With four losses already, the Southern California football team has no shot to reach the College Football Playoffs.
The Trojans, however, may have an opportunity to impact who does make it.
In the latest CFP rankings released Tuesday, the Trojans (7-4) moved into the Top 25, at No. 23.
That’s significant for the Pac-12’s top two teams – No. 6 Oregon (9-1) and No. 7 Utah – because that now adds another “quality” opponent to their resumes.
Utah’s only loss was to the Trojans, 30-23 on Sept. 20, and that didn’t look so good when USC was sitting at 5-4 a couple weeks ago. With one game left – Saturday against UCLA – and a bye next week, USC could creep into the top 20. All of a sudden, that loss for Utah doesn’t look so bad.
Oregon, on the other hand, crushed USC by a 56-24 score on Nov. 2 – a victory that looks much more impressive nationally if the Trojans are able to stay among the top 25. The Ducks’ only loss came in the opener to Auburn, which is currently No. 15.
As the regular season winds down, the CFP committee will split hairs to determine the top four and USC’s late-season resurgence could be the boost the Pac-12’s leaders need.
Of course, Oregon and Utah still have to take care of business on the field. Oregon visits Arizona State (5-5) this week and hosts Oregon State (5-5) next week. The Ducks have already clinched the Pac-12 North title, but must win the next two to stay in the CFP race.
Utah visits Arizona (4-6) this week and hosts Colorado (4-6) in the finale. The Utes have no margin for error because of the loss to USC (unless the Trojans lose to UCLA). The Utes might need to win out just to claim the South title.
Should Utah and Oregon both go into the Pac-12 title game at 11-1, the winner will have a legitimate argument for a CFP spot, but will need some help.
Three of the five teams ahead of Oregon and Utah are from the SEC: No. 1 LSU, No. 4 Georgia and No. 5 Alabama.
Of those three, Alabama should be the easiest hurdle to clear. A 12-1 Pac-12 champ figures to get the nod over an Alabama team that won’t even win its division. (Auburn beating the Tide on Nov. 30 would solidify that and also boost Oregon’s resume).
From there, the Pac-12 would get a boost from LSU winning out. Do that and the Tigers would remain at No. 1 with a 13-0 record, while handing Georgia (9-1) its second loss, knocking the Bulldogs out.
No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) and No. 3 Clemson (11-0) winning out and claiming their conference titles could help the Pac-12, too, because if either lose, it could open the door for three teams currently below Oregon and Utah: Penn State, Minnesota or Oklahoma.
Importance of the CFP
The Pac-12 has been shut out of the CFP the past two years and the conference has taken a significant hit in reputation along the way. Getting into the national semifinals for the first time since Washington was there in 2016 would be huge for the Pac-12.
“I want the conference to do as well as it can do,” Colorado head coach Mel Tucker said. “And obviously if the conference is represented in the playoffs, that’d be great. It would be great for our conference.”
Washington coach Chris Petersen said this week that if Oregon or Utah can get in, “I think that helps us – the league. I don’t necessarily like it, because that’s our direct competitor that’s there … but then when you step back, OK, if you’re not going to (reach the playoff), does it help if one of those teams is in the discussion for it?”
Oregon or Utah reaching the CFP would not only help the perception of the Pac-12 nationally. It could help recruiting in the West, and it’s a financial boost, as the conference would receive $6 million for getting a team into the semifinals.
Good news for the Pac-12: It is the only conference in the country with each school still in the hunt for a bowl game. Bad news for the Pac-12: It currently has just four bowl-eligible teams, lowest in the country. … The Pac-12 will have at least five bowl teams, as the winner of the Oregon State at Washington State game on Saturday will get win No. 6. Both teams are 5-5. … California (at Stanford) and ASU (home against Oregon) are also 5-5 and playing for win No. 6 this week. … Arizona running back J.J. Taylor is planning to enter the NFL Draft and forego his final year of eligibility. Although playing in his fourth season for the Wildcats, Taylor missed all but four games of his freshman season, in 2016. Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star reported that Taylor could have applied for a waiver and likely been given a fifth year, but he will instead focus on the NFL.