The Pac-12 has experienced some bad days over the past 15 months. Tuesday was one of the worst.
It started with news that AT&T has dropped the Pac-12 Networks from its U-verse service and ended with the news that the selection committee had dropped Washington State five spots in the playoff rankings.
The Cougars (10-2) are behind one-two-three-FOUR teams with three losses and are now on the outside looking in at the New Year’s Six bowls.
Slotting the Cougars behind Washington makes sense after the Apple Cup. But why place WSU behind Penn State, Florida and LSU (all 9-3)?
Please allow the Hotline to dish a little truth, with the help of a few facts.
Truth: Washington State’s non-conference resume is terrible, especially when compared to the three-loss teams in its general vicinity.
Penn State beat Pitt (7-5), which won the ACC Coastal. LSU beat Miami (7-5), and Florida beat Florida State (5-7).
All three had non-conference wins over Power Five opponents.
WSU’s best non-conference victory was over Wyoming, a non-Power Five with a non-winning record that didn’t beat a single FBS team with a winning record.
The committee, during its detailed examination of WSU, Penn State, Florida and LSU, undoubtedly knocked the Cougars down a rung for the weak SOS and lack of a Power Five test outside of conference play.
Those subtle differences matter.
Truth: Washington State’s case was undermined by the conference.
I’m not referring to the controversial loss at USC (although I could be, because had targeting been called on Porter Gustin, and had WSU converted on first down from the 10, the Cougars would be headed to the conference title game).
Instead, let’s look at the results that impact the evaluation process.
The Pac-12 was 0-6 in non-conference games against teams in the committee’s latest rankings. And in just one of those games was the Pac-12 even within a touchdown at the whistle:
No. 3 Notre Dame 38, Stanford 17
No. 3 Notre Dame 24, USC 17
No. 5 Oklahoma 49, UCLA 21
No. 6 Ohio State 77, Oregon State 31
No. 14 Texas 37, USC 14
No. 25 Fresno State 38, UCLA 14
The Cougars weren’t directly involved, but the losses undermine the credibility of the teams they beat in the resume-building process.
Truth: In addition to the results noted above, do not forget:
The Pac-12 North champion lost to a team that finished fifth in the SEC West.
Auburn did the Pac-12 no favors by falling apart after beating UW in Week One. Then again, UW did the Pac-12 no favors by losing to a team that would win three out of eight games against SEC competition.
Either way, that result tilts the scale toward the three-loss SEC teams relative to two-loss WSU.
WSU lost to UW, which lost to Auburn, which lost to LSU, which lost to Florida.
So yes, the Huskies effectively delivered two knockout blows to the Cougars, the direct hit on Nov. 23 and the indirect, unintentional shot on Sept. 1.
Truth: The SEC deserves its lofty status in the committee rankings … or most of it.
Again, it’s the results.
The Pac-12, for example, went 3-6 in non-conference play against Power Five opponents.
The SEC went 9-4.
One of those losses was to Clemson by two points (Texas A&M).
Another was to Notre Dame by five points (Vanderbilt).
Put another way: The SEC went 9-2 in non-conference play against Power Five opponents that are not currently undefeated.
Each win help the victorious team’s resume, which in turn bolsters the SOS of other teams in the conference.
Alabama pummeled Missouri, which beat Purdue, which dismantled Ohio State — and the ripple effect is felt all the way to the committee room.
Truth: Washington State has no reasonable path into the NY6.
Hard to imagine that the idle Cougars will overtake the idle Tigers or the idle Nittany Lions or the idle Gators and climb into the top 12.
But for that scenario to materialize, it seems, Utah must beat Washington. That would propel the Utes into the top 12-14 range and add heft to WSU’s head-to-head victory.
The Cougars also need Oklahoma and Ohio State to win, just to have a fleck of a speck of a shot.
Here’s the list of bowl-eligible teams in order of current conference record, which dictates selections for the Sun, Las Vegas and Cactus bowls.
Not eligible: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA and USC.
Rose Bowl: Washington (9-3/7-2)
Comment: Projecting a victory Friday evening in Santa Clara and the first trip to the Rose since the 2000 season, likely against Michigan. One could argue that’s better than getting smacked around by Bama in the semis.
Alamo Bowl: Washington State (10-2/7-2)
Comment: Assuming no NY6 miracle, the Cougars are almost certainly headed to San Antonio at 10-2, compared to the 9-4 loser of the title game.
Holiday Bowl: Oregon (8-4/5-4)
Comment: Bowl officials could be in a tricky spot: They would love to have the Ducks and Justin Herbert, but will he play or sit? And is Oregon without Herbert a better draw than Utah, which would be coming off a title game loss?
Redbox Bowl: Stanford (7-4/5-3)
Comment: Utah doesn’t work for Levi’s Stadium a mere month after playing the FCG. If Oregon’s gone, then it’s either ASU or the Bay Area schools. Cal would be ideal if the Bears win Big Game. If Stanford wins, the Redbox would have its pick of the Cardinal or ASU. Leaning local might be the safer play. If the Holiday takes Utah, Oregon would be a no-brainer for the Redbox.
Sun Bowl: Utah (9-3/6-3)
Comment: Significant fall for the Utes if they lose the title game and the Holiday takes Oregon. They would be guaranteed a spot here, however, because the Sun must select the available team with the best conference record.
Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State (7-5/5-4)
Comment: If the selections unfold in this manner (and Stanford wins Big Game), the Devils would head to Vegas by virtue of conference record.
Cheez-It Bowl: Cal (7-4/4-4)
Comment: Seven bowl-eligible teams for seven bowls makes a nice fit. If somehow, some way, WSU jumps into the NY6, then everyone moves up and the Cactus goes hunting for an at-large from other regions.
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