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Race to Pasadena: Who's Winning the Pac-10?

Pacific-10 Conference Standings

(updated 11.8.2009 at 1:43 AM PST)

Teams that control their own destiny: Oregon, Arizona

Teams that are still contending: USC, Furd, Oregon State

Teams on the respirator in the Pac-10 race: Cal (The most plausible scenario where the Bears go to Pasadena is if we win out, giving us the head-to-head over Arizona and Furd, Arizona and ASU beat Oregon, Furd and Arizona beat USC, ASU beats Arizona, and Oregon and UW beat Oregon State. That's the MOST PLAUSIBLE scenario.).

Teams eliminated from the Pac-10 race: Wazzu, UCLA, UW, ASU

Teams that will be eliminated from a bowl with one more loss: UW.

Teams eliminated from bowl contention: Wazzu.

Probably the question Cal fans are asking right now: Is there a way the Bears get eliminated from bowl contention?

Well, the Bears would almost certainly have to drop their final three (if they win one of their final three, they'll at least finish the season 7-5, just about guaranteeing a bowl bid), which would drop them to at best 6th in the Pac-10. Considering the way we've played against better teams, this isn't the craziest scenario.

Then, either ASU, UW or UCLA would have to win out.

Arizona State's final three games: at Oregon, at UCLA, Arizona
UCLA's final three games: at Wazzu, ASU, at USC
UW's final three games: at OSU, Wazzu, Cal

Now if two of these teams can run the table, that would drop Cal to 8th, and in no man's land since there are only six official tie-ins (with the possibility for another one if two teams get to the BCS). Cal at 7th still gives us a chance, but we'd need Oregon/Arizona and USC to win out to have a good shot at that. So that's the doomsday scenario.

Of course, it bears mentioning that bowls are not obligated to respect the results of head-to-head matchups when choosing from among tied teams. If, say, Cal and UCLA were to end up tied for 6th at 6-6, 3-6 in the conference, the choice would be up to the Poinsettia Bowl to pick either the Bears or the Bruins. You might see the San Diego bowl favor the team from Southern California, however, so it's best not to leave these things to chance.

It also bears mentioning that, should the Bears go 1-2 down the stretch while UCLA wins out and Stanfurd wins at least one more game, more than 6 Pac-10 teams could end up with a winning record. If the Poinsettia then takes a 7-5 UCLA team over a 7-5 Cal team, the Bears would at least be in pretty good shape for getting an at-large bid from some other bowl, for there is an NCAA rule that says that every 7-5 team must be taken before a 6-6 team can be given an at-large bid to a bowl.

Alright, onto what most Pac-10 fans care about. Who's going to the Rose Bowl? Plus, a guest appearance by the eminent ragnarok!


Despite the defensive collapse at the Farm, Oregon is still very much in control of their destiny. Win out and they'll be the first Pac-10 team not named USC to be playing on New Year's Day since 2003. Lose one though, and the door opens.

The first candidate? Arizona. Arizona still has just one conference loss, and if they win out, they'll have beaten both Oregon and USC to get there, leaving them in sole possession of first place. Of course, a loss to either of these teams puts their hopes in serious, if not terminal jeopardy.

Dark horses

Lingering, as always, is USC. The Trojans winning out will probably guarantee them a BCS at-large bid, and would give them the tiebreaker over the Furd and Arizona. However, to win the Pac-10 championship, the Rose Bowl, and doom us all again, all that has to happen is for Arizona and Oregon State to beat Oregon, and for USC to run the table, finishing up by beating Arizona. That'd give USC the tiebreaker over the Furd, OSU and Arizona in the conference, and they wouldn't have to worry about Oregon. You're starting to get that awful feeling, aren't you?

After that, it gets messy. The Cardinal are in it, but they need plenty of help. Even if the Furd were to win out, they need Arizona to drop two games (likely Oregon and USC), Oregon State and Oregon to drop one more (although one of those losses will be resolved by the Civil War. So, Stanford fans, whereever you are, start rooting like mad for the Sun Devils to knock off Oregon or Arizona. Cal fans, root for ASU to get crushed by 50 in every one of their remaining games.

