Rapid response to Pac-12 developments on the field…
1. Hype fulfilled, attention guaranteed
The most anticipated Saturday of the conference season – in many conference seasons – lived up to expectations with two three-point thrillers.
In prime time, USC defeated UCLA 48-45 thanks to a Heisman Trophy-level performance from quarterback Caleb Williams.
In the nightcap, Oregon defeated Utah 20-17 while point guard Bo Nix took advantage of the injury and generated enough offense.
(Note: Losing quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson of UCLA and Cam Rising of Utah threw three interceptions.)
All in all, the double header perfectly reflected the Pac-12 season so far.
It has more teams in the College Football Playoff rankings (six) than any other – which should stay in the rankings next week – and an impressive array of gripping conference matchups:
USC 17, OSU 14
WSU 44, Oregon 41
Utah 43, USC 42
Oregon 45, UCLA 30
Washington 24, OSU 21
Washington 37, Oregon 34
USC 48, UCLA 45
Oregon 20, Utah 17
It’s been years since the conference produced so many tense, high-level games – or brought together so many good teams.
This, of course, comes at a price: The lower feeders were repeatedly broken and successfully eliminated from the bowl competition a few weeks ago.
But we think it’s fair trade. Pac-12 desperately needed to regain national respect, something that could only be achieved with heavyweight teams.
It was the perfect year for parity to disappear.
2. Heading to Las Vegas
USC clinched a spot in the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas, knocking UCLA out of the race.
Three teams remain alive for second place:
“Oregon ranks with a win over Oregon or a loss to the Beavers and a loss to WSU in Washington.
“Washington also has a chance to get to Las Vegas, but it’s difficult. In addition to winning the Apple Cup, the Huskies have to lose Oregon to OSU and UCLA will lose to Cal. (There is another path for UW, but it involves Colorado passing Utah, which doesn’t happen.)
Utah would advance to the title game with a win over Colorado and wins for Washington, UCLA and OSU. This set of scores would tie the three teams against UW and Oregon and trigger a fourth tiebreaker that includes conference opponents’ combined conference game winning percentage.
In this scenario, the Utes would have the upper hand.
3. USC and CFP
The Trojans (10-1) are the Pac-12’s only remaining playoff challenger and took a giant step on Saturday to break a five-year conference drought.
The victory over UCLA was obviously central to their cause. But Tennessee’s loss to South Carolina knocked out the Volunteers, who now have two losses, while North Carolina’s stumbling block against Georgia Tech significantly dampened the ACC’s prospects.
Hotline believes USC will make the playoffs with a win over Notre Dame and its Pac-12 championship opponent.
In this scenario, the Trojans would be the Power Five champion with one loss and back-to-back victories over ranked rivals.
Add subjective factors – from the appeal of Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams to USC pedigree (because brand bias is real) – and the Trojans will have an advantage over Clemson, who lost only once, and the loser from Michigan-Ohio.
4. Easy bowl math
Arizona became the fifth and final team eliminated from the postseason after a 31-20 loss to Washington State in which quarterback Jayden de Laura intercepted his former teammates four times.
That leaves the Pac-12 with seven teams qualifying for the cups: USC, UCLA, Oregon, OSU, Washington, WSU and Utah.
(If you’re wondering when he last sent a seven into the postseason, well, it wasn’t too long: 2019.)
We can’t start predicting bowl assignments because so much depends on USC.
If the Trojans make the playoffs, the next highest ranked team will take USC’s place in the Rose Bowl, with everyone else advancing one notch.
If the Trojans don’t make it to CFP, the Pac-12 champion will go to the Rose Bowl with everyone properly placed in the Alamo, Holiday, Las Vegas, Sun and LA bowls, as well as a game hosted by ESPN.
That would likely mean the team with nine wins would head to the Sun Bowl. We’re pretty sure that wouldn’t be well received in the Pac-12 fandom.
5. Staring at rewards
In Hotline’s humble opinion, we can eliminate three names from the Pac-12 Coach of the Year race: Arizona’s Jedd Fisch, UCLA’s Chip Kelly, and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham.
All three did a good job, but Fisch’s case depended on Arizona qualifying for the bowl, while Kelly and Whittingham probably needed victories on Saturday.
That leaves Kalen DeBoer of Washington, Jonathan Smith of Oregon, Dan Lanning of Oregon, and Lincoln Riley of USC.
All but Smith compete for the conference championship, and coaches often vote for the last man standing.
(Voting will take place after the conference championship.)
Meanwhile, USC quarterback Caleb Williams took a giant step toward becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist with a 470-yard performance against UCLA.
Williams has the recognition, win total and platform necessary for a serious charge.
If he plays well against the Irishman next weekend and wins the title, Williams will likely become the first Pac-12 player to receive an invitation to the Heisman ceremony since Bryce Love at Stanford in 2017.
*** Finally, the hotline would like to thank Jim Thornby, Pac-12’s senior manager of strategic sports communications, for his help in deciphering the complex multi-team overtime scenarios.
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