Pac-12 Conference: Will 2012 Pac-12 Champ Be in the National Championship Game?

Phillip HowardContributor IJanuary 25, 2012

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 19: Kicker Alejandro Maldonado #41 and holder Jackson Rice #49 of the Oregon Ducks look up at the path of Maldanado's game-tying field goal attempt in the final seconds of the game against the USC Trojans at Autzen Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. Maldonado missed the attempt as USC won the game 38-35. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The inaugural Pac-12 season was a success for many reasons. The conference earned two BCS bids, with Stanford barely losing out to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and Oregon earning its first Rose Bowl victory in the better part of a century by defeating Wisconsin.

The Pac-12 also finished with three teams in the AP's Top-7, with No. 6 USC joining No. 4 Oregon and No. 7 Stanford.

Not everything about the Pac-12's first season was positive, though. Newcomers Utah and Colorado struggled against the West Coast's high-flying offenses.

Despite fairly low expectations for Colorado, the Buffaloes only managed a 2-7 conference record (plus a "non-conference" loss to Cal), with those two wins coming at the end of the season against tail-spinning Arizona and fellow Pac-12 rookie Utah.

Utah, who was picked by some to win the South division, can't feel good about their season. The Utes only managed a 4-5 conference record, and a loss to cellar-dweller Colorado in the last game of the regular season cost them a chance to win the division.

But the biggest disappointment of the season was something that was supposed to be the realigned conference's coming out party, the Pac-12 Championship.

Because of sanctions by the NCAA, USC was denied a chance to play in the championship game against the eventual champion, Oregon. The same Oregon team that USC had defeated in Autzen stadium on Nov. 19.

Instead, a UCLA team that was drubbed the previous week by USC, 50-0, got the invite and was soundly beaten by the Ducks, as expected.


A rematch between the Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans would have been one of the biggest games of the year and something to make the first-ever conference championship game memorable.

You can't fault the Pac-12, though. The sanctions on USC were imposed from a higher power, and the fact that the South division was so disappointing was just bad luck.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, we see an epic clash between recent kingpin Oregon and traditional powerhouse USC, on Nov. 3. This game in Los Angeles very well could determine home-field advantage for the Pac-12 Championship game.

While impressive recruiting classes and more experienced players are going to give teams like UCLA and Cal a big boost going into the 2012 season, I'm still very confident that the South and North divisions will be going through Los Angeles and Eugene, respectively.

Both Oregon and USC are expected to be preseason Top-10, maybe even Top-5, teams. With USC returning Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley and Oregon returning one of the best backfields in the nation in Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, both teams could very easily be undefeated going into their first meeting.

Could the winner of the Pac-12 Championship earn a bid to the National Championship game?

The SEC has had a stranglehold on the National Championship, winning the last six years. With Arkansas, Alabama, LSU and Georgia all looking to be Top-10 teams next season, it's hard to imagine the storied conference won't claim one of the spots.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 10:   The Coaches' Trophy, awarded to head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide after defeating Louisiana State University Tigers in the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game during a press conference on January 10
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If either Oregon or USC wins both games against the other and goes undefeated, I have no doubt that the Pac-12 champ will get a nod over any other team not from the SEC.


That's the easy scenario. But if one team loses the regular season matchup but wins the conference championship, does the Pac-12 still have a shot?

There are a lot of factors to consider, but I feel that a one-loss Pac-12 team would be more deserving over any other non-SEC one-loss team for a few reasons.

One, the Pac-12 looks to be the second strongest conference come next year. USC and Oregon will be in the national spotlight from the get-go, and teams like Utah, Cal, Washington and Arizona State look to be improving over disappointing 2011 seasons.

The Big Ten proved last year that they don't have any really elite teams. Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State will likely compete next season, but I can't see any of them going undefeated.

The Big 12's star team of 2011, Oklahoma State, is losing too many players and Oklahoma is a perennially overrated team.

Clemson has a chance to run the table, but after their collapse this year, I wouldn't put money on it.

West Virginia has a favorable schedule and has a lot of buzz around it right now  and I can see them possibly going undefeated, but I'm not sure a 12-0 West Virginia is a lock to jump a 12-1 Oregon or USC.

Barring a slip-up against another team, I think that the Pac-12 will have another chance to dethrone the SEC in Miami in 2013.