Can A PAC-12 Team Make The College Football Playoff?

We all have that one relative that shows up like three hours late to Thanksgiving. Football is on, food is ready, but Uncle Jeff got “held up by traffic” and is sitting bumper-to-bumper two hours out and insists that everyone eats without him. Of course, being the kind family you are, you just munch around the appetizers while fuming inside that the turkey is getting cold and Uncle Jeff will be bringing the store-bought Cranberry pie for the sixth year in a row. 

Uncle Jeff is the PAC-12 and the College Football World is the rest of the family. Better late than never, I guess? More than a month after other conferences started their seasons, the PAC-12 is rolling into the football season, holding their cranberry pie which is probably a metaphor for an epic collapse that ends in them missing out on the College Football Playoff. 

In its six-year history, just two teams have made the College Football Playoff. Oregon made it all the way to the National Championship in the first year, they were steamrolled by Ohio State 42-20 despite being the higher seed. Then in 2017, Washington threw their ring into the hat but were dominated by Alabama in the Peach Bowl Semifinal 24-7. Needless to say, the PAC-12 has not been overly impressive in these games. 

Now, the chances that any team from the PAC-12 makes it this season seems very slim. They are playing just six regular season games and then a Conference Championship. The current projections see Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State as the three teams most likely to make it at this point. That fourth spot is up for grabs still. It’s unlikely that Michigan can make it after their loss to Michigan State, the Big 12 is out of it and that leaves teams like Florida and Georgia from the SEC. But what if Oregon or USC were to have perfect records heading into the PAC 12 Championship Game? Would an undefeated regular season capped off by a Conference Championship be enough to slip in? ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit doesn’t like their chances. 

“If they’re going to start later than Oct. 24, which it sounds like they are, then they have to hope things are delayed and the season’s pushed back with the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, to really be included in the playoff,” Herbstreit said on SportsCenter“If everything goes as planned, then I think the Pac-12 from a timing standpoint, would be left out of the College Football Playoff.” 

Of course, they are starting after October 24 and all the other conferences started well before them. The reason that Herbstreit finds a PAC-12 team in the CFB hard to believe is because of the amount of games they’ll play, the strength of the schedule for these teams and factoring in no issues will arise.

The PAC-12 has left virtually no room for error in a season that has plagued so many college football teams with coronavirus. Wisconsin had to cancel an entire game off their schedule because of COVID-19 and the Big 10 didn’t leave enough room in the schedule to make it up. That all but eliminates the Badgers shot. So if a PAC-12 game has to be cancelled, which could be very likely, that would certainly be the final blow. 

Larry Scott, the PAC-12 Commissioner, has taken a lot of heat for how this whole football season has panned out. He has taken a lot of heat during his whole tenure as commissioner and rightfully so, but this time it could really impact the conference in a crucial and very public way. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser didn’t mince words when speaking about him on Pardon the Interruption. 

“I want them to play,” Kornheiser said on PTI. “I want everyone to play. But under Larry Scott, the Pac-12 has become completely irrelevant in basketball and football. One of the greatest conferences of all time. Nobody knows they exist anymore.”

Now that you understand why it may be hard for any PAC-12 team to make the CFP under these circumstances, let’s look at Oregon and set up a hypothetical. At the time being, the Ducks have no ranked opponents on their schedule. They play Stanford, Washington State, UCLA, Oregon State, Cal and Washington in their six regular season games. 

By the time the final game rolls around, maybe Washington is ranked. Their best shot at a statement win would come in the PAC-12 Championship. If Arizona State beats USC this Saturday, it could be the Sun Devils in that game. If the Trojans win Saturday, they’re favored by 10.5 points, it would look to be an Oregon/USC matchup. The Trojans are the best team coming into this season and this could be a huge turning point for Oregon. 

But winning every game is no easy feat and Oregon is a much different team than they were in 2019. Justin Herbert is gone, four starting linemen are gone and linebacker Troy Dye is gone as well. Thankfully for the Ducks, they will return eight of their 10 offensive playmakers, but it’s hard to believe that there will be zero slip ups from a much younger team with a quarterback in his first year as a legitimate starter.

Back to the hypothetical, let’s imagine Oregon has forced the Playoff Committee’s hand and they are 7-0. Let’s also assume that Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State are perfect as well. This would most likely lead Florida and Georgia. Only one of those teams could have one loss entering the SEC Championship and they would probably lose to Alabama there. (Lots of What If’s in this one) 

The committee would be forced to choose between a 7-0 Oregon team and a 9-2 Florida or Georgia team. Based on how this committee has voted in the past, my money would be on the SEC team making it in, especially if Oregon went in with just one win over a ranked opponent. It seems unfair but the only direction to point your fingers at would be the PAC-12. 

I am a massive PAC-12 fan and I wish more than anything that they were represented in the College Football Playoff more than they have been in the past. If Oregon or USC can’t do it this year, it would be very typical, after all, Uncle Jeff has never been that reliable.