Has Pac-12 Cannibalism Struck Again?

David Marsh Editorials

The Pac-12 started this season with a whopping six teams ranked in the AP poll, and peaked at Week 4 with eight. This didn’t last, as Week 4 was the beginning of conference play, and though the Pac-12 may not be the best conference, it surely is the most competitive from top to bottom.

The football season is long and teams get pushed to their breaking point, both physically and mentally. Along the way some teams even lose locker room cohesion as their cultures fracture and players give up on their teams. Other teams get stronger as the year goes on and pull together when times get tough, and this is how they become something truly special.

This has all happened in the Pac-12 this year, as it does every year, but there is a twist. The conference still has two teams vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Typically by this point in the year, the conference has outright eliminated itself from the running, as the champion usually has two losses — but this year the conference champion has a legitimate shot at the playoff since that team will have no fewer than one loss.

Oregon has played many ranked teams throughout the season but all those teams, except Oregon State who is barely hanging on in the AP poll at No. 22, have fallen out of the AP poll or the College Football Playoff Committee’s rankings. This has some pundits saying that the Ducks have only beaten one ranked team in Oregon State. There is also a chance that Oregon State falls out of the playoff committee’s rankings come Tuesday evening.

The good news for the Ducks is that they get another shot at a Top 5 team this Friday against the Washington Huskies, which would at least give the Ducks the possibility of two wins against ranked teams. But the teams that felt like surefire Top 25 teams at the start of the year including USC, Utah and even UCLA are all gone from the rankings.

USC gave up on Lincoln Riley following their loss to Oregon.
(Photo by Craig Strobeck)

USC is a little surprising because they are a good football team even though they don’t believe in defense. USC fell out of the rankings following losses to Notre Dame, Utah, and Washington, but it was their loss to Oregon that was the most devastating. The Trojan team that left Eugene gave up on their coaches and their team, and it showed the following week when a mediocre UCLA team demolished them. So there goes one ranked win for the Ducks.

Utah looked like they’d hang in the Top 25 this season even with their injuries because they were playing solid defense and had a strong run game to lean on. Utah even managed to beat USC in a shootout. But it wasn’t to last, as the Utes fell low in the rankings after Oregon embarrassed them at home, dealing them their second loss. They also lost to Washington in a close game, but it was the blowout loss to Arizona that finally did them in.

Speaking of Arizona, they are a pretty great success story this year. They are currently one of the four ranked Pac-12 teams, but their record doesn’t look all that great. They lost in one-score games to Washington and USC in conference play, and they lost to Mississippi State in out-of-conference play. They are a good three-loss team, but two of their losses came at the hands of non-ranked teams.

Then there were the once-ranked teams (and clearly undeserving) in Colorado, Washington State and UCLA. All had moments where they looked good and had some decent wins. Colorado had all the hype in the world, but none belonged in the Top 25 to begin — and only UCLA has qualified for a bowl game out of the three.

Washington State started out strong, but by the time they played the Ducks they were unranked by conference play.
(Photo by Steven Chan)

Colorado and Washington State have two of the most baffling losses of the conference, as both lost of Stanford, who is a hard-fighting team but clearly a bad team. For both the Cougars and the Buffs, the losses to Stanford kept them from qualifying for a bowl game.

The Cardinal proved difficult for the Huskies to survive, even if the final score of 42-33 looks like a comfortable Husky victory. Stanford had the ball on one of the last drives of the game and needed to convert a fourth down. Stanford had a wide open receiver who just dropped the ball. Washington just barely survived that Pac-12 after dark appearance.

Even Arizona State had its upsets, which is surprising because ASU was largely believed to be the team at the bottom of the conference — but somehow they managed to finish 10th in conference play. They upset Washington State and UCLA. They played Washington so closely that it took the Pac-12 refs putting their thumb on the scales by rejecting a flag on a pass interference penalty that was clearly pass interference. The Sun Devils went for it on fourth down, and ASU threw a pick six which gave Washington their only touchdown of the game, and the lead.

The Pac-12 has been a cannibalistic conference for well over a decade. It’s a credit to Washington for being the only team to make it through the regular season undefeated this year. This year feels different as the Huskies and the Ducks both have a shot at the playoff with a winner-takes-all conference title game, despite their lack of other Top 25 wins at season’s end.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Kiffer Creveling


Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.

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