For the first time in years, the Colorado football team heads into November in the thick of a conference championship race.
On Thursday night, the Buffaloes opened the month with a 20-10 win against UCLA. Now, with three games to play, the Buffaloes are in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South division, and control their own destiny to reach the conference title game on Dec. 2 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Going into this weekend — and after Thursday’s win — here’s a quick look at the South standings:
1. Colorado: 5-1 (7-2 overall)
2. Utah: 4-2 (7-2)
3. USC: 4-2 (5-3)
4. Arizona State: 2-4 (5-4)
5. UCLA: 1-5 (3-6)
6. Arizona: 0-5 (2-6)
Colorado’s win on Thursday officially eliminated UCLA and Arizona from the division race. ASU is still mathematically alive, but needs way too much help and it’s not worth the time to discuss the Sun Devils’ chances.
So, that leaves us with a three-team race for the South division championship, and it includes the only two South teams that have never played in the Pac-12 title game: Colorado and Utah.
Here’s a breakdown of the race as we head into November:
South wins: Arizona State, UCLA
South losses: USC
Remaining home games: Washington State (Nov. 19), Utah (Nov. 26)
Remaining road games: Arizona (Nov. 12)
How they can win the South: Just keep winning. The Buffs are the only South team with fewer than two losses, so winning the last three would secure the title. If the Buffs lose once, they can still win the South, but that loss can’t be against Utah, and the Buffs would also need USC to lose once.
Notable: On ESPN’s FPI data, CU has at least a 69 percent chance of winning each of the last three games.
South wins: USC, Arizona, UCLA
South losses: None
Remaining home games: Oregon (Nov. 19)
Remaining road games: Arizona State (Nov. 10), Colorado (Nov. 26)
How they can win the South: At this point, the Utes probably have to win out. Doing that would give them the championship with a 7-2 conference mark, because they would have wins over both CU and USC. If Utah loses one more, it can’t come against CU, and Utes would need CU to lose twice and USC to lose once.
Notable: While ESPN gives Colorado a 69.2 percent chance to win every other game, the Utes’ best chance comes against Oregon (68.5 percent). … Since beating ASU on the road in 1976, the Utes are 0-8 in Tempe. … ESPN gives Utah only a 24-percent chance to win in Boulder in the regular season finale.
South wins: Arizona State, Colorado, Arizona
South losses: Utah
Remaining home games: Oregon (Nov. 5), Notre Dame (Nov. 26)
Remaining road games: Washington (Nov. 12), UCLA (Nov. 19)
How they can win the South: USC is the only team among the three contenders that doesn’t control its own destiny. The Trojans have to win the last three conference games (the result of the Notre Dame game doesn’t mean anything). Even if they do that – and that’s a tall order with a road game at No. 5 Washington – they’ll need Colorado and Utah to each lose at least once.
Notable: USC is favored to beat Oregon and UCLA, but ESPN gives the Trojans just a 24.1 percent chance of beating Washington. … The Trojans have a four-game win streak, the longest current streak in the South.
Who can be a spoiler?
1. Oregon has had a rough season to this point, but the Ducks have already hurt one South team by knocking off Arizona State last week. That snapped the Ducks’ five-game winning streak. While this is not the Oregon of the past, it does face USC and Utah in the next few weeks. Both games are on the road, but getting even one of them would help Colorado and severely damage the title hopes for either the Trojans or Utes.
2. Arizona State has lost three in a row, but the Sun Devils host Utah on Nov. 10 in a game that could have a huge impact on the South race. If ASU can rise up in front of the home crowd and knock off the Utes, it’ll make life very difficult for Utah.
Top 3 games to watch
1. Utah at Colorado, Nov. 26: The obvious choice, as these are the top two teams in the South going into November. If both teams win out going into this matchup, the game in Boulder will decide the South title.
2. USC at Washington, Nov. 12: This is the game that will determine whether USC has a shot at the title. Assuming the Trojans beat Oregon this weekend at home, their trip to Seattle on Nov. 12 will be huge. Win it, and the Trojans are very much in the title hunt. Lose it, and it’s pretty much a battle between CU and Utah the rest of the way.
3. Utah at Arizona State, Nov. 10: The Utes have not had success on the road at ASU, which puts some added pressure on them. Utah is the better team, though. Win this one, and the Utes will keep themselves in the running for the South. Losing this one could give CU some breathing room at the top, and it’ll open the door for USC.
If two teams are tied:
- 1. The head-to-head matchup between those teams would break the tie.
If three teams are tied, the order of tie-breakers would be:
- 1. Head-to-head record among the three tied teams. For example, if Utah wins out (including a win against CU), CU beats everybody but Utah and USC wins out, the three teams would all sit at 7-2 in the conference. Utah would be 2-0 against the other two, USC would be 1-1 and CU 0-2, so Utah would head to the Pac-12 title game.
- 2. Record within the division. Right now, Utah leads that, with a 3-0 mark against the South.
- 3. Record against the next highest-placed team in the division.
- 4. Record in common conference games.
- 5. Highest ranking in the College Football Playoff standing following the last weekend of regular-season games.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.