It’s no secret that the Pac-12 has been the worst Power 5 football conference for multiple years. There are only two ranked teams representing the conference in Week 11. In the era of the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 has been mostly irrelevant for the past two seasons. The Pac-12 Network has made broadcasting games to a national audience painfully inefficient, due to the fact that the Pac-12 does not partner with larger television networks like ESPN. The end result is less money — the Pac-12’s revenue declined by $12.5 million in fiscal year 2018, according to USA Today. Furthermore, night games in the conference begin when much of the country is going to bed.
Even with all of these obstacles, Oregon and Utah have thrusted themselves back into the Playoff spotlight. A one-loss conference champion from the Pac-12 could argue that they deserve a Playoff spot, especially if the teams in the top five lose.
In the North division, Oregon has run away from the rest of the pack. The Ducks are 6-0 in the conference and have defeated all of their division foes with the exception of Oregon State. Oregon, after its gut-wrenching loss to Auburn, has worked its way back into Playoff contention, but it will have to win out if it wants a shot at the top four. Traditional rivals Washington and Stanford are in the midst of down seasons.
Oregon’s is 5-0 against its division rivals this season. It hasn’t always been pretty but the Ducks found ways to win that would have eluded them in past seasons. Oregon’s much improved defense stymied Stanford in Oregon’s conference opener, winning 21-6. Stanford, a conference power that produced NFL talents like Andrew Luck and Christian McCaffrey, has been a shadow of themselves.
Cal provided Oregon with its first taste of conference trouble, shutting out the Ducks in the first half 7-0. Justin Herbert threw an interception early in the first half and Travis Dye had a pair of early fumbles. It looked as though Oregon would lay an egg in its home opener. However, Oregon was able to once again rely upon its defense to keep Herbert and the offense afloat. The Ducks were able to find the end zone in the second half and held on to a gritty 17-7 win. Oregon had passed its first conference test.
Oregon was tested by both Washington schools. The Ducks and Huskies played a back-and-forth game. Down two scores in Seattle, the Ducks clawed their way to a 35-31 victory. Instead of relying on defense, Herbert won the game with his arm, throwing for 280 yards and four touchdowns.
Washington State, a team that beat Oregon four straight times, almost extended its winning streak against Oregon to five. A last-minute Cougar touchdown seemed to spell doom for Oregon and ruin CJ Verdell’s historic 257 yard, three touchdown game. Instead, the Ducks relied on their much-maligned kicking game and freshman Camden Lewis to win the night 37-35.
The College Football Playoff Committee has ranked Oregon No. 7. There is a multitude of scenarios that could send Oregon into the Playoff. However, Oregon has to win out in November if it wants a chance at the national title.
After its bye week, Oregon will take on Arizona in Autzen stadium. Arizona is on a four-game losing streak and recently fired its defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. The Wildcats gave up 56 points to Oregon State at home last week and are last in total defense in the Pac-12. In the last three weeks the Wildcats have conceded 133 points. If Oregon sustains its current offensive production, its difficult to see a scenario where Oregon loses. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Arizona just a 3% chance of winning.
The following week, Oregon will fly down to Tempe, Arizona, to face Arizona State. The Sun Devils have shown flashes of greatness, but they have not been able to sustain their momentum in the second half of the season. The last two weeks have not been kind to Arizona State, losing 21-3 to Utah and 42-32 to UCLA. This will be the last road trip the Ducks take in the regular season.
Oregon and Oregon State will continue their Civil War rivalry to close the season. This year’s edition of the classic rivalry has many compelling storylines. The Beavers started the season 0-2 and it looked as though it would be another long year in Corvallis. However, after losing to Stanford, Oregon State has been a different team. The Beavers have knocked off UCLA, Cal and Arizona — all on the road — and may even make an appearance in a bowl game for the first time since 2013.
Although ESPN gives Oregon State a mere 4% chance of pulling off the upset, Duck fans should not expect another easy victory over Oregon State. Jake Luton is a strong quarterback that has thrown 19 touchdowns and just a single interception in 2019. The Luton-to-Isaiah Hodgins connection has been productive.
The Pac-12 South is more highly contested. Until Oregon’s victory over USC last week, the 5-3 Trojans were the leaders of the division. However, after that defeat, No. 8 Utah is now the division leader and, like Oregon, has a shot at the Playoff. Utah has the best defense in the conference, allowing a stingy 12 points per game. They also have a strong ground game, averaging 207 yards per game, which is first in the conference. After its 30-23 defeat to USC, Utah has righted the ship and is the favorite to win the division.
This biggest storyline in the conference is the potential for an Oregon-Utah conference championship game. Oregon is virtually assured a championship game berth as a result of being undefeated in conference play thus far. Utah still has some work to do, but has a favorable remaining schedule. A one-loss Oregon or one-loss Utah could sneak into the Playoff.
Although the Pac-12 may not have the cache of the SEC, the on-field product this season has undoubtedly been unique. The conference’s unpredictability makes every Saturday interesting, and with Oregon and Utah in the playoff hunt, there is still a lot to play for.