Pac-12 isn’t out of CFP race yet

Oregon, Washington, Utah could be conference’s best bets

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Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and the Utes still have an slim chance at the CFP.

At this point in the season, bowl projections are a lot like mock drafts.

They spark conversation, they are fun to peruse while thinking about the possibilities, and most of them are wrong.

This week, national publications have Colorado going to the Sun Bowl (Sports Illustrated), Las Vegas Bowl (ESPN), Quick Lane Bowl (CollegeFootballNews.com) or the most popular, for some reason, the Birmingham Bowl (CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and a second ESPN writer).

CU fans, of course, would take any of those choices over nothing, but most of the projections at this point will prove to be wrong.

While those publications all have CU going different places, they do agree on this: the Pac-12 won’t be among the four teams in the College Football Playoff.

In fact, after California’s 24-17 loss to Arizona State last week left the Pac-12 without any undefeated teams, most of the country seems to have written off the conference as a CFP contender.

Certainly there is no margin for error, but it’s too early to count the Pac-12 out.

Of the 20 teams to reach the CFP since it began in 2014, 14 had a loss. In four of the five seasons of the CFP, the field included three one-loss teams.

Of course, the Pac-12 will need some help, but that will come over time. The other four power conferences have a combined 14 undefeated teams right now, but it’s only possible to have four by season’s end. More than likely, there will only be one or two unbeaten teams by the time the CFP semifinals are set.

In part because the Pac-12  has missed out on the CFP the past two years, it’s easy to say this is shaping up to be a third consecutive season. Maybe it is, but keep in mind that the CFP committee has never passed on a one-loss Pac-12 champion.

Currently, there are seven 1-loss teams in the Pac-12, with four of them ranked among the top 20 in the Associated Press poll. The Pac-12’s best hopes at this point:

1. Oregon (3-1): The Ducks, ranked No. 13 by the AP, opened with a 27-21 loss to Auburn, which is currently ranked No. 7 and surging. Over the next three weeks, they play three teams – Cal, CU and Washington – with a combined record of 11-3. Run the table and the Ducks have a great shot to get in.

2. Washington (4-1): A one-point home loss to Cal in Week 2 hurt, but the Huskies have been cruising ever since. Currently ranked No. 15, they’ve got a slate that includes Stanford, Oregon, Utah, CU and Washington State. Keep winning and they’ll keep climbing.

3. Utah (4-1): A week 3 loss at USC could haunt the Utes all season, but they’ve still got Washington and possibly Oregon (in the Pac-12 title game). Currently No. 17, the Utes could be in the conversation with a 12-1 mark.

Those with longer odds, but still mathematically in the hunt:

4. Arizona State (4-1): Their Week 4 home loss to CU hurts, but ASU already has two top-25 wins and owns the Pac-12’s best non-conference victory: at Michigan State. Get through a schedule that includes Utah and Oregon and the Sun Devils will look attractive to the committee.

5. Colorado (3-1): A Mountain West loss (to Air Force) hurts and being unranked at this point makes the path difficult. But CU has a Big Ten win (against Nebraska) and, at 12-1, would have wins against all the Pac-12 heavyweights, including each of the four listed above.

6. Cal (4-1) and Arizona (3-1): Cal just lost its starting quarterback and Arizona doesn’t know if it’ll have its starter going forward. Certainly if either reaches 12-1 they’ll be in the conversation, but both need to pull off an upset on the road this week to keep their one-loss marks intact.

Notable

The Beaver State has two quarterbacks playing mistake-free football. Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Oregon State’s Lake Luton have thrown a combined 264 passes this year without an interception. … OSU and Iowa are the only teams in the country with only one turnover. OSU’s only turnover was an interception thrown by backup Tristan Gebbia. … The top five running backs in the conference from last year all returned, but the leader right now is Washington’s Salvon Ahmed. A backup last year, he’s averaging 99.8 yards per game. …  Four Pac-12 teams are on bye (ASU, USC, Utah, WSU), but the weekend slate includes a matchup of the top two teams in the North (Cal at Oregon) and the top two teams in the South (Arizona at CU).