Oregon State has its own dark horse aspirations after coming up short a year ago, and like anyone else in the conference it requires tons of help. Unfortunately, it requires the USC to lose one of its final three at home. USC and Arizona have already beaten them, although they have the edge over the Furd, and if they beat Oregon in the Civil War would own the tiebreaker over them. So they need Arizona to drop two (most likely to USC and Oregon), and then require USC to lose one of its final three.

A loss by any of these three teams will eliminate them from any realistic Pac-10 title scenarios.

There are plenty of other scenarios out there...but they're too numerous to count. As November gets shorter I'll probably be able to calculate what happens to a better degree.

Here to take you the rest of the way is ragnarok!

Ragnarok: Where is Cal in all this? Well, assuming Cal receives a bowl bid, where might the Bears be heading? The Pac-10 has six bowl tie-ins, who get to pick in this order (in 2009, at least): Rose, Holiday, Sun, Emerald, Las Vegas, Poinsettia.

At this point, I can't see the Bears finishing any higher than in a tie for third. Head-to-head matchups don't matter in terms of bowl selections (at least beyond the Rose Bowl), so if the Bears can win out to finish 6-3, I could definitely see the Sun Bowl grabbing them (the Bears are the only Pac-10 team never to appear in the Sun Bowl).

The Emerald Bowl would certainly like to welcome the Bears back, though if Stanford is available, I think they might grab them instead. The Furd may not have many fans, but there aren't that many seats at AT&T Park, and the novelty of a bowl game might get a few of them to walk down from their downtown offices. Either way, such a choice would certainly be a dream scenario for the Emerald Bowl.

Las Vegas picks next, and if the Bears are still available, they might be forced to pick Cal. Remember, every 7-5 team must be taken before any 6-6 team can be taken, and so if either Stanford or UCLA finishes 6-6, the Bears must be selected before them. Arizona won there last year, with UCLA losing the year before, so Cal might have an advantage over either of those teams if the bowl got a choice about things.

Hopefully, the Bears won't fall to the Poinsettia, and hopefully the Poinsettia doesn't have a choice about who to take. I'd have to think they'd be interested in UCLA should the Bruins get to six wins.

Every week that goes by makes the bowl picture a little clearer, however. we'll know more next week.

Bonus question. Suppose three teams tie with each other such that head-to-head everyone is 1-1 against each other (think Texas-Texas Tech-Oklahoma last season). There is no Pac-10 tiebreaker, but there is a Rose Bowl tiebreaker. It says the following:

b. Multiple-Team Ties.
(1) When three or more teams are tied in Conference play, if one has defeated all others, it shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If that is not the case, a comparison of the tied teams' records against the other tied teams shall be made and the team having the best record against the other tied teams shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If two or more teams are still tied after this comparison, the appropriate two-team or multiple-team tie-breaking procedures shall be repeated among those teams still under consideration.

(2) If more than two teams are still tied after the process above is completed, each remaining tied team's record against the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings shall be compared, with the procedure continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

When arriving at another group of tied teams while comparing records, each team's collective record against the tied teams as a group shall be used.

If at any point in the process the multiple-team tie is reduced to two teams, the two-team tie-breaking procedure shall be applied.

If more than two teams are still tied after comparing their records all the way through the Conference standings, the team among the tied teams with the highest ranking in the final BCS standings shall be the Rose Bowl representative.

If a tie remains, the teams most recently earning Rose Bowl or Bowl Championship Series automatic selection shall be eliminated.

