The question of the day in the Pac-12 does not involve the likelihood of canceled games or the specifics of division tiebreakers or the merits of a substitute team playing for the championship.
It’s about the conference jumping onto the national stage: Is there a realistic path for USC to reach the College Football Playoff?
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Trojans have a 50 percent chance to make the semifinals.
According to all sound logic and common sense, the Trojans have a slightly-above-zero chance.
They were No. 15 in the CFP rankings last week, behind one-loss teams, two-loss teams, Group of Five teams and half of the SEC (or so it seems).
Even if every result broke right this weekend, we cannot imagine the Trojans (5-0) leaping into the top four.
They haven’t been dominant enough.
The sample size isn’t large enough.
The Pac-12’s reputation isn’t strong enough.
That said, we wouldn’t be surprised is USC leaps into the top 10 when the new CFP rankings are released later today.
And if that’s the case, well, the Pac-12 has something to show for itself.
It wouldn’t be entirely irrelevant during the biggest week of the season, when the college football machinery is all about playoff possibilities and New Year’s Six matchups and what-ifs and why-nots.
The conference is desperate to be talked about nationally in a positive fashion.
If the Trojans enter the top 10, that’s positive.
If they are undefeated on Sunday, the presumed matchup in the Fiesta Bowl against a top-10 SEC/Big Ten opponent would gain substance and generate interest.
And that would be a win for the Pac-12’s image in this late-starting, abbreviated, disrupted season.
But if the Trojans lose Friday night and the Pac-12’s entry in the Fiesta is a two-loss team that’s ranked 20-something and didn’t even win its division, well, that’s a win for Oregon but not the conference.
To the power ratings …
1. USC (5-0)
Last week: 1
Result: Won at UCLA 43-38
Next up: vs. Oregon (Friday)
Comment: Kedon Slovis in the fourth quarter: five touchdowns, no interceptions, completion percentage of 73.1 and zero losses.
2. UCLA (3-3)
Last week: 4
Result: Lost to USC 43-38
Next up: vs. Stanford (Saturday)
Comment: The two best teams in the conference played the game of the season Saturday evening.
3. Washington (3-1)
Last week: 3
Result: no contest vs. Oregon
Next up: no game scheduled
Comment: Remember when we suggested UW and Washington State figure out a way to play the Apple Cup? How about doing it on New Year’s Eve?
4. Colorado (4-1/3-1)
Last week: 2
Result: Lost to Utah 38-21
Next up: no game scheduled
Comment: With Oregon moving into the championship, the Buffaloes currently have nobody to play. If that holds, it would be their third no contest — all due to circumstances with their opponent.
5. Oregon (3-2)
Last week: 5
Result: no contest vs. Washington
Next up: vs. USC
Comment: It would be fairly 2020 for the Pac-12 if Oregon’s coach happened to take another job just before the conference championship. Actually, it’s too 2020. Cristobal isn’t leaving for Auburn, at least not before Friday.
6. Stanford (3-2)
Last week: 6
Result: Won at Oregon State 27-24
Next up: at UCLA
Comment: The three wins (Cal, Washington and OSU) were by a combined nine points. And one of the losses (Colorado) was by a field goal.
7. Utah (2-2)
Last week: 9
Result: Won at Colorado 38-21
Next up: vs. Washington State
Comment: Were the Utes only four games into a 12-game season, we just might pick them to win the South. They’re getting much better very quickly.
8. Arizona State (1-2)
Last week: 10
Result: Won at Arizona 70-7
Next up: at Oregon State
Comment: Were the Sun Devils only three games into a 12-game season, we just might pick them to win the South. They’re getting much better very quickly.
9. Oregon State (2-4)
Last week: 7
Result: Lost to Stanford 27-24
Next up: vs. Arizona State
Comment: Rarely does bad luck with an officiating call derail an entire season, but it happened to the Beavers.
10. Cal (1-3)
Last week: 8
Result: no contest at Washington State
Next up: no contest vs. Arizona
Comment: Brutal start and even more agonizing finish for the Bears, and the in-between part wasn’t so hot, either.
11. Washington State (1-2)
Last week: 11
Result: no contest vs. Cal
Next up: at Utah
Comment: About that Apple Cup: The Cougars and Huskies should add a wrinkle and raise money for a state-wide charity. Ask fans to donate what they would otherwise spend on a ticket to the game in either the stadium.
12. Arizona (0-5)
Last week: 12
Result: Lost to ASU 70-7
Next up: no contest vs. Cal
Comment: Our deep dive into the Wildcats’ coaching search was published earlier this morning.
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