PHOENIX – The United States looked like another world in 2005, a year littered with you-had-to-be-there sports moments fans across the country have not witnessed since.
The New England Patriots became the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Tiger Woods outlasted Chris DiMarco in an epic playoff to become the third player to win four Masters titles. And the USC Trojans blasted the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship in the first college game featuring two Heisman Trophy winners (Matt Leinart and Jason White).
On the heels of the first College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday, five Pac-12 teams are vying to end the conference’s 17-year title drought.
Oregon is the highest-ranked team in the conference at No. 8, followed by USC at No. 9, UCLA at No. 12, Utah at No. 14 and Oregon State at No. 23.
Oregon, USC, and UCLA, which plays Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday, have the best chance of advancing to the four-team playoff because each has suffered only one loss. The Ducks are the only undefeated team in conference play.
If the Pac-12 wants playoff representation, one of those teams would most likely have to win out (and get help from teams ranked above them by losing).
Since USC’s success in 2005, the Pac-12 has had three teams lose in the national championship: USC in 2006 and Oregon in 2011 and 2015. Washington made the College Football playoff in 2017 but lost to eventual runner-up Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
The conference hasn’t had much success at the highest level in recent years, but that could change this season.
Boo Corrigan, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chair, said on a conference call Tuesday night that the committee has been impressed with the Oregon Ducks since their opening week loss to Georgia.
“I think the win over UCLA has gone a long way,” Corrigan said. “They’ve scored at least 41 points since that game, and Bo Nix has had a great season. As we looked at it, obviously that initial game, what they’ve been able to do since that time I think has really turned the committee’s head.”
If Oregon wins its final four games, the Ducks will play for the conference championship, and a league title is one of several criteria the committee uses when evaluating teams.
For the first time, the Pac-12 championship will be determined by the two teams with the highest win percentage in the conference. In years past, the winner of the North played the winner of the South.
For one-loss USC and UCLA, the path is similar. With the two teams playing each other Nov. 19, the winner will likely find itself in the conference title game assuming no other slip-ups. Utah is a longshot with two losses.
Both the Trojans and Bruins have impressed the committee with their high-powered offenses, although UCLA’s 45-30 defeat to Oregon hurt its stock, Corrigan said.
“Both really good teams, dynamic offensively … (but) UCLA, how they lost to Oregon, really was a topic of conversation,” he said. “Again, two of the top offenses in the country as far as scoring points, both over 40 points a game.”
The path to the College Football Playoff seems fairly clearcut. One of the three teams has to win out, win the conference championship game, and hope others ranked above slip up.
Stranger things have happened in college football. During the first season of the College Footbal Playoff (2014), Ohio State was ranked No. 16 in the committee’s first ranking.
The Buckeyes ended up winning the national championship, 42-20, over the Ducks.
Seven years later, the Pac-12 hopes to get back into the title picture.