Saturday Night Five: Chaos returns, Washington’s big win, USC stands alone, WSU’s bowl berth, a five-way tie(?) and more

Instant reaction to Pac-12 on-field developments …

1. Then there was one

Week after week, the Pac-12 favorites won handily and kept chaos at bay: USC, UCLA, Oregon and Utah built a 22-3 combined record in league play, with the only losses coming to each other.

They were 19-0 against everyone else.

But on the second Saturday of November, upsets returned to the scene as two double-digit road underdogs toppled home heavyweights.

Washington took down Oregon in a 37-34 thriller, extinguishing the Ducks’ hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff.

Arizona edged UCLA in a 34-28 stunner, knocking the Bruins out of the CFP race.

The back-to-back affairs produced seven consecutive hours of first-rate entertainment on Fox. But at the end of the night, the Pac-12 was down to one playoff contender: USC.

The Trojans must beat UCLA next weekend … then handle Notre Dame … then win the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas in order to end the conference’s five-year playoff drought.

The results also undermined the most dramatic Saturday in eons for the conference, with Utah visiting Oregon and USC facing UCLA on Nov. 19.

Instead of two games featuring three CFP contenders, there’s one game with one team still alive.

But the conference was overdue for high-level chaos, especially given that so many of the top teams have deeply flawed defenses.

Also, the Pac-12 isn’t alone in its paucity of playoff contenders. The Big 12 and ACC are down to one with TCU and Clemson, respectively.

2. Eugene madness

We could have devoted this entire column — three entire columns! — to making sense of what transpired in Autzen Stadium.

Instead, a few takeaways will have to suffice:

— It was the signature victory for first-year Washington coach Kalen DeBoer and, in fact, the best win for the UW program since the 2018 Pac-12 championship (over Utah).

(That it came as a huge underdog on the home turf of its bitter enemy made the result that much sweeter for the Huskies. But better than a conference championship? Not in our view.)

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was sensational while the Huskies defense held up better than expected, limiting the Ducks to 34 points — or 16 below their average at home.

— Oregon coach Dan Lanning said after the game that the loss “100 percent falls on me.” And we agree: He whiffed on the fourth-and-one decision that ultimately cost the Ducks the game.

We didn’t take issue with Lanning’s attempt to convert from Oregon’s 34 yard-line with 1:26 remaining. But he gambled with backup quarterback Ty Thompson on the field and starter Bo Nix on the sideline, asking to be reinserted following an injury.

Why not use a timeout to get Nix in the game — or give Thompson a chance to calm down and receive detailed instructions.

Instead, the sequence unfolded with no stoppage, and the Huskies knew a handoff to tailback Noah Whittington was coming. There was no chance (none, zero) that Thompson would be tasked with trying to convert. Even if Whittington hadn’t slipped in the backfield, UW’s penetration suggested trouble.

Also, any chance whatsoever to give Nix extra time to return would have been worthwhile.

We understand why Lanning was hesitant to punt. Penix had torched the Ducks defense throughout the second half.

But in that situation, when a failure to convert would put UW in range of the winning field goal, what the Ducks needed most was to hit pause and get organized.

— Overall, the latest installment of this terrific rivalry was fabulous theatre for the Pac-12 — everything the conference could have wanted from the pillar programs of its new existence.

While the result produced a short term hit, with Oregon being eliminated from the playoff race, it confirmed a significant longer-haul gain:

Washington is back, and that’s vital for the future of the conference.

3. Washington State’s big win

Washington State became the latest team to clinch a bowl berth with its 28-18 victory over Arizona State.

The Cougars (6-4) are in the postseason for the seventh consecutive season (excluding 2020).

Only Utah has a longer streak (eight consecutive years), which is remarkable considering Washington State’s limited budget and remote location.

But the Cougars maximize their resources as well as any team in the conference — and far better than most.

Their streak of seven consecutive bowl appearances covers three coaching tenures (Mike Leach, Nick Rolovich and Jake Dickert) and reflects administrative alignment of the highest order.

President Kirk Schulz not only understands major college football but values the impact winning can have on the campus at large.

We cannot say the same for several of his peers.

If every school embraced football in the same manner as WSU — and with whatever resources are at its disposal — the Pac-12 would be exponentially better positioned.

4. The bowl math

Through 11 weeks, the conference has seven bowl-eligible teams: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, UCLA and Utah.

Meanwhile, Colorado, Stanford, Cal and Arizona State have been eliminated.

(The Bay Area teams won’t alter their downward trajectories without institutional changes that reflect the new landscape of college football.)

That leaves only one team with an unknown fate: Arizona is 4-6 following its most significant victory in years — one sparked as much by the maligned defense as the high-powered offense.

Adding to the stunning nature of the result: The Wildcats were playing their second consecutive road game, having been thumped last weekend at Utah.

With wins over Washington State and Arizona State (both in Tucson), the Wildcats would clinch their first bowl berth since 2017.

It would be a remarkable achievement for second-year coach Jeff Fisch, whose team was 1-11 last season.

5. Champ game scenarios

With two weeks remaining, five teams are alive for spots in the Pac-12 championship game.

Their records:

USC: 7-1

Oregon: 6-

Utah: 6-1

UCLA: 5-2

Washington: 5-2

(Oregon State was eliminated tonight.)

It’s worth noting that a five-team tie (at 7-2) would require very few upsets:

— UCLA beats USC and Cal– Washington beats Colorado and WSU– Oregon beats Utah and loses to OSU– Utah loses to Oregon and beats Colorado

We’ll worry about sorting through the mess if it materializes. No reason to cause a migraine unnecessarily.

For now, here’s what we know:

USC would clinch a berth in the championship game with a victory over the Bruins.

UCLA and Washington would be eliminated with losses.

That is all.

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