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College Football Playoff: Pac-12 in a Better Place with Oregon and Utah

College Football Playoff: Pac-12 in a Better Place with Oregon and Utah

College Football Playoff: Pac-12 in a Better Place with Oregon and Utah

Following a resounding, trend-defying defeat of USC Nov. 2, some Oregon players and head coach Mario Cristobal fielded the unavoidable question: Will you be watching the College Football Playoff rankings show?

The immediate response was about what one would expect of a team with three games still to play in the regular season.

"We'll get tagged in some of the stuff on Twitter," said defensive back Brady Breeze.

"You know me well enough that I never comment on anything but the next game coming up, because we can talk about it all we want," said Cristobal. "But if we don't play well, it doesn't matter."

The head Duck also said, however: "It's everybody's goal at the beginning of the year, so — you know. We'll see. We'll see where things are and kind of go from there."

Where Oregon is after Tuesday night's first ranking show is No. 7, the best positioning for a Pac-12 team in the initial standings since 2016. That was also the last season in which a team from the conference landed in football's final four.

Missing the field the past two seasons was at the forefront of a number of hits the Pac-12 took to its identity.

"We'll try not to overreact to the committee's first ranking," commissioner Larry Scott said Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. "Typically what I've seen, at least in the early rankings, is Pac-12 teams trend a little bit higher, a little bit better than the AP and [USA Today] Coaches Poll."

That was true last season for Washington State, which debuted at No. 8 and held steady there in the playoff rankings, despite ranking No. 10 in the AP Poll.

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Oregon and Utah did not end up any higher than their AP Top 25 on Tuesday, but they also were not lower, which was the case for Washington in 2017. Before #Pac12AfterDark fueled attrition knocked the Huskies out of contention, they were No. 8 in the AP Poll but ninth in the playoff rankings.

Meanwhile, a shared albatross for those Washington and Washington State teams: They had no conference counterparts in the top 10, whether trending higher or lower, against which to build their resumes.

With the South division-leading Utes checking in right behind the No. 7 Ducks at No. 8, the Pac-12 finds itself in uncharted waters: Never have two of the conference's teams started in the top 10.

Likewise, the Pac-12 Championship Game has never featured one-loss teams head-to-head. In each of the last two seasons in particular, the North and South representatives met at Levi's Stadium with multiple losses.

That historic matchup obviously is not set yet, and no conference has experienced more weirdness in the playoff era than the Pac-12.

"We've got a long ways to go," Breeze said. "We've just got to finish strong. That's the most important thing. There's a lot of pressure on us."

Still, the Ducks and Utes — both of which have bye weeks ahead — will likely be double-digit-point favorites in every one of their remaining three contests when they return to action.

Handle business in those games, which for Oregon are against Arizona, at Arizona State and Oregon State; and UCLA, at Arizona and Colorado for Utah, and Santa Clara may well host a play-in game. A clearing-out process on that road begins this week, when No. 2 and No. 3 meet in Tuscaloosa.

The LSU-Alabama showdown begins a potentially chaotic final month, also featuring undefeated Penn State at Minnesota this week, and then the No. 4 Nittany Lions drawing No. 1 Ohio State on Nov. 23. No. 12 Baylor meets No. 9 Oklahoma on Nov. 16, the same weekend in which No. 11 Auburn can do Oregon a major solid with a home win over No. 6 Georgia.

Dominoes will fall. For the first time perhaps since the playoff launched five years ago, the Pac-12 is the conference best positioned to benefit.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.