The Oregon Ducks soundly defeated the 5th-ranked team in the nation on Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship, beating Utah 37-15 and ruining the PAC-12's chance at the College Football Playoff for the third time this year. With the win, Oregon punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl and got their 11th win of the season. It's an OK result, but again, in an alternate timeline, it could have been their 12th win of the season and possibly punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff.
The Ducks started their season by losing to the then 16th-ranked Auburn Tigers by six points. Auburn is currently ranked 11th, making Oregon's season-opener the definition of a quality loss. Oregon then spent a few weeks ranked in the middle-teens before steadily climbing the polls to #6. That's where they were two weeks ago when they lost to an unranked Arizona State team.
Now Oregon, and the PAC-12, are on the outside looking in at the Playoff. It's Oregon's own fault. They could have lost to Utah and let the Utes make their case for the CFP, all for the greater good of the conference. Or they could have scheduled a cupcake to start the season and have their own legitimate case for a spot. (Something coach Mario Cristobal has already said they would not do.) Or they could have beaten the Sun Devils and then they'd tough to ignore with 12 straight wins with their only loss to a ranked SEC team on the road.
The truth is, none of those scenarios would have guaranteed the PAC-12 a seat at the Playoff table. In the current format, losing any game if they had started the season beating up on a cupcake, both the Utes and the Ducks would have been 12-1 with a conference championship title. Ohio State, LSU and Clemson all have a shot to be 13-0 on Monday. With a single loss, Utah and/or Oregon would still just be in the discussion with the other 1-loss teams. Just last season Ohio State won the B1G Championship and missed the Playoff as a 1-loss team. It happens.
Unless the Playoff is expanded to eight teams, quality 1-loss teams with impressive resumes are going to be left out. And when the field is doubled, people will complain about two and even three-loss teams being robbed-- like this year's Auburn team, for example. The Tigers beat three ranked teams this season and suffered all three of their loses to top-10 opponents. How are you going to hold them out of an 8-team playoff over a Wisconsin team that lost to Illinois? When are we going to expand to a 16-team playoff?
The truth is, Oregon had to win their opener - against either Auburn or a cupcake in the Duck-est timeline - and take care of business in Tempe if they wanted to ensure a trip to the Playoff. If you're not 13-0 - in a Power 5 conference - then all you have is a case. Better luck next year.