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Pac-12 Football Notebook: Oregon's CFP Hopes End; Utah on the Rise

Oregon State, Washington State still in contention for Pac-12 title with one meaningful weekend left

Let’s take a step back and assess the Pac-12 football situation heading into the final meaningful weekend of the regular season.

---For the fifth straight year the Pac-12 will not have a team in the College Football Playoff.

---With Oregon ranked No. 11 in this week’s AP poll following its 38-7 loss to Utah, it is very possible that the Pac-12 will not have a team ranked in the final top 10 for the second year in a row.

---Oregon State and Washington State are still in contention for a Pac-12 title.

Subsets:

---If Oregon beats Oregon State in Eugene next week, the Ducks will be the North champion and will face Utah again in the Pac-12 championship game. If Oregon State upsets Oregon, and Washington State loses to Washington, Oregon State would represent the North in the Pac-12 title game against the Utes. If Oregon State and Washington State both win, the Cougars would head to Las Vegas and face Utah for the Pac-12 title. None of those three scenarios is far-fetched.

---Oregon State has not won an undisputed conference title since 1956, and Washington State has not done so since 1930. The Cougars must have known they were headed for big things in that 1930 season because they beat Albertson in the opener that year.

---Washington State is bowl-eligible and presumably will play in a bowl game for the seventh time in the past nine years. The only Pac-12 team with more bowl appearances in that span is Oregon, which will go to its eighth bowl in the past nine seasons. Utah and Washington match WSU’s seven-in-nine run, but USC, UCLA, Arizona State and the rest fall short of the Cougars’ recent bowl appeareances.

---Could Nick Rolovich be named Pac-12 coach of the year in abstencia? The Cougars were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North, and though Rolovich was fired after seven games, the team has subsequently operated virtually on auto pilot, with the personnel, systems and philosophies put in place by Rolovich. However, even if Rolovich deserves the award, the coaches would not dare vote for him. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is likely to win it, with Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith second.

---And there’s nothing like fog and snow in Pullman on a Friday night:

---If Cameron Rising had been Utah’s starting quarterback from the start of the season, the Utes might be in contention for a College Football Playoff berth. The Utes are 7-1 with Rising as their starter, and they have won four in row, topped by the dominant 38-7 victory over then-No. 3 Oregon on Saturday. And Utah is still getting better. The Utes are ranked 16th in this week's AP poll, and it will be interesting to see where the CFP committee ranks them this week.

Subset:

---If Utah’s Tavion Thomas had been a trusted running back all season, the Utes might be in the CFP. He fumbled in the loss to BYU and carried just seven times in that game, presumably because of the fumble. Still in the doghouse, he carried just once the following week in the loss to San Diego State and just once the next week, a 24-13 home win over Washington State. Apparently he was released from the doghouse after that because in his six games since he has carried at least 16 times, averaged of 117 rushing yards per game, and scored 15 touchdowns.

---UCLA and Cal have found their offenses, and play each other in an interesting matchup on Saturday. UCLA rolled up 609 yards of offense and averaged 9.2 yards per play in a 62-33 drubbing of USC with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson playing an outstanding game. Meanwhile Cal had 636 yards of total offense and averaged 10.1 yards per play in a 41-11 rout of Stanford, and Chase Garbers was equally outstanding.

Subset:

---UCLA has scored 106 points in its last two games combined, which is more in line with what we were expecting from a Chip Kelly-coached team.

---Cal has won three of its past four games, the only loss being the 10-3 defeat at Arizona, when 24 Cal playing, include Garbers and nine other starters, were sidelined because of COVID issues. Dismissed as dead when they were 1-5, the Bears could earn a bowl bid if they beat UCLA and USC in their final two games.

---USC (4-6) must win three straight games (against BYU, Cal and a bowl foe) to avoid its second losing season in four years. The Trojans have not had two losing seasons in a span of four years since they went 4-6 and 4-5-1 in John McKay’s first two seasons as head coach in 1960 and 1961.

Subset:

---BYU is ranked 13th in this week’s AP poll, is 4-0 against the Pac-12 this season and is a 7.5-point favorite over USC this week. The game is at USC, but the Trojans are 1-4 in Pac-12 home games this season, giving up an average of 45 points in those five games.

---Stanford’s season has gone downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. The Cardinal was 3-2, including wins over then-No. 14 USC on the road and then-No. 3 Oregon. But the Cardinal’s 41-11 loss to Cal was its sixth straight defeat since the win over Oregon, and it is likely to be seven losses in a row since Stanford is a 16.5-point underdog to Saturday’s opponent, Notre Dame. Stanford has lost as many as seven games in a row only three times since it began playing football in 1891 – 2006 when it started 0-9, 1960 when it went 0-10, and 1947 when it lost all nine games.

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---We learned how a team can lose a game even when it outgains its opponent 426 yards to 183 or when it records 22 first downs to its opponent’s nine. Somehow Washington did that and lost to Colorado 20-17. It happens when the dominating team commits four turnovers and the outplayed opponent has none. Colorado scored a touchdown on Jack Lamb’s 88-yard fumble return after Washington had reached the Colorado 3-yard line, and the Buffaloes converted a field goal on a 3-yard drive after recovering a Washington fumble at the Washington 7-yard line. It’s also how a team can start the season ranked No. 20 and end it needing a win over rival Washington State to avoid a 4-8 season, which would be Washington's worst since 2008.

The Pac-12 top five teams:

1. Utah (8-3) – And the Utes seem to be improving.

2. Oregon (9-2) – I guess the Ducks still belong in the top two, but I don’t feel good about it.

3. UCLA (7-4) – Bruins’ only two loses in their past six games were to Oregon (by three) and to Utah in Salt Lake City.

4. Oregon State (7-4) – If the Beavers played all their games in Corvallis, where they are 6-0 including a win over Utah, we’d be comparing them to Georgia. (Well, maybe 

5. Washington State (6-5) – Cougars edge out Arizona State for the fifth spot because the Sun Devils are so frustratingly erratic.

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Player of the Year Standings

1. Cameron Rising, Utah quarterback -- Utes are 7-1 in his starts, and being the quarterback of the best team almost automatically makes him a contender.

2. B.J. Baylor, Oregon State running back – He’s the Pac-12’s leading rusher with 1,200 yards, and his performance against Oregon will determine if he wins this award.

3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA quarterback – He leads the Pac-12 in passer rating, has thrown 18 touchdown passes and has rushed for 507 yards.

4. Travis Dye, Oregon running back -- He has 937 rushing yards and 308 receiving yards, but he was a non-factor against Utah.

5. Devin Lloyd, Utah linebacker – He has 21 tackles for loss, which is second in the country, and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

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Cover photo of Utah's crowd by Jeffrey Swiner, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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