Throughout the past nine years there has been a bit of a sympathy analysis. There has been no dispute about who have been the best teams representing the SEC in the BCS Championship, and the national perception has been extremely in favor of the conference each of the past nine seasons, but a discussion has always lingered in the background of all the SEC hype. Which conference ranks No. 2? The Pac-12 began last season with five teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. There isn't many things preseason polls are good for except to understand the national perception of teams. And this season half the conference was featured in the preseason AP Top 25.
This is the first time since the 2006 season where there has actually been a serious discussion about not which conference is second best top to bottom, but which conference is just as talented as the SEC. There is no better conference to serve as a counterweight to the southeast than the Pac-12. Coming into 2014 many of the new College Football Playoff predictions involved either the UCLA Bruins, or Oregon Ducks. But the reality is, you can also throw in the USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal as viable candidates. The bottom line, the Pac-12 just needs to keep winning.
We really have no way of knowing how the whole selection process will go down. It could be a complete disaster, perfect or somewhere in between. although we can say any team that wins a lot of games will receive a legitimate look from the selection committee. Week one overreactions are fun to flip through, and the viewing schedule isn't always the best top to bottom in week two either, but the second week of the seaon will be very telling for the Pac-12's playoff chances.
Michigan State traveling to Autzen is on everyone's radar and has strong playoff implications. It's one of two games this weekend featuring a match-up between ranked teams (USC takes on Stanford as well). No matter how great the Michigan State defense is, it's top notch, the Spartans conference home (B1G) isn't looked at with much respect nationally. So, even though both teams have exercised their gutsy motives scheduling this game early in the season, even though it should be a great contest, a Ducks' loss won't help their playoff chances, nor their national perception.
Understand, the Spartans are a good team from a weak conference. Do a quick Google search about the Ducks vs. Spartans and you'll find very quickly how prognosticators view the meaning of this game for MSU and the B1G 10. The general takeaway is the Spartans need this win to gain respect for themselves and their conference. On the other hand, the Ducks need to win to remain at the top of the Playoff Selection's minds. Just going off recent perception from the media in the years past, an Oregon loss would hold more weight than an Oregon win if the Ducks manage to lose one or two games the rest of the way.
Remember the days when the road to a Pac-10 Championship had to go through USC? That hasn't been the case since 2008. Over the last five years the Ducks and Cardinal have been the only teams to wear the championship belt. As mentioned, the Trojans are within the top four of the conference with legit chances to find a place in the four team playoff. but such a feat would be very difficult if they don't take down Stanford. The result of the showdown between the Trojans and Cardinal wouldn't necessarily hurt the conference; it would just mean a power shift among contenders.
If UCLA comes out and struggles against Memphis, even suffering a loss, that would make it extremely difficult for the Bruins to rebound from and gain favor of the selection committee, right? Well, predicting how Memphis will do the rest of the way is impossible, so who knows, but if the Bruins just go out and win, it really doesn't matter.
The only thing that should matter to the Pac-12 is winning. Just keep winning.