The trendy notion for the second year of the College Football Playoff is that the Pac-12 champion will be left out of the fray, because the league is so tough. Another issue is that the Pac-12 Conference requires its members to play nine league games—not eight like the other Big 5 conferences. That’s one less out-of-conference game against a sacrificial lamb and one extra chance to be upset by a familiar opponent. Thus, the Pac-12 champion will have too many losses to qualify for the four-team CFP in January 2016.
Only time will tell: This time last year, the experts said it would be the Big Ten that would miss out on the CFP, and we all know how that ended up working out in January. Experts—us included—only can guess, like you, at what will happen, and this column represents our guesses for Pac-12 teams in 2015. As we noted Monday, the local Oregon State Beavers are going to have a tough year, because the Pac-12 is a very good conference, from top to bottom.
The Pac-12 champion will go to the CFP this season, however, because the Big XII champion won’t have the credentials to out-do the Pac-12 champion—whether it be USC, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon or Arizona State. Any of those five teams could win the Pac-12 Championship Game on December 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
Pac-12 North Division
It’s hard to pick against the Oregon Ducks in this race, as they’ve dominated the division—and the conference—since USC’s fall from grace in the late 2000s. Stanford is always there to compete now, too, so it will come down to the game between the Ducks and the Cardinal on November 14 in Palo Alto, CA. In terms of the cross-division games for the two schools, Oregon drew Arizona State, Colorado, USC and Utah. The Ducks actually play the Trojans one week after they go to Stanford. Meanwhile, the Cardinal also get the Buffaloes and the Trojans, in addition to Arizona and UCLA.
After this two-horse race in the North, there are four other teams battling for meaningless position: solid teams, yet fodder for the top dogs. Look for the Washington Huskies to finish third in the division and make a bowl game, followed by the Beavers who will not make a bowl game. California and Washington State will battle for the right to not finish in the basement.
Predicted order of finish: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Oregon State, California, Washington State
Pac-12 South Division
The Trojans are getting all the preseason hype, but until USC actually delivers on the field, it’s hard to pick them. UCLA should emerge from the South, although it will be pressed by Arizona State—and the Trojans. Look for Arizona to finish fourth, while Utah fades to fifth. Colorado will bring up the rear, of course. The top five teams will receive bowl invitations, giving the Pac-12 eight bowl teams overall. That’s a tough slate for any conference member to negotiate.
UCLA’s cross-division games give it the edge, with Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State on its slate. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils see Cal, Oregon and both Washington schools. USC draws Cal, Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The schedule, therefore, favors the Bruins to emerge at the top of the division.
Predicted order of finish: UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Arizona, Utah, Colorado
Pac-12 Championship Game
The Bruins against the Ducks will be closer than people think. Oregon should win by a touchdown or so, and a 12-1 mark should get them into the CFP again. Even at 11-2, the Ducks would rate higher, due to strength of schedule, than any one-loss Big XII champion. That’s just fact, whether Baylor/TCU like it or not.