A year after seeing Oregon represent it in the College Football Playoff championship game, the Pac-12 appears destined to be left out of the postseason fun this season. It isn’t locked out just yet, but Stanford will hope for some help while taking care of their own business against USC in this week’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
Unlike the Big Ten, where Iowa and Michigan State will more than likely play for one of the four playoff spots in addition to the Big Ten championship, Stanford is not guaranteed to get into the playoff with a championship game victory over the Trojans. Stanford must dominate USC in a fashion similar to how Ohio State handled Wisconsin in last season’s Big Ten championship game, a 59-0 victory. The overwhelming domination exhibited by the Buckeyes last season helped push the Big Ten champs past Big 12 contenders TCU and Baylor for good, and, of course, the rest is history. Stanford cannot afford to have any less dominating of a showing against the Trojans because Stanford has two losses on its record. That digs a deep hole compared to the other candidates out in the running.
With Christian McCaffrey running the football and performing on special teams for a late-season Heisman push, he will give USC all kinds of trouble. Will it be enough? What else needs to happen for Stanford to get into the playoff?
For starters, consider the landscape of the playoff picture. Oklahoma appears to be locked in as one of the top four teams and will be idle this week. The Big Ten championship game between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State looks to be a play-in game for the winner. That leaves the ACC and SEC championship games for Stanford fans to pay close attention to. No. 2 Alabama is a decisive favorite against the Florida Gators and should be expected to win. So the hopes of Stanford fans will fall on North Carolina. Should the 11-1 Tar Heels hand No. 1 Clemson their first loss of the season, that could open a door for a Pac-12 champion Stanford. Of course, under this scenario, a 12-1 ACC champion North Carolina would have a solid case to be made as well, and that could be a problem for Stanford. It could be a big problem.
Of course, Stanford will have its hands full with USC. The Trojans have been rejuvenated under Clay Helton, who has been awarded the head coaching job and had the interim tag removed this week. USC just dismantled UCLA to capture the Pac-12 South; and if Cody Kessler can avoid making mistakes, USC could spoil Stanford’s playoff dreams before having to worry about what happens in the ACC and SEC. This one should be a tight one.
The Pick: Stanford 27, USC 24
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.