Mathematically, the Pac-12 North division is still up for grabs heading into final six weeks of the regular season.
Realistically, the Oregon Ducks secured their first division win in five years with a come-from-behind victory in Seattle last week.
The 11th-ranked Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half to sink then-No. 25 Washington, 35-31, and knock out their biggest threat to the division crown.
It was an important win for the Ducks, but more so for the Pac-12. Oregon represents the conference’s best chance to reach the College Football Playoff and losing in Seattle would have put an end to those hopes. Getting past that hurdle in Seattle sets up Oregon for a strong finish and the rest of the country can’t discount the Ducks as a legitimate CFP contender.
Oregon’s 27-21 loss to Auburn in the opener on Aug. 31 was viewed as a significant blown opportunity for the Pac-12, but the Ducks have won six in a row and have been impressive in doing so.
First on Oregon’s agenda is to win the North and the Ducks are starting to run away with it. Annual contenders Washington, Stanford and Washington State already have three conference losses, as does Cal. Annual doormat Oregon State is surprisingly sitting in second place, at 2-2, and while the Beavers have been a nice story, it’s highly unlikely they’ll pose a real threat to the Ducks.
Reaching the CFP will require more than a division title, though. The Ducks can’t afford to lose again and there are major challenges ahead. This week, they host Washington State, which has won four in a row in the series. Trips to USC and Arizona State and home dates with Arizona and Oregon State remain, as well.
Get through all of that unscathed and the Ducks would love to see an 11-1, top-10 ranked Utah squad in the championship game.
From there, the Ducks might need a little assistance, but they’ll get some of that naturally as the SEC and Big Ten heavyweights beat up on each other. It would help the Ducks if Auburn doesn’t fall apart with a remaining schedule that includes dates with No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 LSU and No. 10 Georgia.
Certainly a lot can happen in the next six or seven weeks to paint the CFP picture, but Oregon handled an important part of its mission last week.
Tate, Wildcats struggling
Wasn’t it just three weeks ago that Arizona’s Khalil Tate came into Boulder and threw for a career-high 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-30 win for the Wildcats?
For the third year in a row, Tate exploded against the Buffs, severely damaging their bowl hopes. The Buffs have been dismal in the two games since.
Tate hasn’t had an easy road, either.
Arizona (4-3, 2-2) has lost two in a row and Tate has struggled so much that he was benched last week. Tate accounted for 24 yards in total offense (51 passing, minus-27 rushing) in a 41-14 loss to USC last week. The Wildcats trailed 31-0 when he was benched in favor of freshman Grant Gunnell.
Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin announced that Tate would start this week at Stanford, but the job security can’t be good for the former Heisman Trophy candidate.
The Wildcats’ struggles go well beyond Tate, but they clearly need him to play better.
“It’s called practice and study,” Sumlin said at his weekly press conference when asked how to get Tate on track. “And then, ultimately, it’s performance.”
Huntley hopes to play
Utah is hoping to have its starting quarterback on Saturday when the 12th-ranked Utes (6-1, 3-1) host California (4-3, 1-3).
Senior Tyler Huntley didn’t play the fourth quarter of the Utes’ 21-3 win against Arizona State last week because of a leg injury, but he told the Deseret News, “I’m playing (against Cal).”
Huntley ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency rating (180.1) and fifth in completion percentage (74.0). He has thrown for 1,564 yards and rushed for 229 yards.
No. 24 Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) looks to bounce back from the Utah loss when it visits UCLA (2-5, 2-2) on Saturday. The Sun Devils had scored 10-plus points in 125 consecutive games, tying the FBS record, before the loss to Utah. … Five Pac-12 quarterbacks rank among the top 20 nationally in completion percentage: Huntley, USC’s Kedon Slovis (6th, 73.6), Washington State’s Anthony Gordon (8th, 70.9), Oregon’s Justin Herbert (17th, 68.1) and Washington’s Jacob Eason (20th, 67.4). … Oregon State (3-4, 2-2) has won two of three and a big reason for that is receiver Isaiah Hodgins. He has been one of the best receivers in the country, ranking second nationally in receptions per game (8.0) and eighth in receiving yards per game (106.4). … Washington’s Peyton Henry is 15-for-15 on field goals. He is one of 20 kickers nationally with at least 15 attempts, but the only one without a miss.