Pac-12 Playoff Hopes Live and Die in September

Ryan Robertson Editorials 40 Comments

The Pac-12 needs a win. It has been more than half a decade since any team from the conference has made the CFB Playoff and it is going on a whopping seven seasons since Oregon got the conference its only playoff win. Last year, no team was even in the discussion for the playoff.

That brings us to 2021: one of the most important years in west coast football history. The Pac-12 is on the verge of being relegated to a Group of Five conference due to consistently underperforming. Four games in September 2021 will dictate how the conference is viewed moving forward.

Texas A&M vs. Colorado

Colorado Buffaloes Twitter

Colorado will need to pull off the upset of TAMU if the Pac-12 wants to be legit.

Colorado has been the worst team in the conference since entering the Pac-12. With a combined record of 43-75 since joining, the Buffaloes have been nothing short of a travesty on the football field. They have two winning seasons, zero conference championships, and no bowl wins since 2011.

They have had four head coaches over the last three seasons, and one coach left for a better job after just one season in Boulder. If the Pac-12 is going to be successful, the conference needs Colorado to start pulling its weight. The Buffs get their first shot at making a statement on September 11 against Texas A&M.

The Aggies are predicted to be one of the three best teams in the SEC in 2021, and beating them would go a long way toward legitimizing the Pac-12 in a pivotal year. Colorado should be a decent team this year, and the team’s non-conference resume could be a huge sticking point toward the legitimacy of the Pac-12 if they can beat Texas A&M. Even if they don’t win, if the Buffs can play a good game, avoid getting blown out in Denver, and look good on a big stage, the conference will be better off for it.

Washington vs. Michigan

As much as Duck fans don’t want to admit it, Washington HAS to win this football game. There are no moral victories for a talented Husky team, and the Wolverines are vulnerable. Washington should challenge for the Pac-12 North in 2021, and if one of the best teams in the Pac can’t beat a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, there is little hope for the Pac-12 to get recognition.


Tom Corno

If DTR can pick apart a bad LSU defense, UCLA can upset the Tigers.

September 4 is the first chance Pac-12 teams will have to show what they are made of in 2021. Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins will have a week of football under their belts against Hawaii, and the pressure is officially on for Kelly in Southern California. After generally disappointing over his first several years at UCLA, the Bruins look to have a decent squad this season. If they continue to underperform, everyone is going to look directly at the head coach.

With two four-star defensive lineman now on the roster, the Bruins should be able to field a very good defense. Kelly will have to utilize them, along with all of his other assets to stop another highly-overrated LSU team.

The Tiger defense was flat-out bad in 2020. Kelly should be able to take advantage of that with Dorian Thompson-Robinson under center for what seems like the 8th straight season. The inconsistent QB should have an easy enough game if he avoids the one talented defensive back on the LSU roster.

While UCLA may not be a conference powerhouse, these mid-level interconference games are absolutely vital in showing that this isn’t the same -old conference.

Oregon vs. Ohio State

John Giustina

Oregon needs to finally beat Ohio State in its 10th attempt.

We all knew this one would be on the list. It is being tabbed as arguably the most important non-conference game in the country heading into the season. Both teams are the odds-on favorite to win their conference championships. This could be a Top-10 matchup come September 11, and there is a strong possibility that ESPN College GameDay will be in Columbus to preview the day.

This is a massive game with massive implications. Both coaches have the unenviable task of getting their teams focused on a game the previous week, but it might be even more dangerous for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes face off against a tough Minnesota team on the road to open the season.

The last time the Ducks made the playoff, they had to beat a Top-10-ranked Big Ten opponent in their second game of the season. It kicked off a Heisman Trophy run for Marcus Mariota and sent the fanbase in to a frenzy, and this year looks to start in much the same way.

USC has a chance to contend for a playoff spot this year — and so does Washington, and so do the Ducks. There aren’t really any other teams with a legitimate shot to win the conference. Whoever the Pac crowns champion needs to be heading for the playoff, one way or another. The only way they’ll be respectable enough to make the playoff is if they go 10-0 in conference play, which has never happened, or have such an incredible resume that they cannot be ignored. Oregon is the team that can either have that resume or give another team an incredible resume booster.

If the Pac-12 wants to have any legitimacy at all, Oregon is going to have to beat Ohio State.

