For the Oregon Ducks, it’s about more than just being the one of the first four. This is a chance to solidify their legacy as one of the premier programs in all of college football. They have their first Heisman, their second Pac-12 Title in four years, and national recruits sporting the green and yellow from Florida to Hawaii. Oregon, as a national brand, is two wins away from getting a seat at the table.
The Pac-12 needs bowl wins almost as much as Oregon needs a national title. The four team playoff isn’t going to expand in the near future, and so the potential for a repeat of this year’s controversy with the Big 12 is a reality for every conference until either the playoff participant pool is expanded, or the Power 5 becomes the Power 4. Oregon and the Pac-12 need to make a statement for next year, and they need to do it this year.
In the midst of the four team selection, we were reminded just how close most of the conferences came to being in the Big 12’s shoes. A loss by Ohio State in the B1G Title Game certainly would have eliminated tOSU and its conference from the playoff. A Mizzou win may have eliminated the SEC altogether, although the debate certainly would have been lively if not bloody.
The ACC put a team in the playoff by the skin of its teeth. One call in the other direction in either the FSU/ND game or the FSU/Clemson game, and the ACC most certainly would have been eliminated as a conference, considering none of its other teams was considered good enough to pass the eye test as one of the best teams in the country.
We all saw what happened to the Big 12, and while most of the blame lies solely on the shoulders of the presidents, ADs, and chairman, had Baylor or TCU taken care of business, then the whole discussion would be a moot point. This leads us to next year and the Pac-12. Depending on whose statistics you evaluate, the Pac-12 is considered either the second or third best conference in college football. This gives the Pac-12 as a whole the opportunity to buy some breathing room if things go awry next year. It’s likely we will see a Pac-12 Title game with two teams who are not undefeated, simply based on the depth of the conference. The winner of that game may need some clout in order to make its case to the Playoff Committee, and the Pac-12 can start that with a dominant bowl season in 2014.
Just as Oregon needs a win for its own legacy, the Pac-12 needs an Oregon win as well. Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame were all propped up by their losses to FSU this year, especially earlier in the season, and a loss to the defending National Champion is deemed to be a “better” loss than a loss to an unranked team. A quality loss to the defending National Champion Oregon Ducks may hold more weight with the committee next year if the team is also the Pac-12 Champion, and if that is its only loss of the season. Similarly, a loss by Oregon to a Pac-12 team who dominated in its bowl win may give Oregon some additional meat in its strength of schedule.
Come Selection Sunday 2015, the Pac-12 may be in a precarious position with the other four Power 5 conferences. While the committee is supposed to only weigh the current season, we have seen in the first year that a little lobbying never hurts. Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, may need to cart out the Pac-12’s Bowl win strength, especially if the Pac-12 is vying for multiple New Year’s Day Bowls.
The SEC proved time and again this year that strength of schedule is everything in college football rankings, and the two are intertwined. A team is deemed to have a strong SoS if it plays other highly-ranked teams. Those teams become highly ranked by both being in a strong conference, and by playing other teams with a strong SoS. Since half of the SEC teams are ranked in the Top 25, that automatically boosts the perceived SoS for whoever comes out on top in the SEC. If the Pac-12 could clean house in the 2014 Bowl Season, and add another one or two teams to the final Top 25 Rankings, then the Pac-12 would be off to an almost insurmountable start when it comes to rankings. We could see the Pac-12 compete head-to-head with the SEC in rankings, and it’s possible that Pac-12 teams wouldn’t slide as much after a loss as teams from other conferences did this year.
If there was a time to root for the Pac-12 as a whole, because doing so supports the interest of any individual school, this is the year. Oregon will (most likely) be without Marcus Mariota next year, as well as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Hroniss Grasu and Erick Dargan. A repeat appearance in the College Football Playoff a year from now will be a daunting task for Oregon, but not undoable. What the Ducks may need more than anything, though, is a strong conference representation to stand on if things get sticky, just as they did with Baylor and TCU.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline