Pac-12 Title Game Now Pits Oregon vs. USC; Is There a Better Solution?

Colorado is left without a game to play this week. We look at some options for the final week of the Pac-12 football season, then draw our conclusions
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You want complicated? We got complicated.

You want limbo? We got limbo.

You want embarrassing? We got embarrassing.

In this case the “we” refers to the only Power Five conference west of the Rocky Mountain, the Pac-12.

Let’s talk about where the Pac-12 stands as of Monday, then discuss what the Pac-12 could or should do to minimize the damage – in terms of fairness and public perception.

The Pac-12 announced Monday that Washington will not play in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game because of virus-related issues, and Oregon, which finished second in the North Division, will be the North representative in the conference title game against South champion USC on the Trojans’ home field.

Oregon was scheduled to play Colorado on Saturday for its final regular-season game, so the Buffaloes are now without an opponent for Saturday. Three teams – Washington, Cal and Arizona – are unavailable, leaving an uneven number of Pac-12 teams that can play games this weekend. Colorado announced the Buffaloes could schedule a game against a Pac-12 foe if another conference team becomes unavailable this week as long as that team did has not already played Colorado this season. Or the Buffaloes could schedule a nonconference opponent this week. According to the Denver Post, there is a huge stipulation: If USC encounters virus problems that prevent the Trojans from playing on Friday, Colorado would have to cancel that newly scheduled game and be ready to play Oregon in Friday’s conference championship contest.

The Buffaloes (4-1) occupy that uncomfortable land called limbo despite performing far better this season than their predicted last-place finish in the Pac-12 North.

Then there is the issue of whether Pac-12 teams will play in bowl games. Stanford has already said it won’t play in a postseason game, and Colorado officials have scheduled a meeting for Monday afternoon to determine whether it will accept a bowl bid.

So let’s advance to Step Two: What are the Pac-12’s options, and what should it do?

---Option 1: Declare USC the Pac-12 champion and the conference’s representative in a New Year’s Six bowl, and cancel the Pac-12 championship contest. Have Oregon and Colorado play each other in the Friday time slot set for the conference title game.

Why do this?

USC, the conference’s only unbeaten team, is carrying the banner for the Pac-12 at the moment. It’s the only Pac-12 team in the AP top 25 -- at a fairly lofty No. 13 spot -- and it is likely to move up in the College Football Playoff rankings announced on Tuesday after being No. 15 in the CFP standings last week. A loss in a Pac-12 title game could leave the Pac-12 without a single team in the final AP poll for the first time since 1961, when only 10 teams were ranked in the AP poll and only five teams were in the conference – Washington, USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal.

Having an unbeaten, nationally ranked team in a New Year’s Six Bowl (presumably the Fiesta Bowl) would allow the Pac-12 to save face.

Why not do this?

First of all FOX won’t stand for a cancellation of a Pac-12 title game, and the Pac-12 does not get the $17 million or whatever from having FOX televise it. More importantly, the thought of eliminating a conference title game – when the creation of that game was the main reason Utah and Colorado were added to create two six-team divisions – just seems incomprehensible. As much as the Pac-12 has been the target of jokes this season, the criticism would rise exponentially if it canceled its title game.

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---Option 2: Have Oregon face USC in the Pac-12 title game, but designate USC as the conference’s representative in the New Year’s Six bowl regardless of the outcome.

Why do this?

As noted the Trojans are the only ranked Pac-12 team and they may well be the only Pac-12 ranked team even if they lose Friday’s game. Reward them now for their 5-0 record, since 5-1 would still be better than Oregon 5-2 mark if the Duck would win.

Why not do this?

If the Pac-12 title game is played, it must determine the Pac-12 champion, and having a team other than the Pac-12 champion as the conference’s New Year’s Six representative would make the conference title game a travesty. It’s true that a team that does not win its conference title could wind up in the four-team national championship playoff, but that is a different conversation and one the Pac-12 is not a part of.

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---Option 3: Have Colorado play the best available team in the North, which would be Stanford, which is 3-2?

Why do this? 

The Buffaloes should not be penalized for having the second-best record in the conference. Allow them to play a meaningful game against a Stanford squad that has won three straight, including a victory over Washington. Rearrange pairings for the other Week 7 games as best you can, realizing that one of the remaining five teams will be left without an opponent for Saturday. The Pac-12 arranged these pairing just a two days ago, and it has experience rearranging matchups a few days before the game is played. 

Why not do this? 

The final-week schedule is already confusing. Why try to complicate it further with a bunch of new matchups, when only one team (Colorado) has to suffer if things are not modified further. And there is still a chance other Pac-12 teams will be unavailable for this week’s games. Imagine the public relations outcry if the Pac-12 schedule is changed beyond comprehension. Besides, Colorado could play in a bowl game if it chooses.

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---Option 4: The conference could declare that no Pac-12 teams can play in bowl games.

Why do this? 

Pac-12 teams would be relieved from making the difficult decision of whether to play in the postseason, and it’s debatable whether a team that plays only four or five games should be awarded a bowl berth.

Why not do it?

The cancellation of five bowls with Pac-12 tie-ins (Sun Bowl, LA Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Redbox Bowl, Holiday Bowl) leaves only four bowls that have spots for Pac-12 teams -- New Year’s Six Bowl (presumably Fiesta Bowl), Independence Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl. Colorado, Washington, USC and Oregon probably would be the teams to fill those spots, and teams should have the option of playing in a bowl if the administration and the players want to and if the team is eligible under Pac-12 rules. Players have already been restricted in the number of games they can play in 2020, so why limit them further.

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--Option 5: AP writer Ralph Russo provides a title-game solution to satisfy USC, Oregon and Colorado claims that it should be Pac-12 champ:

Why do it? 

Uh, you see, well, that is . . .

Why not do it?

You see, a college football game is 60 minutes long, and . . . never mind.

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What the Pac-12 should do:

I hate to say it, but I guess the Pac-12 is doing the best thing it can by pairing Oregon and USC in its nationally televised conference championship game. If Oregon wins, the Ducks might sneak back into the top 25, and we would be reminded by Oregon was the preseason favorite to win the conference after being ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP poll. The Ducks would be a decent representative in the Fiesta Bowl, although they would probably lose that game decisively based on what I’ve seen.

As for Colorado, there is no good option for the Buffaloes and they are left holding the bag – an empty bag in this case – because it does not make sense to alter the entire Week Seven schedule so that an opponent can be found for Colorado.

Let the Buffaloes play a nonconference game against, say, Colorado State with no stipulations and live with the consequences if USC cannot play Friday. The Trojans are the team the Pac-12 want on the national stage anyway, and if they can’t play . . . 

Cover photo of USC-Oregon by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

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

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