Arizona Wildcats enter CFP ranks; Washington, Oregon keep Pac-12’s CFP hopes alive

In the second College Football Playoff rankings of the season, Arizona returns to the top 25 for the first time since 2017 after Saturday’s 27-10 victory over UCLA. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics)

PHOENIX – The Pac-12 once again shined in the newest College Football Playoff rankings, with the University of Arizona, one of the hottest teams in the conference – and the country – entering the top 25 for the first time in a long time.

But for the Pac-12’s final hopes to compete in the College Football Playoff, an eerie feeling of helplessness and fear that it will yet again be locked out looms.

The Pac-12’s presence was on full display Tuesday in the second CFP rankings of the season, as five teams from the conference were represented among the top 25 teams in the country.

While down from six teams in the first rankings of the season, the Pac-12 tied with the Big 12 for second-most teams, with both conferences trailing the SEC’s six.

Within the chaos of another upset-filled weekend, a new squad from the “Conference of Champions” appeared as the Arizona Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) jumped into the rankings at No. 21 after its 27-10 win over then-No. 19 UCLA.

This marks the first time the Wildcats have appeared in the selection committee’s rankings since the 2017 season, when they first appeared as the No. 22 team in the country. That only lasted a week before falling out of the rankings for good and losing to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl.

CFP selection chair Boo Corrigan expressed his respect for UArizona and coach Jedd Fisch in the committee’s weekly teleconference shortly after the latest rankings release.

“The job that coach Fisch has done out there is really something,” Corrigan said while also noting that two of UArizona’s losses so far this season have come in overtime, which is included in the quality of their losses and strength of schedule.

ESPN College Gameday host Rece Davis joined Corrigan’s praise, calling UArizona “one of the hottest teams in the country,” during Tuesday’s broadcast.

The Wildcats are currently on a three-game winning streak, defeating ranked opponents in each matchup.

A win Saturday against Colorado would position Fisch’s program for its first back-to-back ranking in the CFP top 25 since 2014. The Wildcats started at No. 12 that season and stayed in the rankings the entire way, ending up ranked at No. 10 and earning a spot in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl against No. 20 Boise State.

Related story

No. 5 Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) and No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) did not move this week after the Huskies outlasted USC 52-42 and the Ducks dominated Cal, 63-19.

There was a possibility that Washington could jump over No. 4 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) and enter the current playoff picture, as the Seminoles struggled against Pitt (2-7) in the first half, before pulling away in the fourth quarter.

Corrigan noted again that Washington’s defensive struggles as of late, paired with close results against ASU and Stanford – who have a combined five wins – made the selection committee hesitate on moving the schools higher.

The Huskies defense will be tested Saturday against No. 18 Utah (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12), specifically the run defense with the Utes fielding the No. 25 rushing attack in the country with 192.7 yards per game. Washington, which allowed 200 yards to USC, is currently giving up 143.1 yards per game.

The weight to outdo their defense’s struggles will once again fall upon Heisman-hopeful and Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who has 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He leads the best passing offense and the No. 4 overall offense in Division I, only behind LSU, Oregon and UNC.

He has been receiving national acclaim for his performance this season, with Corrigan saying Penix Jr. has been “amazing” while leading an “incredibly explosive offense.”

Penix Jr. is the current odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, according to FanDuel Sportsbook at +140. Oregon quarterback Bo Nix moved up to second on the list this week, with his odds now at +180.

Washington will have to utilize Penix Jr. and his favorite two weapons in wide receivers Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk, who have a combined 1,877 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Currently sitting as the highest-ranked one-loss team in the country, the Ducks may have to play the waiting game.

For Oregon to have a chance to make it into the top 4, the Ducks will have to win out and more than likely hope for at least one team in the current top 4 to lose before the Pac-12 Championship. The pressure is building around them as well, with Texas (8-1) and Alabama (8-1) right behind the Ducks with plenty of chances to build their resumes.

If Oregon, Texas and Alabama win out, it would create a fierce discussion for the committee to decide which team(s) would earn the right to compete in the playoffs.

Nix has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season, with the third-best QBR (85.6) in Div. I, and he threw his second interception of the season last week in the Ducks’ blowout win over Cal.

The Oregon star attributed his success to the personnel around him, in an interview with ESPN shortly after the rankings were released Tuesday, saying, “I can have freedoms that not many people have.”

The statistics back that up as he leads the second-best overall offense in the country, averaging 539.8 yards per game, and the best-scoring team with 47.4 points per game.

The Ducks prepare to welcome reigning Heisman winner and USC quarterback Caleb Williams and the Trojans to Autzen Stadium.

USC (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) fell out of the rankings, after being ranked at No. 20 last week. Their local rival UCLA (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) also dropped out after its loss to UArizona.

In the final season of the Pac-12 as we know it, the conference’s reputation is at an all-time high with two teams fighting for the chance at the national championship, while No. 12 Oregon State (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12), No. 18 Utah and No. 21 Arizona continue to shine.

The results of the final three regular-season bouts could prove decisive, with all eyes on the Ducks and Huskies to see which team will end up on top, and possibly the conference’s last representative in the College Football Playoff.

College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings – November 7, 2023

Ohio State (9-0) (-)
Georgia (9-0) (-)
Michigan (9-0) (-)
Florida State (9-0) (-)
Washington (9-0) (-)
Oregon (8-1) (-)
Texas (8-1) (-)
Alabama (8-1) (-)
Ole Miss (8-1) (+1)
Penn State (8-1) (+1)
Louisville (8-1) (+2)
Oregon State (7-2) (+4)
Tennessee (7-2) (+4)
Missouri (7-2) (-2)
Oklahoma State (7-2) (+7)
Kansas (7-2) (+5)
Oklahoma (7-2) (-8)
Utah (7-2) (-)
LSU (6-3) (-5)
Notre Dame (7-3) (-5)
Arizona (6-3) (NR)
Iowa (7-2) (NR
Tulane (8-1) (+1)
North Carolina (7-2) (NR)
Kansas State (6-3) (-2)

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jesse Brawders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in educational studies. Brawders is a freelance esports commentator.