The unpredictability of conference play struck again in Week 7. Clemson (#2 heading into the week), Washington (#5), Washington State (#8) and Auburn (#10) all fell on the road to unranked conference opponents. Auburn was essentially eliminated from the Playoff hunt as they accepted their second loss of the season. A two lose team has yet to make the four team Playoff in the three years the Playoff format has been active. Clemson, on the other hand, was well protected by the fallout of teams behind them and fell quietly to the #7 rank in the AP Poll, still very much alive in terms of postseason hopes. The two PAC-12 powers, Washington and Washington State, both fell out of the Top 10.
The Evergreen State’s exodus from the Top 10 left the PAC-12 Conference without a single team ranked in the Top 10 in the polls. Washington remains the higher of the two in-state rivals, coming in at #12 as the Cougars of Washington State now sit at #15. To compare, each of the other Power Five athletic conferences has at least two teams ranked in the Top 10 with the Big 12 and Big 10 having three teams each in the group. PAC-12 powerhouse USC remains at #11, but that could change this week as this Trojans travel to South Bend for a date with rival #13 Notre Dame.
The PAC-12 is stuck in a tough position along the college football landscape. The conference has plenty of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Stanford running back Bryce Love is a true Heisman Trophy contender as was Washington State’s Luke Falk before his meltdown against Cal Friday night. Yet no PAC-12 seems to be able to separate itself from the rest of the pack. The PAC-12 is the only Power Five conference that does not have an undefeated team left through seven weeks of the regular season.
The conference simply might just not have a truly great team. There are a handful of very good teams in the conference and the parody seems to be pulling the PAC-12 out of the Playoff hunt. Washington or USC could win out, but still might only climb to the #5 spot on the outside of the Playoff looking in. Alabama is firmly planted at #1, Clemson is positioned well to jump right back into the picture, and the Big 10 and Big 12 both have multiple teams currently higher than any PAC-12 team. To put it simply, any team from the PAC needs substantial help at this point. And again, Notre Dame could really deal a death blow to the PAC-12’s Playoff chances if they are able to defeat USC this week in South Bend. That would leave just Washington and Washington State as the best hopes for the conference, which does not bode well as the in-state rivals still have their own showdown on the schedule later on in the season.
In college football, anything can happen. Anything. And so with six weeks still remaining, I won’t call the PAC-12 dead in the water just yet. I will, however, say that the conference is floating at sea with no sign of shore. Already towards the back of the pack among the Power Five, and with the top teams in the league still yet to play, the PAC-12 looks to be the conference that gets left out in 2017.