These tiebreaker scenarios are indeed complicated, and I'd imagine more than a few of you are a little confused. Now, I'm sure some of you are worried about a repeat of what happened in the Big XII South last year, where three teams all beat each other, leaving the BCS selection to the mercy of the BCS standings. This is unlikely to happen in the Pac-10 this year; last year Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all lost only to each other, and further tiebreakers proved unhelpful. Since enough teams have lost that a 3-way tie would necessarily involve 7-2 teams, there should be a way to break a 3-way tie without resorting to BCS standings. A couple of examples should shed some light on this:

Let's say these are the final standings (USC and OSU win out, Oregon defeats Arizona):

Oregon 7-2
Oregon State 7-2
USC 7-2
Arizona 6-3
California 5-4
Stanford 5-4
UCLA 3-6
Washington 3-6
Arizona State 2-7
Washington State 0-9

In this scenario, Oregon, OSU, and USC are all tied. We then compare their record vs. Arizona, since UA finished 4th. This eliminates OSU, who already lost to the Wildcats, and since Oregon has the head-to-head win vs. USC, the Ducks go to the Rose Bowl.

Now, same scenario, except Cal beats Arizona next weekend.

Oregon 7-2
Oregon State 7-2
USC 7-2
California 6-3
Arizona 5-4
Stanford 5-4
UCLA 3-6
Washington 3-6
Arizona State 2-7
Washington State 0-9

First, Oregon, OSU and USC are compared to Cal. Since the Bears lost to all three of these teams, nothing is resolved. Then, those three teams are compared to both Arizona and Stanford at the same time. Oregon and Oregon State both went 1-1 vs. these teams, while USC beat both Arizona and Stanford, sending the Trojans to the Rose Bowl.

Now, here's a crazy scenario. USC wins out, Oregon loses to Arizona but beats Oregon State, Cal beats Stanford AND Washington wins out.

Arizona 7-2
Oregon 7-2
USC 7-2
Oregon State 6-3
California 5-4
Stanford 5-4
Washington 5-4
UCLA 3-6
Arizona State 2-7
Washington State 0-9

Now, comparisons to Oregon State do nothing, since the Beavers lost to the Ducks, Wildcats and Trojans. Comparing those three to Cal, Stanford and Washington doesn't help either, since Arizona and USC lost to UW, while Oregon lost to Stanford. All three then beat UCLA, ASU and WSU, thus throwing the Rose Bowl bid to the mercy of BCS standings. I haven't contemplated EVERY scenario yet, but this is the only one I've come up with where the BCS standings come into play.

This week's matchups. Finally, let's see what's coming up this weekend; perhaps a few more results will help us sort through the chaos.

Critical Game this week:

Washington @ Oregon State. The Huskies are on the brink, and even a stunning upset over USC will be just part of another losing season if UW can't beat Oregon State on the road this week. Meanwhile, Oregon's loss at Stanford means the Beavers have a shot at winning the conference, with a potential Rose Bowl coming down to complex tiebreakers. Slipping up vs. the Huskies would end that dream.

Other matchups:

Arizona @ Cal. While Cal tries to bounce back from an uninspired loss to Oregon State and a horrific-looking injury to their star, Jahvid Best, Arizona tries hard not to look ahead to hosting Oregon the following week. The Wildcats, with just a single conference loss, could be looking ahead to a potential conference championship game vs. Oregon, but not if they can't beat Cal on the road. The Wildcats may be sitting pretty at 6-2, but they're also mostly untested, having faced neither Oregon nor USC so far this year.

Stanford @ USC. Believe it or not, even Stanford still has a chance to win the Pac-10, should things break right. However, they'll need to win at USC to even have a shot at it, and while the Cardinal performed that miracle two years ago, I'm not sure it's likely to happen again. The loser is all but mathematically eliminated from the conference race, whereas the winner still needs plenty of help.

UCLA @ Washington State. Maybe the Cougar's best shot at a Pac-10 win this season, it would come at the expense of UCLA's bowl hopes. Can the Bruins settle on a quarterback and reach six wins? If they can't even win in Pullman, Neuheisel's coaching seat may begin growing rather warm.

Arizona State @ Oregon. The Sun Devils face long odds to reach a bowl game, and while this game would help their cause immensely, I think it would be unlikely for Oregon to be upset two weeks in a row, especially as they return to Autzen for this matchup. The Ducks, meanwhile, remain in control of their Rose Bowl destiny, but their margin for error has mostly disappeared. Are we to see a repeat of 2007?