Nine-game conference schedule dents Pac-12's playoff chances

PHOENIX (AP) The Pac-12 considers itself the toughest conference in college football, a league that offers few easy games during its nine-game schedule.

The strength of the Pac-12 helped the conference earn a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff last season, when Oregon ran through the gauntlet to reach the national championship game.

The power of the Pac-12 had the opposite effect this season, the teams knocking each other off until the conference's chances for the CFB became a longshot.

''What I thought would happen and what a lot of coaches in the league thought would happen, it's happening,'' Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The Pac-12 appeared to be in good shape heading into last weekend's games. Despite both having losses, Stanford and Utah could make strong cases to be a part of the playoff if they were to win out.

Instead, the Cardinal lost to Oregon and the Utes fell to Arizona.

Utah (8-2) dropped to No. 13 in the latest CFB ranking - No. 18 in the AP Top 25 - and pretty much out of the playoff conversation.

Stanford still has a shot, though will need an awful lot to go right to get there. The 15th-ranked Cardinal (8-2) will win out in a schedule that includes a matchup with Notre Dame, No. 4 in the CFB ranking, and hope the resume is good enough for a two-loss team to surpass one or several with one loss.

''Everyone has been talking about the playoff every day since the offseason,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. ''We're not there yet. We are talking about January and it has created a lot of buzz and every news outlet has assigned multiple people to talk about the playoff for six months.

''People forget, this is college football and it is awesome. It is better than it has ever been and there are a lot of really good teams out there not going to the playoff that need attention.''

A few of the Pac-12's coaches would like the conference to turn its attention to the schedule.

The Pac-12 plays a nine-game conference schedule, setting up a nearly nonstop gauntlet while many other teams get a break from the rigors of their conference schedules.

Washington State coach Mike Leach pointed to the disparity of the Pac-12's schedule this week with the SEC.

In the Pac-12, Utah is playing UCLA and Stanford faces rival California, while Alabama gets Charleston Southern and Florida faces Florida Atlantic.

''Right now, they're hitting where they play their I-AA opponent,'' Leach said of the SEC. ''Meanwhile, we're in the middle of murderer's row.''

The nine-game schedule doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. In a radio interview this week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said what's best to get a team into the playoff is low on the priority list.

Many coaches also said they're still in favor of the nine-game conference schedule, but thought there should be a more even playing field when it comes to matching up against other teams from the Power 5 conferences.

''I don't think the problem is nine conference games opposed to eight. I think the problem is the inequality across the country. We need to get everybody on the same page, somehow, and get a little uniformity,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''The other solution would be, you have to expand the playoffs to eight teams and make every Power 5 champion in the playoff.''

Until then, the Pac-12's teams will have to continue beating up on each other and hope someone gets through.

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