In the five years of the current College Football Playoff format, the Pac-12 has had a grand total of two appearances (Oregon in 2014, Washington in 2016), the fewest of the Power Five conferences in college football. So what does the conference have to do to change that trend? For one, it needs to have a team with a gaudy record, but it also has to have a strong conference overall to give that potential team wins that gain the respect of the CFP selection committee.
Going into 2019, Washington, Oregon, and Utah are all hoping to make a run to the college football final four, but they’ll have to get through some roadblocks to get there. Here are the top five games in the Pac-12 this season, which will help determine if the league gets some consideration at the end of this season.
UCLA at Washington State, Sept. 21
This game could be quite a shootout, with UCLA led by coach Chip Kelly and Washington State by Mike Leach, both offensive masterminds. The Cougars have ranked in the top three nationally in passing offense in each of the past five seasons, including leading the nation three times, but Leach will be looking for a new starter at quarterback this season. Graduate transfer Gage Gubrud is the favorite to win the job, but how sharp the Washington State offense is this early in the season is yet to be seen. For the Bruins, Kelly enters his second season at the helm with dual-threat sophomore signal caller Dorian Thompson-Robinson back to try to improve the UCLA offense.
Oregon at Washington, Oct. 19
The likely top two teams in the conference’s North Division square off in Seattle in a contest that could have ramifications on the national scene as well as the division race. Washington is plugging in a new quarterback as well this season in Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, who sat out last season after playing two years with the Bulldogs, starting 13 games. He brings a pro-style passing game to the Huskies and impressed on the scout team while sitting out last season. Oregon has the conference’s — and possibly the nation’s — top quarterback in Justin Herbert, who came back to the Ducks rather than being the possible top pick in the NFL Draft. Oregon won last year’s game, 30-27 in overtime, so the Huskies will be looking for a little revenge this season.
Utah at Washington, Nov. 2
The Utes are considered the favorite in the South Division, but they have a big challenge in this game, having gone 1-12 against Washington all-time, including a 10-3 setback in last season’s Pac-12 Championship Game. Of course, Utah was without starting quarterback Tyler Huntley (broken collarbone) for that contest, but he’s back this season and is expected to be the starter again. The Huskies are excited to see the potential of the chemistry between Eason and receiver Andre Baccellia, considered by some to be the fastest man in the Pac-12, after Baccellia had 55 catches but no scores a season ago.
UCLA at USC, Nov. 23
One of the oldest rivalries in college football, UCLA and USC have great battles no matter what their records are. This season, both could be jostling for bowl positioning at this point, especially with this being the last game on the Trojans’ regular-season schedule (UCLA plays California a week later). New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell — a Mike Leach disciple — should add some pop to the USC passing game, which means sophomore JT Daniels should put up better numbers. The Bruins won last season’s game, snapping a three-game USC winning streak. This one could be another shootout, as the winning team has scored at least 28 points in the last 11 meetings.
Washington State at Washington, Nov. 29
Speaking of rivalries, these two schools have been playing since 1900, but last season could have been one of the Huskies’ biggest wins over their rival, with the Cougars still having hopes of a College Football Playoff berth coming into the contest. Instead of beating Washington at home, winning the North Division and playing Utah in the conference title game, the then-No. 7 Cougars suffered a 28-15 setback that dashed their national title hopes. It was Washington’s sixth straight win over Washington State and ninth in the last 10 meetings. Needless to say, the Cougars would like to turn the tables on the Huskies in this one.