Top Two Playoff Contenders: PAC-12 edition

The PAC-12 conference has very rarely made appearances in the college football playoffs, with only the Oregon Ducks in (2015) and Washington Huskies (2017) representing the conference so far. The playoffs started in 2015, and Oregon won their semifinal matchup against Florida State by a score of 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks would go on to lose 42-20 against the Ohio State Buckeyes who at the time were led by Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Michael Thomas, and Joey Bosa. For the Huskies in 2017, they lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide 24-7 in the Peach Bowl and that was the last the playoffs saw of the conference. Nearly five years since a team represented the conference for the playoffs, who could break the streak? Let’s take a look at the top two teams who are most likely to qualify from the PAC-12 this upcoming season.

USC Trojans

In my personal opinion, the name of the game for College Football is the star quarterback, as we have seen a trend of contenders having Heisman finalists play under center. It is the hardest position to play, and the most valuable position to the program. The last four National Champions have had their quarterback picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Trojans host Heisman hopeful Kedon Slovis and his elite wide receiver room will be a must watch for Pac-12 football. He has been brilliant since he was a true freshman at USC, putting up great stat lines, and the eye test passes as well. Looking at his highlights from the last season shows how talented he is on the field as well as the vision he holds. USC holds great skill position depth and it shows on the field for Slovis, as he is able to run through different reads on each level of the defense.

The Pac-12 played a shortened season in 2020 and it resulted in a 5-0 regular season for the Trojans. While unbeaten, it’s not hard to imagine why they were left out of the playoffs when the committee’s sample size for schedule is far less than others who played a nearly full season. The Trojans faced off against the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship to finish the season, and ended up suffering a 31-24 loss to the Ducks. USC and their fans are banking on the performance of Slovis this season as it is a key component of their season. If he is able to step up the way many are expecting him to, the Trojans could find themselves earning a playoff berth this upcoming season.

Oregon Ducks

The Oregon Ducks went 3-2 last season, but ended up winning the PAC-12 Championship, ending their shortened season on a high note. They are one of the two teams I believe in from the Pac-12, but do I really think they will make it? Realistically speaking, it’s more likely they won’t end up in the playoffs, but if there are any teams from the PAC-12 that can, it’s these two programs. A lot of the other teams in-conference are lack luster in the roster, coaching, and recruiting. Other conferences have been able to keep a strong hold on the regional scouting. It appears though, that the Oregon Ducks may be an exception here, as they have done well in their recruiting as of lately. They have a nasty defender lining up for them this season by the name of Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Kayvon Thibodeaux was a national top recruit as a defensive end in the class of 2019 and, ended up selecting the Ducks in his recruitment process. He sits at 6’5 and 250 pounds, and is a master of pursuing quarterbacks and clogging running lanes. Since he stepped on field in Eugene, Oregon he has been making an impact all over the field, as he was an AP PAC-12 All- American, and continually set new program records. He’s already broken the double digit sack threshold in his two seasons (one and a half really) at Oregon, and is a talent that will only get better with time. He is 20 years old with the perfect size and frame for an elite pass rusher both in college and eventually the NFL. Do not be surprised to hear this man’s name be called as the first pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

a group of men playing a game of football: Quarterback Anthony Brown (#13) reads the defense as the Oregon Ducks hold their 2021 Spring Game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

The biggest issue with the Ducks is the question mark at he most important position on the offense, hence why I gave USC the slight edge over them. They started Tyler Shough for the 2020 season but he ended up entering the transfer portal and landing in Texas Tech. The Ducks were able to replace Shough through past transfer Anthony Brown who looks likely to be the starting quarterback to open the season. He has three freshmen sitting behind him on the depth chart, and it makes sense for them to start the graduate senior. Before landing in Eugene, in his Junior year Brown started for Boston College and played in 6 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Brown performed well in the spring game, as he put up 208 yards and a touchdown. While it’s nothing to write home about, the Oregon Ducks have the potential to make the playoffs this season if everything goes right, but if things end up going wrong, they could end up nowhere near them when the season wraps up.

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