visiting Oregon and USC playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
From our vantage point, that would constitute the biggest, boldest Saturday doubleheader the conference has experienced in the expansion era.
The start times for both showdowns are expected to be placed on six-day holds by ESPN and Fox, meaning we won’t know the kickoff information until the conclusion of the Nov. 12 games.
2. Tuesdays are fun
Top-heavy conferences don’t provide many thrills on the field, but they produce sterling results when the College Football Playoff rankings are released.
The Pac-12 had five teams in the initial rankings: No. 8 Oregon, No. 9 USC, No. 12 UCLA, No. 14 Utah and No. 23 Oregon State. (The SEC and ACC also had five ranked teams.)
At worst, the top four will hold their ground for the second set, which will be revealed on Tuesday evening. And Washington could very well replace the Beavers as the fifth entry after its head-to-head victory on Friday night.
If the top-four are victorious in Week 11, the Pac-12 likely will have three top-10 teams for the mega-Saturday showdowns on Nov. 19.
But let’s make one contrarian point, because it cannot be ignored and could factor into the playoff discussion a few weeks from now:
The best non-conference victory produced thus far by any member of that quartet is USC’s win over Fresno State, which is 5-4, or Oregon’s win over Brigham Young, which is 5-5.
3. Scoreboard watching
This weekend unfolded perfectly for the Pac-12’s playoff hopes, not only with the intra-conference results but also the scores of games across the country.
Oregon got the outcome it needed with Georgia beating Tennessee 27-13.
No, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the 49-3 plastering Georgia dealt the Ducks in Week One, but it might have been decisive enough to remove the Vols as an obstacle in the event Oregon finishes as a one-loss Pac-12 champion.
And in that regard, Alabama’s loss at LSU — the Crimson Tide’s second defeat of the season — was significant.
One of the chief threats to Oregon’s playoff pursuit is the SEC placing two teams in the field. That’s much less likely if everyone not named Georgia has at least two losses.
No. 10 UCLA holds off Arizona State’s late rally
No. 9 USC scrapes by in lifeless win over Cal
UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson ties Cade McNown’s school record for career QB starts
USC WRs Jordan Addison, Mario Williams miss second straight game
No. 10 UCLA football vs. Arizona State: Live updates from Tempe
But those weren’t the only fortuitous results for the Pac-12. Notre Dame’s resounding 35-14 victory over Clemson provided a double-dose of help.
It elevated Notre Dame’s profile ahead of the regular-season finale against USC, thereby adding a resume-boosting opportunity for the Trojans.
And because it marked the first loss for Clemson, the ACC cannot produce an undefeated champion that assuredly would have boxed out the Pac-12 winner.
At this point, there are four obvious obstacles standing between a one-loss Pac-12 champion and the playoff:
— Georgia with fewer than two losses.
— The Ohio State-Michigan winner as an undefeated Big Ten champ.
— TCU as an undefeated Big 12 champ.
— Mississippi as a one-loss SEC champ.
Beyond that, no team would have a clear advantage over a 12-1 champion from the Pac-12.
4. Oregon’s stretch run
Two things are equally true about the Ducks (8-1) since their face plant against Georgia:
— They have dominated the competition and looked like a playoff-worthy team.
— They have, for the most part, faced second-rate competition.
Here are Oregon’s eight victims and their current records:
Eastern Washington (2-7/FCS)Brigham Young (5-5)Washington State (5-4)Stanford (3-6)Arizona (3-6)UCLA (8-1)Cal (3-6)Colorado (1-8)
That’s a combined record of 30-43 and not exactly a collection of opponents that would impress the selection committee (except for UCLA).
But the stretch run will test the Ducks:
vs. Washington (7-2)
vs. Utah (7-2)
at Oregon State (6-3)
Then add a top-tier opponent in the Pac-12 championship game, and the Ducks will deserve serious consideration … if they run the table.
5. The USC factor
The Hotline’s assessment hasn’t changed, despite the (understandable) attention heaped on the Ducks by the national media:
The Trojans, not Oregon or UCLA, are the Pac-12’s best chance to break the five-year playoff drought.
We have three reasons to support that opinion:
— Brand bias.
As much as the selection committee leans on data and endeavors to take an objective look at the contenders, bias is inevitable.
The big brands have an advantage, and USC is a big brand, especially with coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams.
— Oregon is a brand, as well, but the Ducks are carrying a 49-3 stain on their resume that cannot be ignored.
Maybe the result isn’t a deal-breaker for the selection committee, but it certainly makes Oregon’s case a bit messy.
And UCLA’s resume (as the conference champion) would include a 15-point loss to a team with a 46-point loss, plus a pillowy soft non-conference schedule.
As Pac-12 champs, the Trojans would not carry the stain. They would have beaten the Ducks or simply not faced them, and both options create a cleaner case for playoff inclusion.
USC’s only loss would be the 43-42 thriller at Utah, which won’t result in a downgrade of any sort.
— The stretch run.
In order to finish 12-1 and claim the conference title, the Trojans would finish with wins over Notre Dame and two ranked opponents (UCLA and the Pac-12 title game opponent).
That’s more likely to impress the committee than Oregon’s stretch run (Utah, Oregon State and the Pac-12 title game) or UCLA’s stretch run (USC, Cal and the Pac-12 title game).
Notre Dame still carries weight, especially after the victory over Clemson.
For those reasons, we believe USC would have the cleanest, strongest case.
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