Pac Tracks: Conference Playoff Hopes Look So Close, Yet Still Seem So Far

Chris Dufresne

The late-night ESPN announcers for late-night Pac 12 football were effusive in their belief Oregon controlled its fate in the four-team playoff chase.

It was after midnight in the East, sure, but Oregon was beating up on Arizona the same night Utah had just finished clobbering up on UCLA.

The announcing team could see NO WAY one-loss Oregon could be left out of the playoff.

Then the analyst caught himself, and it wasn't even that complicated.

Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia win the rest of their games. Georgia claims the SEC by defeating current No. 1 LSU.

Oh yeah, that.

It’s easy to get over-cooked about the Pac 12 this late into November because few people saw this coming.

It’s great for the league that Oregon and Utah are ranked No. 6 and No. 7 in this week’s Associated Press poll.

But this is no shoe-in, folks, not by a long shot.

The Pac 12 may have already hit its glass ceiling.

If you look hard you'll see Oregon and Utah are not as close to No. 4 as they look and do not control their own fates.

Voting writers and coaches on Sunday were still not willing to jump Oregon over No. 5 Alabama, despite the Crimson Tide losing starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the season.

My guess is that the College Football Committee will also keep Alabama at No. 5, ahead of Oregon, in Tuesday’s ranking release.

What’s the hurry?

The committee could reconcile privately the one-loss winner of Oregon versus Utah in the Pac 12 title game would eventually jump Alabama.

But who knows? The love affair with the Crimson Tide is real. What if back-up Alabama quarterback Mac Jones beats the Auburn team that defeated Oregon?

There's one helluva potential No. 4 argument. But, but, but Alabama didn't even win its own division. And when has that ever stopped Alabama from winning two national titles before?

Remember, we’re all assuming Oregon and Utah are going to meet as one-loss division winners.

But that's no guarantee, either. Oregon has already clinched the Pac North but still has remaining conference games against Arizona State and Oregon State.

Utah has not yet clinched the South and has remaining games against Arizona and Colorado.

Utah could still lose the division to USC if the Trojans beat UCLA this week and the Utes drop one game.

This just in: an Oregon win over four-loss USC in the title game, a team it already throttled once this year, would not be worth as much as win over top-10 Utah.

And one-loss Utah may not be helped significantly by defeating two-loss Oregon for the Pac 12 crown.

Oregon and Utah need each other.

So, it’s real nice what the Pac 12 has done so far. Real nice. But history and the SEC suggests all post-alliance playoff systems work against the Pac 12.

Here’s another one: Georgia loses to Texas A&M or Georgia Tech (fat chance) and but then defeats No.1 LSU in the SEC title game.

Is Oregon a cinch in that scenario if Ohio State and Clemson win out?

What if Minnesota, despite last week’s loss at Iowa, wins out and beats undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game?

Does the Big Ten get two teams in the playoff if the other two teams are LSU and Clemson?

And which conference champion gets left out in that scenario?

While there might not be a whole lot of season left…there’s a lot of season left.

Until I touch the final CFP rankings with my finger tips and tangibly feel where one-loss Oregon or Utah has jumped one-loss Alabama, I’m not going to believe it. In fact, there's a lot of muscle-memory reflex in me that thinks the Pac 12 is in trouble.

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Chris Dufresne

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