How The West Was Lost
This past Saturday, Pac-12 "After Dark" took its most sinister turn yet. Already on life support, the conference's shot at having a team selected for the second time in as many years for the College Football Playoff was finally snuffed out on a chilly night in Palo Alto when Kevin Hogan's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete and the Stanford Cardinal stumbled and sputtered to a 38-36 defeat at the hands of the mostly middling Oregon Ducks. In a little over a month, when the College Football Playoff kicks off in Dallas, the Conference of Champions will be nowhere to be seen. It is a black day in college football when the sun finally does set in the West.
Well Alabama will certainly be there! Meh. Ohio State is so much fun! Pssh. Clemson is a great story! Dah....bo.
No Tommy Trojan. No Phil Knight. No MUSS, Bear Down, or World's Largest Rock and Roll Band.
How did this happen? How did a conference that produces countless NFL players and some of the most innovative styles of play find itself the odd man out? Well, by falling at its own hands.
While cannibalism was the ultimate cause of the Pac-12's demise in 2015, the conference didn't exactly help themselves back in September. In nearly every marque non-conference match up this season, the Pac-12 fell flat.
Arizona State, seen by many as a dark horse contender for the CFP, was dominated by a Texas A&M team that has been little more than average in the SEC this season. Oregon played Michigan State close in East Lasing but couldn't come away with a late victory. Stanford was shocked by Northwestern and Washington State lost to an FCS team in Portland State. The Pac-12's best out of conference wins were Utah and UCLA victories over Michigan and BYU respectively, but overall it was a sparse showing by the conference in the early part of the season, a time when national respect is potentially up for grabs.
Things really started to go south for the Pac-12's playoff hopes when conference play began. USC, a team that started the season 2-0 and looked as good as any team in the country, lost their conference opener in the Coliseum to Stanford, a team that, as previously mentioned, had already faltered in their first game of the year. The Trojans went into a tailspin shortly thereafter, concluding with the firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian. USC has bounced back nicely since then, winning four games in a row, but, with three loses on their resume, have been no threat to make the Playoff since early October.
UCLA was always going to be in an uphill battle when they named true freshman Josh Rosen the starting quarterback before the season, but perhaps if they had stayed healthier they would still be in the mix. Dogged by countless injuries on the defensive side of the ball, including one to star linebacker Myles Jack, the Bruins first loss was an unexpected one to ASU, a team that isn't currently bowl eligible. Two losses following that put the Bruins out cold.
After their embarrassing performance against Northwestern to start the year, Stanford rolled off eight straight victories and was No. 7 just last week in the CFP rankings. With wins over USC and UCLA under their belt, the Cardinal had a clean path to the Playoff. But Saturday's home loss to an Oregon Ducks team that isn't exactly being run by Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota closed the book on them.
For most of the year, Utah looked like a real possibility to represent the Pac-12 in the CFP. Starting the season 6-0 and ranked as high as No. 3 in the country, the Utes brand of physical football seemed like a good matchup aagainst almost any team in the country. But that all came crashing down when they lost to, you guessed it, USC. Maybe no other game better encapsulates the Pac-12 in 2015 than Utah's falter against the struggling Trojans, as once again the conference couldn't get out of its own way.
The rest of the conference never really stood a chance at making the CFP when they had all accumulated multiple losses by mid-October.
If all of this sounds convoluted and messy, that's because it is. Week in and week out, Pac-12 teams just couldn't help but knock each other off the top. No team was safe and no team ever felt untouchable like we have seen in the recent past. Instead of cannibalism, perhaps a better way to describe the Pac-12 this season is a snake eating its own tail. Whenever a team looked like they were getting somewhere, someone came along and swallowed it all up. Whenever a team looked like they had pulled off a major upset, it was actually hurting the conference as a whole.
Yes, it is now officially after dark in the Pac-12. The lights have been turned off for good in 2015.