“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about USC football.
If you want to place a bet on a Pac-12 game this season, just flip a coin. Skill, strategy and rankings do not matter. In the latest development of this wildly confusing season, Stanford beat then-No. 16 Washington.
So if everyone keeps beating up on everyone, who is going to make it to the Pac-12 Championship? The most likely scenario is USC or Utah. It’s not because the Trojans or Utes have dominated their conference. Rather, it’s because the Pac-12 South is proving its reputation as one of the most disappointing divisions in collegiate football.
Please look at this tweet from Annenberg Media’s executive editor Ruby Yuan to illustrate how little sense the Pac-12 makes:
How does every team in the South play a role?
USC has played three Pac-12 opponents, one of which is in the South. The Trojans are 2-1 in conference play. The two wins came over Stanford and Utah; the one loss came on the road against Washington. USC is not the best team in the South, but the Trojans showed a flash of greatness when they needed it most: against the best team in Utah. That win will pay dividends for USC as winning out in the Pac-12 South is now highly probable.
Following a likely massacre to Notre Dame, USC will face Pac-12 South leader Arizona at home. That weekend will be one of the most important for the Trojans, as a win over Arizona would elevate the Trojans to first place. That same weekend, Utah and Arizona State play in Utah. An ASU win would alleviate the pressure on USC to finish out perfect, while a Utah win would essentially knock ASU out of contention for the Pac-12 South title.
The Utes pose the Trojans’ biggest threat. They have the second-best shot at making it to the top of the Pac-12 South, which is good for USC. If ASU emerges with a win at Rice-Eccles Field, the Trojans are essentially set to control their own destiny. Utah will have two losses, and assuming every Pac-12 South team that plays Oregon loses (Oregon will likely be favored in every match), USC could be tied with Utah or Arizona (depending on the outcome of the Arizona vs Utah matchup), barring unpredictable upsets.
Arizona definitely has a horse in the race, we just don’t know how far it can go. Arizona’s “impressive” 2-0 record over Colorado and UCLA isn’t a celebratory accomplishment. Arizona’s faceoff against Washington this week will be a good litmus test to understand how Arizona can handle better competition. They will most likely fall to Washington, USC, Oregon and Utah, which puts them out of range for the Pac-12 championship. However, Arizona pulling off an upset could wreak havoc in the Pac-12 South. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats pull a “W” out from underneath USC, Utah or Washington.
The Sun Devils:
Is Arizona State really a top-25 football team? The Sun Devils have rocketed up to No. 18 after beating Michigan State and Cal, but also fell to Colorado. Don’t look for ASU to make it to the Pac-12 Championship this season, but it could make or break a lot of team’s chances. The Devils’ game against Utah in a week could prove pivotal for USC, Arizona or Utah. A win for Utah would mean a win over its toughest remaining competition. A loss would open the door for USC or Arizona to potentially tie with Utah.
Unless Colorado pulls off some crazy upset over USC or Utah, it has no stake in the race. Aside from its games against Utah and USC, Colorado has one Pac-12 South team left on the schedule -- and UCLA versus Colorado does not sound like an exciting matchup at all. The Buffaloes essentially have no input on what will happen with the Pac-12 Championship.
Imagine pulling off a 32-point road comeback win over the No. 19 team and then two weeks later losing to 1-3 Oregon State at home. If you need any more proof that the Pac-12 is a disgusting mess, there it is. Like the Buffaloes, the Bruins have very little stake in the Pac-12 Championship race. An upset over ASU, Utah or USC would ruin any of those team’s seasons, but UCLA isn’t much of a threat to anyone unless they get back to whatever magic they pulled against Wazzu.
USC will make a Pac-12 Championship this year. As of now, the Trojans are in the best position out of anyone in the South with only two potential losses remaining on their schedule and they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Utah. The season will end with USC and Utah tied 7-2 in conference play.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every Monday.