The good: The Pac-12 can make a legitimate claim to being the best conference because of its incredible balance. The bad: That incredible balance is going to keep the league from having a team in the College Football Playoff.
The SEC and Pac-12 are the two best leagues -- and by a wide margin. While the SEC has the better teams 1-4, the Pac-12 unquestionably is better than the SEC in the middle and at the bottom. And that is going to kill the Pac-12 come playoff time.
The league has one unbeaten team: Arizona. The Wildcats (5-0) received acclaim last week for knocking off Oregon (for the second year in a row) in front of a rowdy crowd in Eugene. It certainly was an impressive win. At the same time, Arizona was lucky to beat California (winning on a last-play "Hail Mary") and was unimpressive in downing UT San Antonio by three (UTSA lost by 12 to New Mexico and by four to Florida Atlantic) and in beating Nevada by seven. In short, Arizona isn't going to remain unbeaten, not with a schedule that includes Arizona State, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington. Arizona is just as likely to lose three as it is to lose one.
And that's the problem with the Pac-12: Too many teams are going to beat up on each other, and every league team seems likely to lose at least twice. That's not good when it comes to picking the playoff teams.
Oregon and UCLA each have one loss, and they play each other Saturday. Oregon also has games remaining against Stanford, Utah and Washington, as well as archrival Oregon State, while UCLA still must play Arizona, Stanford, USC and Washington. Arizona State lost to UCLA and still has Arizona, Notre Dame, Stanford, Utah and Washington. Washington also has one loss and still has games left against Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. That's a lot of potential losses for each of those teams.
Heck, the Pac-12 South winner -- easily the second-best division in the nation, behind only the SEC West -- could have three losses.
The Pac-12 also is balanced when it comes to its divisions; while the South is better than the North, the difference isn't that much. Contrast that with the SEC, where the worst team in the West (either Arkansas or LSU) might be able to win the East. And also contrast that with the Big Ten (where the league's two best teams reside in the East, while the West is a mess) and the ACC (where the two best teams reside in the Atlantic, and the Coastal is even more of a jumbled mess than the Big Ten West). That means even when the best Pac-12 North teams face crossover foes from the South, a loss is possible. That's not the case in the ACC, Big Ten or SEC, where the best teams in the Atlantic, East and West, respectively, wouldn't lose to a team from the Coastal, West or East. And remember that the Pac-12 has a nine-game conference schedule; the ACC, Big Ten and SEC play eight league games.
Would a two-loss Pac-12 team deserve a playoff shot? Of course.
The issue, though, is whether the selection committee would think so, especially if the other league champs among the "Power Five" conferences have one or fewer losses.
Unbeaten Florida State looks like a lock to win the ACC and garner a playoff spot; FSU's toughest remaining opponent is not an ACC team but rather Notre Dame -- and if the Irish beat the Seminoles, that puts the Irish in great position to get a playoff bid (though they do have games left against Pac-12 members Arizona State and USC).
Big Ten frontrunner Michigan State, which lost by 19 at Oregon in September, at this juncture seems more likely to win out than to lose a game.
The Big 12 looks to have four legit contenders for the league crown: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. TCU beat OU last week and has Baylor this week. The others all still must play each other. A two-loss Pac-12 champ would trump a two-loss Big 12 champ -- but can Pac-12 backers count on two losses for the Big 12 champ? The only losses for that quartet are going to come from other teams in that group; the other six teams in the Big 12 have a ton of issues.
That brings us to the SEC. Certainly, the media and, to an extent, public perception seems to be that the SEC West champ will win the league and thus be in the playoff. But there likely is some angst in the SEC, too, because the toughness of the West Division very easily could lead to a champ with two league losses. The thought here, though, is that as long as the SEC champ has two or fewer losses, it will be in the playoff. And that perception is going to be a reason: SEC West teams beating up on each other is going be seen as a natural happening because of the toughness of the division, and the teams aren't going to be punished as severely for losing to another high-caliber team.
That means Pac-12 fans better be hoping for a few Notre Dame losses and as much carnage as possible not only in the SEC West but also in the Big Ten and Big 12 -- and as little further carnage as possible in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for the Pac-12, that last hope is not going to come to fruition because the league is too strong.