Ryan Robertson
Yuma, Arizona
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline

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Hey, I’m looking forward to football. Period. Let’s unleash all these athletes and let them get out and play … and do it in front of huge crowds! Yeah!

But before I get too cranked up about what I’d like to see happen for the Ducks in the Horseshoe, I have only to think back to the end of last season and what the team looked like against Iowa State. It wasn’t the first time the Ducks underperformed in front of a big audience. Pathetic doesn’t fully describe it.

Will we beat tOSU … in their building … in front of all their fans … and a tv audience? The oddsmakers will say “No Way.” Believe me, I’d love nothing better than to see us kick the snot out of those buckeyes. That would send shockwaves throughout every conference and be a huge confidence-builder for the Ducks.

But if the team turns in another Iowa State-like performance and falls flat on its face, we’ll be branded as a pretender, not up to the level of competition in the B1G, the SEC, and so on. The 2nd game of the season will be a supreme test for the players and for the coaches and could go a long way to building our reputation—good or bad.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I have your concerns too; everybody is focused on the Ohio State game, but what will make our season is how the Ducks perform in the other 11 games and then the Pac-12 Championship.


I hate to be a debbie downer of sorts but frankly the pac12 could win all ooc games and frankly I don’t think it would matter. First off we can ask the old adage: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? due to the current set up the pac 12 has significantly worse start times than any other conference. And while I understand that OSU VS ORE is going to be a heavily watched game but what are the ramifications, if no one shows up and watches the pac12CCG.

Next is the networks themselves. Fox Sports which ones big10Network, SECN and ACCN in part by ESPN. and the big12 is managed by ESPN as well if I recall correctly. at this point all of it is owned by Disney. They have no reason to push a surging pac12 conference. sure the games will be brought up but the tv time will be significantly less than the reverse. College football media has no need to push the pac12 and likely won’t cover them unless it is absolutely necessary.

Jon Joseph

ESPN owns and operates the ACC + SEC networks and will be replacing CBS as the lead broadcaster of SEC games. ESPN shares B1G, B 12 and Pac-12 broadcast rights with FOX. ESPN also owns the Longhorn Network.

ESPN also owns the exclusive right to broadcast the Playoff, cover the ranking releases, etc.

It’s not a CFB broadcast monopoly but is a broadcast cartel.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

A “Broadcast Cartel” is a perfect label to describe this mess. Gotta remember that one and give credit to you!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

No sweat. I want “Critical Analysis,” and that means we state what is great, and what is not. It may be negative at times, but all opinions are wanted as again–I want to learn from others.

You make a great observation, even if none of us like it. And I want everyone to post them!

(Note to all: that doesn’t mean a torrent of negative, but simply calling things as you see them is all. You can do it here and people will be nice regardless!)

Jon Joseph

Great get! That’s a heck of a line up to beat out for this young man’s services.


Linebacker U…Go Ducks


Indeed, get ready to compete. That is a stacked position, like never before! Start at linebacker for the Ducks, and get on the road to the NFL.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Get this…in an interview this last January with, Dudley told them that “it is down to Alabama and Clemson.”

Pulling a player like that is incredible!


Good breakdown of this season’s out of conference games which seem to be taking on a significance all their own for the Pac12.

If I believed for one moment the Pac12 would immediately bolt into the national conversation by doing well in these games my level of excitement would be off the charts. Sadly, it will take several successful out of conference seasons and strong post season bowl showings before the PAC 12 earns respect.

Let’s be honest. When we speak of “legitimacy “ or “respect” what are we really talking about? I would suggest it is the fickle tastes of those who pass for sports writers now days.

The media likes simple story lines- in my opinion because the simple story is the easiest to tell. The ACC, SEC, and Big10 are good and easy to cover playing mostly in the east coast time zones in regions of the country where college football, if not a religion, is a tradition consuming millions of fans.

Those fans represent billions of dollars in revenue if you can get them to follow your network, newspaper, sports site, blog, or whatever medium features those fans teams and conferences.

The Big12 deserves credit for being sort of an outlier in the fact it’s teams are a geographic jumble but the conference is able to get Oklahoma in the playoff consistently. And somehow, regardless of being mediocre at best, Texas with its own TV network, remains in the public eye, much like USC.

Do I have a point? Yes. Here it is.

