For the second year in a row, the Auburn Tigers played an early role in the national perception of the Pac-12 Conference.
And, for the second year in a row, the Tigers spoiled a golden opportunity for the Pac-12.
Oregon’s 27-21 loss to Auburn, from the SEC, on Saturday was tough for the Ducks and disappointing for the conference.
The Pac-12 has missed out on the College Football Playoff two years in a row and Oregon seemed to have the best chance to get there this year.
Oregon had the conference’s top combination of a solid ranking (No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press poll) and a non-conference matchup that could make noise nationally.
A year ago, it was Washington in the same position. The Huskies were knocked off by Auburn in their opener, 21-16. The Huskies won the Pac-12 last year, but with a 10-3 record (10-4 after a Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State).
It’s too early to bury the Pac-12’s CFP chances, because so much can happen in a season, but the Ducks’ loss to Auburn, now ranked No. 10, was one of the conference’s best opportunities to make a splash nationally.
Led by quarterback Justin Herbert, Oregon, now at No. 16, has the talent to run the table from here on out, win the Pac-12 and finish the regular season at 12-1. Do that and the Ducks will have an argument for the playoff, but that loss to Auburn will hurt them (especially if Auburn loses a few games).
Utah (No. 13) and Washington (No. 14) are also capable of running the table and winning the conference. For both, a 13-0 regular season would put them in the CFP conversation, but for both, the best non-conference win would be against BYU. Utah beat the Cougars last week and Washington goes to Provo, Utah, on Sept. 21.
No. 22 Washington State could get into the picture, as well, but the Cougars’ highest profile non-conference game is at Houston.
Eyes might turn to Stanford. The 23rd-ranked Cardinal already knocked off Northwestern (which won the Big Ten West last year) and they have non-conference games at No. 18 Central Florida and home against No. 8 Notre Dame later this season.
It would be difficult to keep an undefeated Stanford team out of the College Football Playoff. This is not considered to be one of coach David Shaw’s best Stanford teams, though, and going undefeated with that schedule seems unlikely.
Arizona State (at Michigan State on Sept. 14), Colorado (home against No. 25 Nebraska on Saturday) and USC (at Notre Dame on Oct. 12) could all pick up marquee non-conference wins, but all would be considered CFP long shots at this point.
Bottom line: The Pac-12’s CFP chances are not dead, but for the second year in a row, a week 1 loss to Auburn put a major dent in those chances.
The first week of the season was rough on two of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
USC true sophomore JT Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 31-23 win against Fresno State, while Stanford’s KJ Costello left the game against Northwestern after a hit to the head.
Stanford and USC will meet on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum and it’s possible that both teams will be using their backup quarterbacks.
Daniels, who fought through growing pains for a solid true freshman season in 2018, suffered a torn ACL and meniscus during the loss to Fresno State. USC will now turn to true freshman Kedon Slovis, who made his debut last week, going 6-for-8 for 57 yards and an interception.
If Costello, considered a potential NFL first-round draft pick next spring, can’t play, the Cardinal will start sophomore Davis Mills, who completed 7-of-14 passes for 81 yards in relief last week.
Three quarterbacks made their Pac-12 starting debuts last week and all three were sensational. ASU true freshman Jayden Daniels threw for 284 yards and two TDs and ran for a score; Washington State senior Anthony Gordon completed 29 of 35 passes for 420 yards and five TDs; and Washington junior Jacob Eason, a transfer from Georgia, threw for 349 yards and four TDs. … Most of the Pac-12 is still in non-conference play, but there are two conference games this weekend: Stanford at USC and California at Washington. … Looking to rebound from a 24-14 loss at Cincinnati, UCLA will host San Diego State on Saturday. The Bruins are 21-0-1 all-time against the Aztecs. This is the first meeting between the two since 2009.