We all know college football is mostly about money, especially for the big five conferences. Make no mistake about it, there’s a certain formula that each conference wants to follow to make sure at least one of their teams makes the College Football Playoff.
But that doesn’t always work. Five conferences, four playoff spots. Doesn’t quite add up, does it? Just ask the Big 12.
In the very first year of the CFP, the Big 12 had the audacity to have not one, but two great teams worthy of being in the final four. Both TCU and Baylor each had one loss and ranked very high in the polls. To the Big 12’s detriment, having two great teams was one too many and they effectively canceled each other out thanks to not having a conference championship game. The Big 12 was the odd conference out, making way for the Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten and the SEC.
Those conferences followed the formula perfectly.
That “formula” is concocted by how each conference is made up. Each conference seems like it wants to consist of one great team, four or five really good teams and three to four average teams followed by the bottom feeders. Adding a conference championship game to solidify that one great team helps out in the long run as well.
Although no one within the conferences will say it, they don’t want that upset in the conference title game. An upset would, well, upset the formula and put the conference in danger of not being represented in the playoffs.
In 2014, the Pac-12 was representative of how to get into the playoff system with an 11-1 Oregon team that went on to destroy Arizona in the conference title game to ensure its spot in the playoffs. Arizona was at the top of the teams in the “good” category, along with Arizona State, UCLA and USC. Then teams like Stanford, Utah and even Washington were in that “average/decent” category. Oregon having Heisman winner Marcus Mariota helped further the cause.
Jump now to this current season.
The Pac-12 is in serious danger of being the odd conference out when the playoff selections are made in December. The biggest reason is because the team in the “great” category doesn’t quite exist…yet.
At this moment, Stanford is the Pac-12’s only hope of filling the spot Oregon vacated.
The Cardinal are 6-1 (5-0 in conference action) and currently ranked No. 8 in the AP Top 25. They are on a six-game winning streak and on a serious roll. Frankly, how they lost in the opener at Northwestern is baffling. If they had won that game, the Cardinal might be in the Top 5 right now and everything would be hunky dory in Pac-12 land. But, that one loss might have cost Stanford and the Pac-12 a playoff spot.
Like it or not, the way Stanford plays doesn’t help. The Cardinal are old-fashioned. Their offense is old-fashioned. Their uniforms are old-fashioned and their stadium is old-fashioned. And while this should have absolutely have no factor on whether Stanford makes the playoffs, it does. The television networks like sexy. Stanford is about as sexy as your grandmother.
One thing Stanford does have going for it is its remaining schedule, though.
The Cardinal have Oregon (Nov. 14) and Notre Dame (Nov. 28) left on the docket. Even though the Ducks are not having a typical Oregon season, they are still formidable and still have that name recognition tag to them. Voters will sit up a little if Stanford gets a win over the Ducks.
On to Notre Dame. The Irish are currently ranked No. 9 in the AP poll at 6-1. Should Notre Dame continue to win, by the time the two teams match up in late November it could legitimately be for a playoff spot. Not to mention, it could be a great game, and having that “moment” and “signature win” always helps.
Speaking of the team in Eugene, though, Oregon could very well still have a huge say on what goes on in the Pac-12 and national landscape. The Ducks have played just two games where it can be considered that they were at full strength. They are very capable of knocking off Stanford and throwing a huge wrench into the Pac-12’s playoff plans. Especially now that Vernon Adams and Darren Carrington back in the fray offensively.
Down South, and a little east, Utah was supposed to be Stanford’s main challenger. The Utes won their first six games before the wheels completely came with a 42-24 loss at USC—a score that is not nearly indicative of how much of a route that game was. Utah is still No. 13, but will have a heck of a time climbing the polls again after falling ten spots. Even if they do win out and end the season at 12-1 with a conference title win over Stanford, that still may be not enough to propel the Utes in. That’s how bad they looked in Los Angeles, and the committee won’t forget.
Everyone else in the Pac-12 has at least two losses entering the playoffs. People are still finding it hard to believe in 5-2 Washington State, even with a win at Oregon, because of its overwhelming history of futility. The Cougars can still, of course, prove themselves this weekend with a win over Stanford at home. In what could be the biggest home game since Ryan Leaf was the quarterback, the Cougars could become serious contenders with a win, or be found out as pretenders. Still, they’re almost certainly not a playoff team just yet.
Teams like UCLA (2-2, 5-2), Arizona State (2-2, 4-3) and even Cal (2-2, 5-2) are teams in the “good” category, but far from great. They are the enigmas of the conference: Capable of beating anyone, but at the same time, capable of losing to anyone.
And of course the big elephant in the room is USC.
Once an absolute giant in the conference, the Trojans are sleeping thanks to sanctions, annual coaching changes and self-inflicted adversity upon adversity. With that said though, last weekend’s win over Utah proved that if you sleep on the sleeping giant, USC is bound to wake up from time to time and bite you where it hurts.
Ask the Utes what happens when you sleep on the Trojans. Potential championship seasons get ruined.
If the Trojans are able to get a coach who lasts more than two seasons and decides to finally utilize the great talent that’s roaming USC’s sidelines, it’ll be a game changer for the conference and for the college football world as a whole. Fair or not, even if USC slumbers for 20 years, once it wakes up it’s still USC and those three capital letters still mean a whole lot.
But for right now, the Pac-12 can’t be concerned with USC’s future…
The conference needs to send a little “R2D2″ out into the college football universe with a hologram message saying, “Help us Stanford Cardinal. You are our only hope (for a playoff spot)”.