Until the Pac12 gets a network contract and undoes Larry Scott’s folly the conference will be held hostage by media perception. At the moment the perception of the conference is one of mediocrity.

PAC 12 teams will need to prove on the field of play (as it should be) they’re legit. As for respect, Rich Brooks nailed it “Respect, demand it.”

Beat Ohio St., that’s a good start.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

No, I will politely disagree, as I believe the old investment firm of EF Hutton said it best….“Respect, we EARNED it.”

You are quite right about needing years of success to change the national perception, and an example is college basketball. With what the conference did in the NCAAs this last year, clearly the BEST conference…will that earn many points when next year’s preseason pundits begin?

And boy are you right about the Pac-12 Network, and hopefully it is at the top of the new commissioner’s agenda.

Santa Rosa Duck

Talking about it is fun but bring on the games! 68 days to kickoff in Autzen vs Fresno State. GO DUCKS!


And Ohio State opens away against PJ Flecks Minnesota, last year finished #10, something to consider, not just a cream puff game. It should help Oregon to follow a tough game. We still need to take care of business, but we could get a little help.

Jon Joseph

Thanks Ryan.

I think Utah is definitely a contender for the conference crown in 2021. Utah’s OOC schedule is weak but it does play BYU in September.

A+M will have a new QB but CU was smacked by Texas playing 2 back up QBs. Aggies will badly gig CU.

I do not think LSU is overrated coming into 2021. I believe last season, especially now fired Bo Pelini’s D, was aberrational. UCLA may have 2 4 stars on the DL, but LSU has 4 and 5* guys, 66% of the roster, all over the place. Far too many athletes for the Bruins. I’m concerned about UCLA winning the week prior in Honolulu?

UW has a chance in the Big House. Michigan is in the upper third, at least, of the B1G teams. Michigan has a Blue Chip Roster (BCR) with 58% 4 + 5* guys. UW does have a far better late KO time in Ann Arbor than the Ducks have in Columbus. And UW has athletes, 49% BCR.

Oregon looks to beat Ohio State for the first time in, I believe, 11 games. It’s doable but it will take a perfect game from the Ducks and at least a couple of TOs by the Buckeyes. The new OH ST QB will have a game at Minnesota under his belt + he will be throwing to the best group of WRs in the country and playing behind a veteran O line.

Off the radar a bit but CAL at TCU is also a big September OOC game for the conference. And Oregon State at Purdue also will have an impact on how the conference is viewed.

Adding in the Utah, Beavers and CAL contests, I’d say 4-3 would be a very good showing for the conference. It could get ugly.

Utah vs BYU, will be the only conference team favored in the above games.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Great stuff, but darn…the likely outcomes!


Wow, good stuff Ryan. I haven’t dove too deep into schedules. Thanks for all the analysis. I too think Chip has been underestimated, he is still an offensive whizkid.

Lou Farnsworth

Hey Ryan, nice summary of the key OOC games this year for the Pac12. Your analysis seems pretty close to the mark. I would, however, have nuanced your last sentence a bit:

“If the Pac-12 wants to have any legitimacy at all, Oregon is going to have to beat Ohio State.”

Would the Pac12 be completely lacking in legitimacy this year, for example, if the games you listed went 3-1; and the single loss was an overtime Oregon loss to a tOSU 50 yard FG? And then the Ducks, UW, and USC each go on to 10 win (or better) seasons? This scenario could easily have those three teams in the top ten. Perhaps even with one of them threatening the Final Four.

Or make it 2-2. The second loss being a respectably close Buff game with A&M. If Oregon then goes undefeated after the above hypothetical, (and doing it with appropriate “style points”), and the Trojans and the Dawgs similarly cooperate, I would argue that the Pac12 would have made a rather strong case for legitimacy.

Nevertheless, Ryan, your main point is well taken. The Pac12, of late, has not performed well against strong OOC P5/G5 competition. Neither in early season OOC games, nor in post-season bowl games. Pac12 respectability will continue to suffer until that changes.

Jon Joseph

Take Ohio State deep in the 4th quarter in Columbus and the Ducks will be seen as legitimate. If not, do not schedule these games!


On the Hopeful side, hitting Ohio State. early in the season might not be a bad idea. I remember the big upset Virginia Tech had at the horseshoe beating Ohio St. 35-21 early in the season.

