Pac-12 football title chase has abruptly changed after Week 6 results – Trojans Wire

  • October 10, 2022

UCLA responded to its moment of truth this past weekend, defeating the defending Pac-12 champion Utah Utes. The Bruins not only beat the Utes. They beat them up. This was a decisive win. The final was 42-32, but the Bruins led 42-25 late in the game. They were dramatically better.
Chip Kelly got his team to play a complete game in a huge, season-defining situation. This was the achievement which had eluded him in Westwood until now. UCLA’s victory has created a reset of the Pac-12 title race and the plot points we have to focus on in the second half of the season.
Let’s go through those new plot points below:
Before the season began, most pundits and national commentators expected Utah to be the team in this matchup without a Pac-12 Conference loss. Some expected USC and Utah to both be spotless in Pac-12 play. Instead, Utah’s loss to UCLA means USC has the perfect Pac-12 record while Utah has one loss.
The changed dynamics of the Pac-12 race begin with this simple point, then: Utah has to run the table to have a realistic chance to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC can lose this game and still be firmly at the forefront of the race.
Utah will have to beat USC at home, then Washington State and Oregon on the road, to put itself in good position to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. This is why the UCLA loss is so damaging. The Utes needed more margin for error heading into these three tough games. Now they have to win all three if they really want to return to the conference title game. Their odds of getting to Las Vegas in December are very low.
The Ducks host UCLA and Utah later this season. The UCLA game figured to be a game in which the Bruins had at least one conference loss and Oregon none. Oregon is clean in Pac-12 play, but so is UCLA. This is a real complication for the Ducks. If they lose to UCLA, they won’t be tied with the Bruins in the standings; they’ll be one game behind. With the head-to-head tiebreaker going to the Bruins, UCLA will almost certainly finish ahead of Oregon in the Pac-12 standings if it wins in Eugene.
The good news for Oregon: These two big games — UCLA and Utah — are at home. Protect Autzen Stadium, make the title game.
UCLA took care of Utah. It will face Oregon and USC later this season. Beating Utah means UCLA can split the Oregon-USC pair of games and still have a good chance to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Bruins have a relatively soft schedule in its remaining games other than Oregon and USC, so if UCLA splits the Ducks-Trojans double, it should finish 8-1 in the Pac-12, which is likely to get a title game berth.
Of course, winning at Oregon won’t be easy. Beating USC won’t be easy, either.
USC has the Utah game this week and then UCLA on Nov. 19. Much like UCLA, if USC can simply split the two tough games left on the schedule, the other remaining Pac-12 games should not be difficult: at Arizona, home against Cal, home against Colorado. If USC splits the Utah-UCLA pair of games, it should make the Pac-12 title game.
Let’s assume all four teams win the games they are supposed to win, including Utah winning at Washington State and Oregon winning at Oregon State. We can then focus on the matchups specifically involving the Pac-12’s four title contenders below:
Utah has two conference losses and would be out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Oregon, USC, and UCLA finish 8-1. While other details of the conference standings would need to be known to arrive at a firm answer on tiebreakers, Oregon and UCLA would seem to have an advantage here because they both beat Utah and USC did not. That’s not a guarantee, but it is a lean in the direction of the Ducks and Bruins.
This one is simple: Utah and USC would have multiple Pac-12 losses. Oregon would play UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
USC and Utah have multiple losses. Oregon vs. UCLA for the Pac-12 title.
UCLA and Utah have two losses. Oregon plays USC for the Pac-12 title.
Oregon and USC lose twice. UCLA vs. Utah for the Pac-12 championship.
Utah and Oregon lose twice. USC would play UCLA for the Pac-12 championship. That would be amazing.
Utah has two losses.
USC, UCLA, and Oregon all finish 8-1. Again, in the case of a three-way tie, we would need to know other details of the Pac-12 standings, but in this scenario, USC and UCLA would have wins over Utah, and Oregon would not. The Trojans and Bruins would feel better about their chances than the Ducks.
Utah has three losses. UCLA goes unbeaten in the conference and plays in the title game. USC and Oregon both finish 8-1 without a head-to-head matchup and both with wins over Utah, losses to UCLA, and wins over Washington State and Oregon State. This might come down to an analytics formula or some other obscure tiebreaker.
We could walk you through lots of other scenarios, but you get the point: In most instances, USC makes the Pac-12 title game at 8-1 — not all, but most.
Also, we remind you that we made a very broad assumption that all four teams are going to win the games they are “supposed” to win. If one domino falls wrong, the above scenarios might not fully apply. Some of the scenarios definitely will not apply. We’re just trying to give you a sense of how various teams might land under various combinations of results.
I can say this very clearly from a USC perspective: Trojan fans need Washington State to do well. UCLA does not play Washington State. If USC, Oregon and UCLA get into a three-team tiebreaker, Washington State having a good record and resume would increase USC’s chances of winning a strength of schedule formula-based tiebreaker, since USC plays Wazzu and UCLA does not.
One other final reason to root for Washington State if you’re a USC fan: If Wazzu beats Utah, that would do two things: First, Utah would stay behind USC in the standings, so the Utes’ head-to-head tiebreaker against USC would not apply. Second, Utah losing a second Pac-12 game would mean that the Utes could beat Oregon and improve USC’s odds of winning a possible tiebreaker with the Ducks.
Definitely root for WSU if you’re a USC fan.
If you asked me what USC’s most likely path to the Pac-12 title game is, this is what I would tell you:
Simplified: If Wazzu does beat Utah at home, USC finishing 8-1 (splitting the games against Utah and UCLA) almost certainly makes the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah would have multiple losses. Washington State finishes higher, not lower, in the Pac-12, giving USC a better formula. The Trojans would have more available combinations of results in Oregon’s and UCLA’s games to get them to Las Vegas.
You will notice that if Washington State beats Utah, USC can lose to Utah, beat UCLA, and not need a particular result in Utah-Oregon to make the Pac-12 title game as long as Oregon beats UCLA first.
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