Pac-12 football teams keep beating one another. Can any one-loss team stay that way?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) runs the ball as the Utah Utes host the Washington State Cougars, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Sept. 28, 2019.

In early October, the Pac-12 already is down to four one-loss football teams and two of them have a 0.1-percent chance (or less) of staying that way. The recent trend remains intact: The competitive balance that make the conference fun to watch keeps hurting the Pac-12 in the national landscape.

Or maybe there's just no College Football Playoff-worthy team in this league, period.

The four-team CFP is likely to remain out of the conference’s reach for the fourth time in five seasons, unless Oregon (4-1) follows through in a big way and gets some help in other leagues. Utah, Arizona and Arizona State also are in the picture with 4-1 records, although ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Utes only a 2.5-percent chance of winning all of their remaining games. And that’s much more favorable than the FPI’s forecasts for the Arizona schools: 0.1 percent for ASU and 0.0 percent for the Wildcats.

Washington’s 23-13 loss at Stanford late Saturday night extended the Pac-12′s history of having divisional rivals knock off one another. The Huskies (4-2) have fallen out of the CPF picture with losses to California and Stanford, leaving Oregon as the conference’s biggest hope for any national presence. The Pac-12 could lack a Playoff contestant for a third year in a row.

“I don’t worry about it, because our goal is to win the conference,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in August. “You can’t really control anything after that, so it’s not really a concern of mine. … It’s unfortunate the way the thing is set up with the Playoff, that not every [Power Five] conference is represented, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”


When • Saturday, 6 p.m. MDT

TV • Pac-12 Networks

The Oregon Ducks were unimpressive offensively in a 17-7 win over Cal, but their chances of making it through the season with one loss increased slightly to 15.8 percent, according to the FPI. Even then, Oregon would have to be judged against a one-loss team from the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten or the Big 12. In that context, Auburn’s loss to Florida was damaging to the Ducks, after the Tigers beat Oregon in a season opener. The first CFP rankings will be released Nov. 5.

From Utah's perspective, with the Utes having been idle this weekend, the latest Pac-12's results were mixed. Three conclusions:

• Utah’s trip to Oregon State next Saturday looks like less of an automatic win. The Beavers beat UCLA 48-31 as quarterback Jake Luton passed for 285 yards and five touchdowns, including three to Isaiah Hodgins. OSU has scored 76 points in its last three halves. UCLA’s poor defense is part of the explanation, but the Beavers also got hot against a Stanford defense that looked very good against Washington.

• The Utes’ Nov. 2 visit to Washington (the only remaining game in which the FPI makes Utah the underdog) looks more manageable. Stanford’s formerly struggling defense held the Huskies to 294 total yards, with help from a Cardinal offense that possessed the ball for 39 minutes.

• Oregon may not give the Utes the help they need. Arizona (2-0) should be acknowledged as the Pac-12 South leader, but the FPI still projects a losing record in the conference play for the Wildcats. Arizona State (1-1) is a contender, but the race is likely between USC (2-1) and Utah (1-1) and the Trojans hold the tiebreaker after their 30-23 win in Los Angeles.

The Utes have to finish ahead of USC to earn a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. USC’s Nov. 2 game vs. Oregon seemed like a probable loss for the Trojans, until Oregon had to overcome a 7-0 halftime deficit vs. Cal at home.


Key upcoming games in the Pac-12:

Oct. 19 • Oregon at Washington, Arizona State at Utah, Arizona at USC.

Nov. 2 • Utah at Washington, Oregon at USC.

Nov. 9 • USC at Arizona State.

Nov. 23 • Utah at Arizona.