Friday, October 24, 2014

Why the PAC 12 May Be Shut Out of The Playoff









Brace yourself, PAC 12 followers, for an unpleasant reality. There may not be a team from your conference in the post-season playoff. The big problem is the PAC 12's national image. It's covered with mud.

These days, experts predicting which teams will make the playoffs mention the PAC 12 only in passing. Oregon, the big PAC 12 hope, is lumped in with tarnished candidates like Oklahoma and Texas A&M. One-loss Michigan State, whipped soundly by Oregon early in the season, its getting more love as a potential final-four team.

What a bummer.

And this following all the preseason hype about this being the best PAC 12 season in years and that the conference is, top-to-bottom, one of the nation's best and, most significantly, that the PAC 12 is as good or better than the SEC. Turns out none of this is true.

Those PAC 12 teams that were supposed to be final-four challengers, like UCLA and Stanford, were exposed as fatally flawed. Stanford has a marvelous defense but is saddled with a lame offense. UCLA's defense is burdened with a lame leader, Jeff Ulbrich. After an impressive opening win over Fresno State, USC has been wildly inconsistent. Three one-loss teams--Arizona State, Arizona and Utah--aren't mentioned in playoff conversations. For good reason. All will lose at least one more game. Even if one magically slips by with just one loss, neither of these teams has a strong enough national reputation to get into the playoff. A two-loss SEC team has a better shot at making the final four.

Once again, Oregon, at 6-1, has the weight of the PAC 12 on its shoulders. It's the lone conference team with a shot at making the playoff and the only one that can hang with a top SEC team. The Ducks, however, are tarnished. Not too long ago, this team was reeling. A few weeks ago, if Oregon was in the SEC, they would have been eaten alive by the top half of that conference. A three-TD favorite to trash Arizona in Eugene on Oct.2, the Ducks, shockingly, lost 31-24. The Ducks weren't all that collapsed. The PAC 12's positive national image crashed too. It still hasn't recovered.

The Ducks are back, but their image needs a makeover. Oregon is the only PAC 12 team in the AP Top 10 but, at No.6, it's still shut out of the Top 5. All that Oregon needed to snap out of that slump was the return of left tackle Jake Fisher, the team's MVP. He was out for a few games and the offensive line became a disaster area. QB Marcus Mariota didn't look like a Heisman candidate because he was constantly running for his life. The offense sputtered dramatically. When Fisher came back, so did the offense, which looked like its old powerhouse self against UCLA and Washington.

But that brief Oregon slump left an impression, mainly outside the conference, that Oregon is weak and, by default, so is the conference. Oregon can't lose again. Even if it runs the table and beats California, Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Oregon State, that may not be enough to impress the final-four committee. Other one-loss teams, no doubt some from the SEC, may be more attractive.

Oregon isn't out of the woods yet. Even with its offensive line back in shape, Oregon could still lose a game, particularly to Stanford or to hated rival, Oregon State. A two-loss PAC 12 team simply wouldn't get into the playoff.

If the Ducks get shot down again, the PAC 12's hopes of making the playoff go down too.