With one month to go, the Pac-12’s postseason prospects appear promising.
Instant reaction to Pac-12 field developments…
- Pinball masters
Washington and USC combined for 94 points, 1,087 yards, and one unlikely player of the game: UW tailback Dillon Johnson, who ran over and around the Trojans for an astounding 256 yards — or 156 more than he had gained in any previous game this season.
However, USC’s defense is similar to a clump of interstellar dust and gas in that it gives birth to stars.
Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes was on the receiving end of USC’s ineptness two weeks ago.
Cal freshman quarterback Fernando Mendoza was the lucky recipient last week.
This week, Johnson averaged 9.8 yards per carry — yes, 9.8 — scored four touchdowns, and rushed for the same number of yards as UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
As a result of their 52-42 win, the Huskies (9-0/6-0) maintain the advantage that comes with a perfect record. They can afford a late-season loss (to Utah, Oregon State, or Washington) and still be in the College Football Playoff race.
UW’s goal is to leave the conference championship game in Las Vegas with the trophy and no more than one loss on the record.
Of course, Oregon (8-1/5-1) has the same objective. With one month left in the regular season, the bitter rivals are the Pac-12’s only playoff contenders.
They are, however, not the only teams vying for a spot in Las Vegas.
USC is still alive and well. The Trojans have two league losses, but if they beat Oregon and UCLA and get help from the conference tiebreaker procedure, they will qualify.
Utah can also finish the regular season with two league losses and earn a trip to Las Vegas.
The same goes for Oregon State and… wait for it… Arizona.
The Wildcats defeated UCLA on Saturday evening for their third straight victory.
They, like the Trojans, Beavers, and Utes, have only two conference losses.
Washington and Oregon should be considered heavy favorites to meet in the championship game. The final three weeks, however, feature just enough marquee matchups and potential plot twists to keep the race interesting.
- Postseason opportunities expand
In terms of the postseason, the Pac-12 benefited from a series of results across the Power Five on Saturday.
Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State for the second time this season, eliminating the ninth-ranked Sooners from the playoff race.
Missouri suffered the same fate, finishing with two losses after falling just short against Georgia.
(No team with two losses has ever made the CFP.)
And Notre Dame’s third loss of the season (at Clemson) has pushed the Irish to the periphery of the New Year’s Six bowl chase, where they are unlikely to prevent the Pac-12 from claiming an at-large berth to the Fiesta, Cotton, or Peach.
In other words, the Pac-12 could not have asked for a more favorable landscape heading into the second week of November.
- The highest possible high
Arizona is gaining steam by the week and has emerged as the biggest surprise of the Pac-12 season thus far.
The Wildcats (6-3) have beaten Washington State, Oregon State, and UCLA in a row, and are bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2017 season.
Freshman quarterback Noah Fifita is an all-conference performer; Jedd Fisch is on the short list of candidates for Coach of the Year; and the improvement on the offensive line is astounding.
And don’t forget that the Wildcats lost in overtime at Mississippi State and in triple overtime at USC — they’re only a game or two away from being 7-2 or 8-1.
They joined Washington, the Oregon schools, the L.A. schools, and Utah as the seventh Pac-12 team to qualify for the postseason.
How does that stack up?
Bowl-eligible teams (at least six victories):
ACC: seven Pac-12: seven SEC: seven Big 12: six Big Ten: five
- The lowest lows
Washington State is the anti-Arizona.
Unless you live in Colorado.
Do you recall the Cougars and Buffaloes? They were among the hottest stories in the sport at the end of September, CU because of its hot start under Deion Sanders, WSU because of its then-perfect record against the backdrop of realignment chaos.
Both teams are still gasping five weeks later.
After a disastrous performance against Stanford at home on Saturday, Washington State has now lost five consecutive games. Cam Ward and company scored only seven points against a Cardinal defense that had allowed at least 40 points in four consecutive games.
WSU’s new play-caller, Ben Arbuckle, appears to have no answers for the mid-season adjustments made by opposing coaching staffs.
To become bowl-eligible and avoid a complete collapse, the Cougars must win two of their final three games. Given that they will face Washington in Seattle in the championship game, the Cougars must win against Cal (away) and Colorado (at home).
Meanwhile, the Buffaloes are in disarray. They were defeated at home by Oregon State on Saturday, their fifth defeat in the previous six games.
They, like WSU, need two wins in their final three games to secure a bowl berth. Given that the Buffs’ final game is against Utah in Salt Lake City, they must win against Arizona (at home) and WSU (away).
Coach Deion Sanders has criticized his offensive linemen and demoted his offensive coordinator in the last week.
The offensive line struggled on Saturday (four sacks allowed), and the staff change had no positive impact.
CU was even worse on offense than it had been previously. One of the worst displays of clock management we’ve seen this season, anywhere, was part of the stumbling and bumbling.
The play resulted in an Oregon State touchdown with 16 seconds remaining in the first half, and the Beavers won by… a touchdown.
- The 11/11 strategy
The Pac-12 announced the kickoff times for the Nov. 11 games in the Pacific Northwest shortly after Washington’s victory over USC became official.
The Washington-Utah game will air on Fox at 12:30 p.m., followed by the USC-Oregon game at 7:30 p.m.
Neither game was chosen for the Fox primetime slot (4 p.m.). Instead, the West Virginia-Oklahoma game took that time slot.
Why would Fox choose a three-loss team (WVU) against a two-loss team (Oklahoma) in primetime when it could have a top-10 Pac-12 team?
We don’t have an answer, other than to say that these are complicated decisions that aren’t always based on track record and ranking.
Unless Fox and ESPN apply the six-day hold, the Pac-12 will release the kickoff times for the Nov. 18 games on Monday.