This week the College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled the first of its weekly rankings, and it was not too kind to the Pac-12. Stanford was the highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 in the first batch of rankings, followed by Utah at No. 12. The only other team to appear in the first College Football Playoff rankings was No. 23 UCLA. Should the Pac-12 hit the panic button with the fear of being left out of the second College Football Playoff?
It should be noted the College Football Playoff rankings will be recreated from scratch every week for the rest of the season; there is plenty of reason to expect some changes coming in the next few weeks as playoff contenders across the nation begin playing each other and facing their most difficult challenges. That will be the case in the Pac-12 as well. It should also be noted last year’s national champion, Ohio State, was ranked No. 16 in the first playoff rankings of the 2014 season. With that all in mind, it may look as though Stanford and Utah are still in a solid spot, needing to move up seven or eight spots over the next month. Surely, that is not at all impossible. If either Stanford or Utah manage to pull it off though, it will be well deserved.
Stanford looks like the strongest and most well-rounded team in the Pac-12 right now, but the final games of their season before a potential, and likely, spot in the Pac-12 championship game will not be a walk in the park. Stanford hits the road this weekend to take on Colorado, but the major tests for Stanford will come after that with a three-game season-ending run of games against Oregon, rival Cal and Notre Dame. All three of those games come at home, which could be important; but the Ducks could have found their offense in time to give the Cardinal some fits. Cal has been on a slide lately, but they could be dangerous in a rivalry game. Notre Dame could be sitting with one loss and in position to lock up a playoff spot of their own (the Irish are No. 5). Stanford could very well reach the Pac-12 Championship Game with two losses, which could end up making it difficult to sneak into the four-team playoff field when it comes time to naming playoff participants.
Utah is also in a tricky spot. The Utes have one loss and have two road games the next couple of weeks against Washington and Arizona before hosting UCLA. Utah still has a one-game lead int he Pac-12 South, but can they hold on to it, and thus their playoff ranking? And if they do manage to hold on to their top spot in the division, can they get by Stanford? The Pac-12 is now in a position where the championship game could be played between a pair of two-loss teams. That might be the worst-case scenario for the Pac-12’s playoff chances, so there should be some reason for concern here for the conference.
On Tap This Weekend
Colorado (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12) vs. No. 11 Stanford (7-1, 6-0 Pac-12)
Stanford can move one step closer to wrapping up the Pac-12 North with a win on the road against Colorado, and they can clinch it with a win and an Oregon loss against Cal. Stanford needs to be careful not to look past the Buffs with the Ducks coming up next week though, because Mike MacIntyre is having Colorado take baby steps forward as a program. Last week, Colorado gave UCLA a battle but came up on the wrong end of a 35-31 final score. Look for Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey to shine in his home state.
Oregon State (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12) vs. No. 23 UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12)
UCLA can keep its Pac-12 championship dreams alive with a win on the road this weekend. The Bruins travel to Oregon State this weekend to take on a struggling Beavers program. Oregon State is the only team in the Pac-12 without a conference win this season, and the odds do not look good to end that drought this week against UCLA. The Bruins managed to sneak into the first College Football Playoff top 25 this week thanks to having three top 25 wins on their schedule (at the time those teams were played at least). The Bruins cannot afford to slip up if they are going to grab the Pac-12 North, as they need to keep pace with Utah and USC, two teams the Bruins still have coming up on the schedule to close out the regular season.
Oregon (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) vs. California (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12)
Cal has lost three straight conference games to slide out of the Pac-12 title picture, while Oregon appears to have found its offensive identity once again. The Ducks are coming off a wild overtime victory on the road at Arizona State and now still have a slight chance to claim the Pac-12 North title. Oregon needs help to catch Stanford, but history is on their side this weekend against Cal. Oregon has won six straight games against Cal and has not lost to the Golden Bears in Eugene since 2007.
Cal Poly (2-6, 1-4 Big Sky) vs. Sacramento State (2-6, 1-4 Big Sky)
Sacramento State picked up its first conference win last week with a 38-13 victory over Idaho State and can make it two in a row this weekend on the road against Cal Poly. Hornets quarterback Nate Ketteringham threw four touchdowns in the win, with three going to Shane Harrison. Cal Poly has lost three straight games and gave up three defensive touchdowns last week against Southern Utah in a 54-37 loss.
Weber State (4-5, 3-3 Big Sky) vs. UC Davis (1-7, 1-4 Big Sky)
It has been a long season for UC Davis as they sit at the bottom of the Big Sky standings. This is the first meeting between UC Davis and Weber State since 2012, with the Aggies winning 37-13. Weber State has lost two straight games coming into the game despite gaining 27 first downs last week against Eastern Washington in a 14-13 loss.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.