Playoff stakes are intensifying this week for every major football conference except one.
Care to guess?
The Pac 12’s path to the four-team finale has gone from Commissioner’s media day speech, “I think the building blocks are coming into place,” to reality check, to pipe dream, to long-shot, to needle and then to haystack.
Now it’s a Rube Goldberg project.
It takes an Olympic-level, pommel-horse routine of mental gymnastics to get Oregon, the highest ranked Pac 12 team this week at No. 13, into the national conversation.
Even the shine of Oregon' good week's work, a 17-7 grind-out home win over Cal, was rubbed out by Auburn’s loss at Florida.
Oregon, which lost to Auburn in a game the Ducks mostly dominated, need to stock-car drag off the mighty Tigers from the Plains.
Oregon still has to finish 12-1 and have Auburn win the SEC. Both of those things can happen, however, AU has lost any margin for error AND has upcoming landmines against LSU, Georgia, Alabama and then Georgia or Florida again in the SEC title game.
The Pac 12’s annual playoff plight might be sad if it was not so intractable, inevitable and predictable.
By and large, given all the quarterback injuries, it’s been a pretty competitive league and vastly superior to the ACC in every way except Clemson.
The Pac 12 is also a PPB (Playoff Pedestrian Bystander).
This is a throw-down week for the four other conferences in play.
The Big 12 features Texas vs. Oklahoma in the annual State Fair game in Dallas.
The Big Ten is prepping for Michigan State at Wisconsin and Penn State at Iowa.
Clemson has definitely lost some poll traction as it hosts misery-index Florida State. That said, Clemson WILL make the college football playoff if wins out, as expected. The Tigers are not a cinch anymore as one-loss ACC champions but that might not help the Pac 12 as much as it would a second-team from the SEC.
God’s Conference is basically running its own playoff prelims with heavyweights Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida and maybe still Auburn all jockeying for position.
Is there any positive spin, at the halfway point, on the Pac 12?
Sure. The fatty middle of the Pac 12 might be good enough to produce a three-loss champion. Seven schools are ranked or receiving votes in this week’s AP poll.
The Arizona schools are much improved and so is Colorado under first-year coach Mel Tucker.
Oregon State is no longer the conference’s doormat—that dishonor now belongs to UCLA.
Seriously, how bad can your conference be if your worst team is UCLA?
Former Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti, who hired Chip Kelly away from New Hampshire in 2007, told the L.A. Times this week doesn’t think Chip will quit.
“I don’t think Chip will ever walk away,” Bellotti said.
Bellotti could not speak on behalf of the fans, who are definitely walking away.
Also, another positive. After weeks of combing the lakes and posting pamphlets, Stanford football was found and safely returned. The program was located in downtown Palo Alto, walking aimlessly, wearing Google Glasses and drinking a $22 cup of coffee.
The Cardinals’ 23-13 win over previously ranked Washington on Saturday ranks as one of the most significant wins of David Shaw’s career.
Shaw’s reputation as the conference’s most solid and consistent coach was in question until Saturday’s complete-game performance.
Stanford, less than a month after allowing 45 points at Central Florida, has evened things out at 3-3 and threatening to wreak more havoc.
Most impressive about the win over Washington: the Cardinal did it with two backup quarterbacks and an injury-riddled offensive line held together with freshmen and duct tape.
Fifth-year tailback Cameron Scarlett rushed for 151 yards on 33 carries and the defense played, Shaw said, “our best game start to finish…”
The long and short of it: Stanford looked like Stanford.