The Oregon Ducks can kick their feet back and watch the carnage unfold in the Pac-12 South the next three weeks. While they have time to heal up for the Pac-12 championship game with a bye week, a Senior Day against the spunky but overmatched Colorado Buffaloes, and a reeling Oregon State team in Corvallis for the Civil War, their southern brethren enjoy no such luxury. They will be beating each other up until the final week of the season, and barring some drastic collapse by their competitors, no clinching of the division can occur until the final week of the season.
With three conference losses, the Utah Utes are not mathematically eliminated from the conference race, but with another win by Arizona State (who still draw Oregon State and Washington State), they will be. For simplicity's sake, let's focus on the four teams that have the best shot at winning the conference and take a look.
I'm going to make several key assumptions in this calculus, since I'd go a little crazy trying to calculate 64 scenarios instead of 16. I've simplified the scenarios down.
- That Arizona State takes care of Oregon State and Washington State. If they don't, control of the conference gets ceded to UCLA--if ASU loses a game and UCLA wins out, they will be going to Santa Clara. If UCLA loses to USC or Stanford, Arizona State retains control, assuming they don't drop another game, at which point the Trojans (if they beat UCLA) or the Bruins (if they beat USC) take control of the picture.
- That USC takes care of Cal. If they don't, the Trojan impact on the overall picture is minimal, outside of playing spoiler against the Bruins.
- That Arizona takes care of Washington. The Wildcats must win out; a loss to the Huskies eliminates the Wildcats from any possible hope of winning the division, as they would lose most tiebreakers because of their losses to USC and UCLA.
Here we go!
Arizona State wins the Pac-12 South in most scenarios, since they have the advantage of playing two of the weaker squads in Oregon State and Washington State. That means that their toughest test comes on the road in Tucson, where Arizona can spoil their run toward a championship. The Pac-12 is rooting fervently for ASU to win out, as an ASU-Oregon title matchup with both of them having one loss guarantees that the winner will end up in Pasadena.
ASU can still win the South if they lose to Arizona, but they'll have to hope Arizona trips up somewhere else too (most likely on the road in Utah), and then hope UCLA trips up again, most preferably to USC, since ASU holds the tiebreaker over the Trojans thanks to the Jael Mary. It's best if they just take care of their business.
Just as it's simple for Arizona State, it's simple for UCLA:
- Take advantage of an Arizona State defeat and win out. Nothing else will matter for the Bruins.
UCLA already holds the head-to-head against Arizona and doesn't have to worry about what the Wildcats do at all if they take care of their own business. UCLA would be kicked out of the race with a loss to USC, and they'd need ghastly things to happen if they fell to Stanford instead. Highly unlikely the Bruins would survive a third loss and escape with a division crown.
Win. Out. Then hope for help.
Now things get complicated. If the Trojans take care of Cal, the USC-UCLA winner will in all likelihood eliminate the loser, so USC only has to worry about Arizona and Arizona State in tiebreakers. USC beat Arizona but lost to Arizona State, meaning the Trojans have to hope either the Sun Devils trip up twice. Losing to Arizona is one thing, but losing to Oregon State or Washington State might be asking too much.
So it's likely they will have to hope for a three-way tiebreaker between Arizona State and Arizona. Here's what USC has to hope happens:
- Beat UCLA and Cal
- Arizona must win out and beat ASU
- UCLA must finish 4th. The tiebreakers will favor USC, as they will be the only team of the three that has beaten the Bruins, giving them the South. If Utah finishes 4th, the Trojans get eliminated and the Arizona-ASU winner takes all the spoils.
Those are the only currently plausible scenarios in which the Trojans can capture the South if they do their job: Arizona State collapse, or Arizona surge.
Having lost both tiebreakers to the Bruins and Trojans, Arizona has only one real clear-cut path that has a realistic chance of happening.
- Arizona must win out
- USC must lose to UCLA
- UCLA must lose to Stanford
- Arizona would then be in a head-to-head tiebreaker with ASU.
If USC wins out, Arizona will want to root for Utah against Colorado and Stanford to finish 4th in the case that Arizona, USC, and Arizona State all end up in a three-way tie (and it's quite possible, as Utah beat UCLA and would finish 4th). Tiebreakers would reduce it to their play against Utah, in which case USC would be the only team to lose, and then Arizona would win the head-to-head with ASU.
That is Arizona's only real conceivable path barring a total collapse by the entire South this week (USC losing to Cal, ASU dropping to an unworthy foe, etc.).