Pac-12 Notebook: A Game 2,000 Miles Away Hurts Oregon's Playoff Chances

Oregon wide receiver Juwan Johnson has been a big factor the second half of the season.Photo by Troy Wayrynen - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

Oregon won, but it lost.

The Ducks won big in Eugene, Ore., taking out visiting Arizona 34-6 as part of Blowout Saturday in the Pac-12, and they clinched a berth in the conference championship game in the process.

But in the big picture Oregon lost because of what happened more than 2,000 miles away in Auburn, Alabama. That’s where No. 12 Auburn lost to No. 4 Georgia 21-14.

You see, Auburn beat Oregon in the season opener, and that’s Oregon’s only loss. The Ducks need Auburn to look good in the meantime so their loss to the Tigers would not look so heinous to the College Football Playoff ranking committee. But Auburn has now lost three games, all to Southeastern Conference opponents, so that early loss to Auburn could be a permanent stain on the Ducks’ resume.

Furthermore, a loss by Georgia would have been the Bulldogs’ second of the season, probably knocking them behind the once-beaten Ducks, who were two spots behind Georgia in last week’s CFP rankings. Now the Bulldogs have clinched a spot in the SEC title game and no doubt will retain a top-four CFP ranking for another week.

Oregon could still wind up in the four-team College Football Playoff, but it will require a series of favorable events to get there.

Utah, No. 7 in last week’s CFP rankings, still has a chance as well, but the Ducks are in better position since their loss to Auburn does not seem as debilitating as Utah’s loss to USC.

Lurking mysteriously in the background in the playoff hopes for Oregon and Utah is the injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Alabama is currently No. 5 in the CFP rankings and still very much in the playoff picture. But the Tide’s standing with the CFP committee could suffer if Alabama shows it is not the same team without its star quarterback, who is out for the rest of the season.

And guess who has a chance to demonstrate Alabama’s vulnerability. Yep, Auburn, which faces Alabama in their traditional rivalry game on Nov. 30.

Beavers Are the Story on Blowout Saturday

Four of the five Pac-12 games on Saturday were decided by 24 points or more. It probably does not make Cal feel any better that its 41-17 loss to USC was the closest of those four routs.

The one close game was played in Corvallis, Oregon, where an impressive story is being told without many people paying attention.

Oregon State thwarted a two-point conversion by Arizona State with 1:40 left to eke out a 35-34 victory in its final home game of the season.

And guess which team is alone in second place in the Pac-12 North as of today.

No, it’s not Washington, which started the season ranked No. 13. Nor is it Stanford, which was 23rd in the AP poll after beating Northwestern in its opener. And it’s not Washington State, which rose to No. 19 after its 3-0 start. And it certainly is not Cal, which started the season 4-0, earning it a No. 15 ranking.

No, the team that stands alone in second place in the Pac-12 North is the only Pac-12 North team that has not spent a single day in the AP top 25 this season.

That, of course, would be Oregon State, which has won three of its last four games and at 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the conference, is one win from its first bowl berth since 2013.

The Beavers were 1-17 in Pac-12 games over the past two seasons, and with two games left they already have as many conference wins this season as they had in the past four seasons combined.

Oregon State has not finished higher than third in the standings since the conference became a 12-team league in 2011.

Oregon State has two tough road games left, against Washington State and Oregon, so its longed-for bowl berth as well as a second-place finish remain is jeopardy.

Nonetheless, we better start paying attention to what the Beavers are up to. They lost their first three games against FBS opponents this season, and they were promptly forgotten. But now they have a quarterback (Jake Luton) who has thrown 23 touchdown passes with just two picks after tossing four TD passes and no interceptions against Arizona State.

Utah Getting Better

Utah has been crushing opponents since its loss to USC, and that should impress the CFP committee.

UCLA had won three straight games, averaging 35.7 points in that span, before the Bruins walked into Salt Lake City and took a 49-3 beating on Saturday.

Utah has not allowed a touchdown in three of its past four games, and Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley ranks fifth in the nation in passer rating, behind only Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa, LSU’s Joe Burrow and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, all of whom are considered Heisman Trophy candidates.

Utah plays the two worst teams in the Pac-12 – Colorado and Arizona – in its final two games, suggesting the Utes, with the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense, will face Oregon, which has averaged 41.4 points over its past four games, in the Pac-12 championship game.

Big Game, Big Questions

Cal and Stanford will come into Saturday’s meeting at Stanford with a major question: Who will be the starting quarterback?

Cal’s Chase Garbers got knocked out of the 41-17 loss to USC in the second quarter and his status for Saturday is up in the air.

Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello has been in and out of the lineup all season, and Davis Mills was the Cardinal’s quarterback in its 49-22 loss to Washington State. Mills set a Stanford record for passing yards in a game (504 yards) in the loss, and it is not clear whether Costello or Davis will start against Cal.