No. 5 Oregon is a longshot to play in the BCS title game, thanks to its loss to Stanford earlier this month.
Entering Saturday’s game against Arizona, the Ducks are 9-1 and will need some help from the four undefeated teams in front of them in the BCS standings: Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich understands the position his team is in and the way the current system works. What he doesn’t particularly like is the hyperbole that goes with it, particularly with as difficult as the Pac-12 has become this season.
"You look from a scheduling standpoint this week around the country, there’s a lot of conferences that play a lot different schedule than the Pac-12 does," Helfrich said. "Some of those teams, their score is going to look a lot different than our score. Or a team that wins a conference game 21-17 and they’re a workmanlike effort. And if we win a game 21-17, (the media) would try to fire me. That’s part of the deal."
The Pac-12 is as deep as it’s been in years, with eight teams already bowl eligible despite beating up on each other every week.
The conference could conceivably have 10 bowl-eligible teams, with Washington State (5-5) and Utah (4-6) still within reach.
That’s a nice change for a conference that wasn’t able to fulfill its bowl obligations five times the past decade, including three times when it fell two teams short.
Problem is, some of the Pac-12’s bowl-eligible teams may not have a place to play when the season is over.
The conference has affiliations with seven bowls, so there could be a scramble to find postseason homes at the end of the regular season, particularly with potentially 75 or more teams becoming eligible for 70 overall bowl slots.
The Pac-12 also could be limited to one BCS bowl berth this season after three straight years of landing two.
The conference has a tie-in for its champion to play in the Rose Bowl, so that’s one guaranteed spot. Oregon, in control of the North, will be the likely host for the Dec. 8 Pac-12 Championship game and should face either No. 19 Arizona State or no. 14 UCLA, which play on Saturday.
No. 10 Stanford had its national championship chances end and put its BCS hopes in doubt with the 20-17 loss to the Trojans. The Cardinal (8-2) are still No. 9 in the BCS standings, but have fallen down in the BCS bowl pecking order, with most bowl projections putting them in the Alamo Bowl.
To have any shot of playing in a third consecutive BCS bowl, Stanford must beat rival California and Notre Dame to close out the regular season.
The Bears are 1-10, but Saturday’s game is the Big Game, where anything can happen.
"We’ve shown that we have weaknesses," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Don’t think for one second that we cannot give this game everything we have."
Stanford’s loss to USC muddled things a bit in the Pac-12 division races.
The Cardinal appeared to be in control after beating Oregon, but are now a half game behind the Ducks at 6-2 in conference. Stanford holds the tiebreaker over Oregon, but needs to win its final conference game and have the Ducks lose to Arizona this weekend or to rival Oregon State in the regular-season finale.
The South will likely come down to Saturday’s game between the Sun Devils and Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
Arizona State is a game ahead of UCLA, but a loss would create a tie and give the Bruins the tiebreaker. USC still has a chance at winning the South, but the Sun Devils and Bruins can go a long way to deciding what happens in the division, a fact neither coach is hiding from his team.
"We talk about it all the time. It’s something we’ve been talking about all year long," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "From the time we walked in the door year one, we talked about having one goal, winning a championship. Winning every day."
UCLA’s Jim Mora and his team are taking a similar approach.
"I address it, but they also understand the significance of this," he said.
So do a lot of other teams still jockeying for position in the conference.