Ohio St. did have problems with our OC schemes he used when he was at Penn St. Here’s hoping!

Jon Joseph

That VA TECH victory came the year that 4th seed Ohio State beat Bama and then (sigh) the Ducks for the championship.

That season the B1G played 8 conference games. No team that played 9 conference games has won a playoff title.

Lou! Great to have you back, because as always–you make a great point.

Ryan, your article got me to thinking (Oh no!) about these games and how going 0-4, (which is entirely possible) could damage Oregon’s Playoff hopes.

If the Ducks lose to Ohio State badly, but goes 11-1 for the season….considering the Pac-12 went 0-4 versus other conferences–wouldn’t that hurt our chances of being picked … substantially?

(Gotta love it. It is tough enough on our own, but the rest of the conference could hold Oregon down?)

Yes. 0-For will hurt. If the Ducks lay an egg in Columbus, even a 12 (champ game win) – 1 Oregon could be passed over.

Say, in favor of 11-1 Notre Dame? 11-1 UGA, A+M, LSU?

Clearly, the conference will receive no benefit of the doubt without going 3-1 and if the Ducks do not win in Columbus, it has to be a close L.

Jon Joseph

Then I think you see Clemson, Oklahoma, 2 SEC teams or 1 SEC team + Notre Dame?

Games are not being played September but it would be nice if SC can win in South Bend and for Stanford to beat ND at home.


Good article. The marquee matchup is Oregon versus Ohio State. I don’t expect to win in Columbus but if it’s competitive and we have a chance to win in the fourth quarter, then we can survive that loss in terms of going to a playoff game (assuming we win the PAC12). If we get blown out then all bets are off.

Jon Joseph

There is hope. I want to see DeRuyter’s D on the field before saying the ‘staff is fantastic.’

It was only the spring game but there were a lot of holes on defense.


I’m more confident in DeRuyter than JoMo. They both have a lot to prove.


The Pac-12 is barely alive and may start and stumble in September, but we won’t be back. The Pac-12 has made some moves to regain it’s championship past, but it will need a few years to get back to it’s glory years.

A half decade ago the dawgs fell into the playoffs and were humiliated by Alabama. That season started by Alabama crushing sc and Helton was the coach. Not only was Helton coach, but they had a lot of NFL talent. The future won’t have sc leading until Helton is gone.

As far as a program leading the Pac-12, Oregon will need to rise up under Cristobal this year. We have the assistants, the players, and the time to put a team together. This September will be the time for Oregon to make another big move on the national stage. Unless we have more offense that move may be just a blip on the vital signs monitor.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Your final sentence decides Oregon’s fate this year, I believe.


All this talk about the Pac-12 achieving legitimacy and its champion hopefully being part of playoff discussion at season’s end is a lot of fun, but as a college football fan for way too many decades, I know there are going to be many surprises throughout the season……injuries to key players, questionable coaching decisions, unanticipated long shot upsets, teams coming out flat and stinking up the place…….it’s all part of the game. Anything being said now may look silly in November.

But, I’ll continue.

WhiIe I would love to see Oregon return to the national championship game (and win it this time), I fear a lopsided loss at Ohio State would end that dream two weeks into the season.

Oregon would need to run the table the rest of the way, winning against its toughest opponents on the road, and the likelihood of that happening is not promising. One slip up and they’re done, because a two loss team will not be in the playoff.

We’ll know a lot more about the Ducks’ chances come September 11th.


A great topic and synopsis Ryan. Thanks for writing it. Not much more needs to be said.

The Dawgs might have the best shot in the four games that you listed. Oregon would be next followed by UCLA.

Sorry Colorado. The Aggies will run CU off the field.

Wouldn’t it be great if the PAC could go 3-1 over the slate? All that matters to me is that the Ducks upset the Bucs and sit 2-0 on September 12th.

Go Ducks!

Summer camp is near. The restrictions have been lifted. Autzen will be full again. The staff has had time to gel.

Will the 2021 Ducks be remembered as over-achiever champions or become a let down to the faithful?

Jon Joseph

It would might of helped CU for Noyer to stick around? An inexperienced CU QB will be going against a quality A+M D.


CU will most likely look like over run turf against A&M. Jimbo has loaded up with talent and speed.