Pac-12's College Football Playoff Hopes Are Alive, but Week 8 Could Crush Them

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2019

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Justin Herbert #10 of the Oregon Ducks warms up during pregame warm ups prior to the start of an NCAA football game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At the halfway point of the 2019 college football season, the Pac-12's outlook isn't quite the worst-case scenario. But the conference doesn't have far to go, either.

Heading into Week 8, four programs have a plausible path to contention for the College Football Playoff. That's not the same as it being likely, but Oregon, Utah, Arizona State and Washington could win out and at least have a reasonable argument.

By Saturday night, however, that number will be trimmed to two.

Oregon (5-1) travels to Washington (5-2) for a potentially decisive North Division clash, and then Utah (5-1) hosts Arizona State (5-1) in a key South Division showdown. In relation to the CFP, all four schools have zero margin for error. The losers of Saturday's contests will no longer even be mentioned as remote possibilities.

Realistically, if the favorites―Oregon and Utah―fall, the league's playoff hopes will go with them.

Through five seasons of the CFP era, no two-loss team has ever reached the four-team tournament. On that basis, it would be fair to eliminate Washington anyway. Still, with a best-case scenario of wins over Oregon, Utah and in the Pac-12 title game, the Huskies are not absolutely, unequivocally eliminated right now.

But it is close.

Chris Petersen's team has a couple of bad early losses.
Chris Petersen's team has a couple of bad early losses.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

This entire conversation is contingent on winning out. Yet that might not even be enough for Washington, which has losses to Cal and Stanford. When compared with other top CFP contenders, the Huskies may be deemed inferior to a one-loss nonconference championespecially if it's Alabama, Clemson, LSU or Ohio State.

Washington's potential strength of victory is the only thing providing the (very small) lifeline. The same could not be said for Oregon, Utah or Arizona State with two losses.

Oregon squandered its chance at a marquee win in the last-minute letdown against Auburn. Mario Cristobal's club would otherwise tout road victories at Washington and Arizona State, which is a fine combination but nothing beyond thatfine.

Utah had an easy nonconference slate (BYU, Northern Illinois, Idaho State) and would need Washington and ASU to be quality wins. Adding a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship is potentially helpful, but Utah won't be looked at favorably compared to any other one-loss power-conference champion.

The Utes' narrow path continues as heavy favorites (-14, per Caesars) over Arizona State. Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards acknowledged the challenge facing his team.

Arizona State knocked off ranked Michigan State and Cal teams, so the victories look good on paper. MSU and Cal are now a combined 8-5 this season, shining a dimmer light on the wins.

Overall performance, as always, is a better measure than where an opponent happened to be ranked in September.

Granted, the Sun Devils still have a route to two triumphs over Oregon and another at Utah. That would give Edwards' side a quartet of notable wins at road or neutral sitesa truly impressive feat. Already in 2019, however, ASU has three one-score victories. Expecting a loss is reasonable, and ESPN's Football Power Index has the Sun Devils as underdogs in three of their six remaining games.

Yes, similar to Washington, the letdown has to happen first. Until it does, ASU is alive. But the wait-and-see approach from a national perspective is only sensible.

We know that's a lot of negativity.

Understating the situation isn't helpful, either.

Oregon has played elite defense in 2019, but the Auburn loss is problematic. Either Utah or Arizona State will be eliminated in Week 8, and the other is hanging on by a thread. Washington, depending on whom you ask, might already be forgettable.

Everyone else in the Pac-12from Arizona to Stanford and USC to Washington Statealready has at least two losses. The availability of ranked wins is limited, and every loss only increases the likelihood of the current Top 25 teams not staying there.

When compared to Clemson, Oklahoma, the Big Ten or the SEC, the Pac-12 will not have an indisputably superior resume.

The conference probably won't have a CFP representative in 2019. That's not an eye-popping statement set to catch fans off guard.

Two weekends before October ends, the Pac-12 is already running thin on hope. And if the perfectly bad sequence of outcomes happens in Week 8, the league's pursuit of national relevance will be irrelevant until next year.

                   

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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