When the Arizona State Sun Devils scheduled a single game against Texas A&M in Houston without getting a second game back in Glendale or Tempe, they signed up for either an immediate boost to the team's season that a win over the SEC powerhouse would provide or the uphill climb they'd need to embark on to achieve their goals. Most teams in the Pac-12 scheduled manageable non-conference games knowing that their conference schedule would test them enough, but ASU opted to roll the dice and trekked to Houston to play a pseudo away game.
ASU hung tough for three quarters, but when the clock turned all zeroes on their showdown with the Aggies, the Sun Devils' 38-17 loss put an immediate damper on their chances at playoff consideration.
Three weeks later, after a pair of unimpressive wins over weak triple-option foes, ASU's 42-14 defeat at the hands of the USC Trojans all but wrapped up their status as a non-playoff contender in the eyes of the nation. The UCLA Bruins were in the AP Top 10 and seemed on their way to a third Pac-12 South title, while the Trojans had asserted themselves as the top contender.
But college football is as chock full of parity as its ever been, and merely two weeks later the landscape of the conference is drastically different. UCLA's Josh Rosen has finally shown his youth and the Bruins' injuries have caught up with them, and with two conference losses it looks as if they're out of the running. USC's collapse is much darker, as the off-field struggles of Steve Sarkisian have permeate the football field for the Trojans, and an enormously-talented team is reeling with two Pac-12 defeats. Meanwhile, a pair of impressive wins over UCLA and the Colorado Buffaloes have ASU with a chance to put itself back in pole position for the Pac-12 South despite the lopsided losses early in the season. Things in the Pac-12 have flipped on a head.
As the College Football Playoff committee will soon have to determine, there isn't much of a precedent of a two-loss team making the final four. The Ohio State Buckeyes squeaked in last year simply because neither the Baylor Bears or TCU Horned Frogs had the benefit of a conference championship game, an issue the Big 12 has yet to alleviate.
Ohio State's only loss last year came at the hands of a non-conference opponent, and its win over Michigan State in conference play was what eventually decided the Big 10 East division. The Buckeyes' dominant win in the conference championship made their selection as the fourth seed in the playoff over the Horned Frogs and Bears easily understandable.
But what if they had managed to win the conference with two losses? The Big-10 isn't particularly deep top to bottom, but Nebraska, Wisconsin and Penn State were good enough to compete with either the Spartans or Buckeyes. In the case that the Big-10 champion held a pair of losses, that likely would've been enough for Baylor or TCU to squeeze their win in ahead of the Big-10 champ.
That scenario is the one that the Pac-12 may find itself in. Utah, Stanford and Cal represent the conference's only teams with less than two losses, and the undefeated Utes are just entering the toughest part of their conference schedule. All likelihood points to at least one of the teams playing in the Pac-12 title game coming in with two losses, and in the case that team wins, the committee would have a tough choice in regards to their final four teams.
To not let a two-loss Arizona State that wins the conference, or a two-loss Stanford, USC or UCLA team into the playoff would be to act like the BCS would, simply taking numbers and putting teams in slots based off of that.
The Pac-12 may not have a national championship to its name since the Pete Carroll glory years at USC, but the conference as a whole has improved mightily since those days that USC and Oregon ran the show out west. The Pac-12 is an annual competitor to get all of its teams into bowl games, and save for Colorado and the Washington State Cougars, every team can hang with the upper echelon teams of the other power-five conferences. Even the SEC, notorious for its murderer's row-type schedule it puts its teams through, doesn't have the depth of quality that the Pac-12 does right now. But a two-loss SEC champion Alabama would be a shoo-in for the playoff while a two-loss Pac-12 champ would face harsher criticism.
It's not right.
College football is as strong as its ever been, and that means that there's more parity than ever. The College Football Playoff committee was put together so that the country's best four teams have a chance to prove they're the top dog. As its performance in bowl season against other Power 5 conferences has proven, the Pac-12's best team is at least worthy of that chance. At least one Power 5 conference will get left out of the playoff this year, but the quality of the Pac-12 should be enough to earn its champion a chance at the whole prize.