This is what it all comes down to for the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona St. Sun Devils. Barring a series of incredible misadventures by everyone in the college football landscape, these are the last two squads that can represent the Pac-12 in the Final Four of college football, each standing with one loss on their record.
With their dominant win over Stanford, Oregon should debut later today in the top four of the college football playoff, passing one-loss Ole Miss. TCU should also move up after edging West Virginia, as both the Pac-12 and Big 12 title favorites pass idle Alabama. I'm not sure if either team has done enough to move Auburn at the moment (which now has a huge resume booster in beating Ole Miss), but if they keep on piling up the wins and capture their conference championships, they should dislodge whichever SEC West team has the best chances to emerge as a wild card.
Then there's Arizona State. The Sun Devils debuted at 14 in the original college football playoff rankings, but after outlasting Utah they are poised to leapfrog into the top 10. Ole Miss, Georgia and Arizona all lost, and Notre Dame had an unimpressive win over Navy. If ASU isn't in the top 10 week, they will be with a win over the Irish next week.
Neither Oregon nor ASU are out of the woods. While Oregon's toughest foes are almost all behind them, one stern test remains in Utah. The Utes have one of the most imposing front sevens in college football, and you can expect them to come right at Oregon this week. Arizona State has the clear and present danger of Notre Dame this weekend, and then will wrap up their season with the Territoral Cup.
Both teams are also gifted with favorable schedules outside of those matchups.
Oregon's remaining schedule: at Utah, Bye week, home to Colorado (who are feisty but have no defense), at Oregon State (who are in danger of bottoming out before their meeting).
Arizona State's remaining schedule: Notre Dame, at Oregon State, Washington State, at Arizona
ASU has a slightly harder schedule because of the Irish, but their two games in the middle are virtual gifts. Oregon gets the gift of the bye before closing their season with two of the easier games on their schedule. Only a few tests remain for either school before a potential winner-take-all contest in Santa Clara.
A one loss Pac-12 champion will pass an SEC West wild card. It's pretty much set in stone. Auburn and Alabama will give each other a loss. Mississippi State and Alabama will give each other a loss. Ole Miss and Mississippi State will give each other a loss. So at best, you'll have an undefeated Mississippi State and a one-loss Auburn, or a one-loss Alabama/one-loss Mississippi State, which are pretty much the only scenarios in which you can envision two SEC West teams making the Final Four.
But a 12-1 Pac-12 champion would get the edge over 11-1 Auburn or Mississippi State by virtue of their extra win from the conference title game. If a second SEC West wants in on the conversation, they need the rest of the conference's best teams to start dropping like flies.
Florida State is sitting pretty. The Seminoles could lose one more and they should still be in here. Lose two and they're probably out--the ACC isn't particularly strong and pretty can only rely on FSU to carry them to a conference title bid. Only Virginia and Miami really stand in the way, although an ACC Championship upset could really throw things into chaos.
The Big 12 champion is also in good shape...but their situation is slightly more tenuous than the Pac-12 champion. The TCU-Kansas State winner will be in very good standing. If TCU wins, the Horned Frogs can practically smell the trophy--their final three games are against Iowa State, Kansas, and Texas, three of the bottom four teams in the conference. A Kansas State win and they're right in the picture, but their end of season schedule is brutal--they still have to go to Morgantown and face West Virginia, and then finish up the season at Baylor. Baylor is in a similar boat as Kansas State
However, since the Big 12 does not play an extra game and instead prefers the round robin format, they will probably end up playing the same number of the games as the second SEC teams, meaning they could both finish with the same record. And then it becomes a judgement call. It becomes especially hard if it goes down to Auburn and Kansas State for a final spot, since the Tigers have already won head-to-head.
Still, in most scenarios, it's hard to envision a one-loss conference champion being omitted over a one-loss non-conference champion, if all records end up being equal.
The Big Ten champion ... actually might be okay ... if their name is Michigan State. A one-loss B1G winner will not get in over a one-loss Pac-12 or one-loss Big 12 winner at the moment, and one-loss Florida State will almost certainly get the nod unless they have a puzzling meltdown defeat.
However, this depends more on Michigan State rather than Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the worst one-loss resume of any big school still in the hunt, and that Virginia Tech defeat hurts more and more every week. Michigan State's worst loss is to Oregon, and if the Ducks stay on track, the Spartans should rise along with them. This will be a crucial week for Sparty to assert itself in the title race. Ohio State needs a few more teams ahead of them to lose to catapult into the picture with a win this weekend.
But the Big Ten has the ace up its sleeve of the conference championship game, which could potentially vault them right into the conversation with the Big 12 champion.
Notre Dame... Needs to win out. They are a long way away from being in this conversation.