The Pac-12 has no undefeated teams left after Southern California knocked off Arizona last weekend. The way things have gone in the wild conference out west, the champion could end up having two losses, maybe more.
It’s only halfway through the season, but the question is worth asking: Is the Pac-12’s parity hurting the conference’s College Football Playoff chances?
The conference’s coaches and commissioner, of course, don’t think so.
Whether the College Football Playoff committee agrees remains to be seen.
”I think our conference has this perception of parity equals mediocrity,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. ”There are a couple of conferences where parity equals strength. I think it’s the strongest it’s ever been top to bottom.”
The parity has been building in the Pac-12 over the past few years and may have hit a peak this season.
Just look at what’s happened so far, and we’re not even to Halloween yet:
-UCLA, ranked No. 7 in The Associated Press preseason poll, already has two losses, both in conference, and is now unranked.
-Oregon, the likely choice as the Pac-12’s best bet to get into the playoff, lost at home to Arizona and has been racked by injuries to its offensive line.
Arizona won one game on a Hail Mary and beat the No. 2 team in the country (Oregon), but lost at home to USC when its kicker missed a 36-yard field goal after the Wildcats recovered an onside kick.
-The Trojans lost a non-conference game at Boston College, beat Stanford to move into the Top 10 and lost to Arizona State on a Hail Mary before the win over Arizona.
-Arizona State pulled off its miracle win over USC a week after being blown out by UCLA
California, which won one game last season, was leading the Pac-12 North before losing to Washington at home last week.
-Only Colorado (0-3 Pac-12) and Washington State (1-3) appear to be out of the running for a division title.
”It’s a crazy year in the Pac-12,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. ”It’s just shaping up that way. It’s hard to explain it any other way. Every week is tough. Every game is hard. It’s tough to win on the road and then the road teams are winning in crazy fashion. Everything is up for grabs this year.”
The road wins may be the most bizarre part of the equation.
Typically, road wins are tough to come by, particularly in a power conference like the Pac-12 that’s filled with raucous home venues like Autzen Stadium in Oregon, Husky Stadium at Washington and Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
This season, the road seems to be where the conference’s teams feel most comfortable.
Through the first six weeks of the season, road teams are an is-that-right 14-4 in conference games.
”I’ve never seen anything like it,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The parity has seemingly put the Pac-12 in a tough spot.
The conference has no undefeated teams and half the league has at least two losses, including two-time defending champion Stanford.
But it may not be as bad as it appears.
No. 9 Oregon is still in good shape at 5-1 and has a resume-building win over Michigan State. Win the Pac-12 championship game and finish the regular season with one loss, it might be hard to keep the Ducks out of the playoff.
If any of the other one-loss teams – Arizona, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State and Utah – stay that way and win the conference title game, they would figure to garner consideration for a playoff spot.
Now, if a two-loss – or more – team wins the Pac-12 championship, the conference will likely need help from teams in other conferences so it can lean on the look-at-who-we’re-playing argument.
”What I feel good about, if we’ve got teams in the mix with comparable records, it’ll be easy to look anyone in the eye and say, no conference champion has had a tougher road than the Pac-12,” said Commissioner Larry Scott.
The College Football Playoff committee’s first rankings come out on Oct. 28. The final rankings will be Dec. 7.
A lot can happen – and probably will in this conference – between now and then.