SPORTS DIGEST: Pac 12 could qualify for College Football Playoff

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The powers that be in college football should have expanded their playoff system to eight, 12 or 16 teams this season.

Instead, we are stuck with the four-team playoff system for at least another year, meaning there will be a lot of angry people when the final four are selected in early December.

Right now, the top four teams are all undefeated. Georgia tops the list, followed by Ohio State, Michigan and TCU. All are 9-0.

The next four include Tennessee, Oregon, LSU and USC. LSU, fresh off a win over Alabama, is 7-2; the other three are 8-1.

Tennessee’s lone loss came to Georgia 27-13 Nov. 5. Georgia also defeated Oregon, 49-3 way back on Sept. 3. Oregon would like a do over. They might get it in the playoffs.

With four weeks remaining in the college football season, there is still time for crazy things can happen.

Ohio State and Michigan will determine which is the better team when they meet at Ohio State Nov. 26. A close game — say, something decided on a last-second kick — could mean both teams make the playoffs.

The Pac 12 has a good chance to be represented in the College Football Playoffs for the first time since Washington in 2016. The winner of the UCLA-USC game Nov. 19 likely will play Oregon for the Pac 12 title Dec. 2 in Las Vegas.

If the winner of that game has only one loss, it is hard to see how the Pac 12 champion won’t go to the playoffs.

An undefeated TCU could block the Pac 12 champ from the playoffs, but TCU is a 7-1/2 point underdog against Texas Nov. 12, so the Horned Frogs may not survive this week unbeaten.

UCLA and USC must remain focused this week to set up their showdown Nov. 19. The Bruins face Arizona Nov. 12; the Trojans get Colorado in a Friday night game Nov. 11.

Both teams survived last week, the Bruins defeating Arizona State, 50-36, and USC holding on for dear life against Cal, 41-35. The Bruins and Trojans both will need to improve defensively if they have any hopes of making the playoffs.

Even if the Trojans get past the Bruins, they also must defeat Notre Dame the following week, and Notre Dame, even at 6-3, looked formidable in defeating Clemson 35-14 Nov. 5.

The Trojans are so good offensively, that they have overshadowed how bad they are defensively.

They hung on to defeat Cal Nov. 5, 41-35 a week after surviving against Arizona, 45-37, the week before. They led Cal 34-14 after three quarters, but surrendered 21 points in the fourth quarter to make it close.

Caleb Williams continues to lead the Trojans offense. He threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns against Cal, playing again without his two top receivers, Jordan Addison and Mario Williams.

The Trojans are so deep at receiver those injuries don’t seem to matter. Michael Jackson III caught five passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns against Cal and Tahj Washington had seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.

Five different receivers for the Trojans have now had 100-plus yards receiving in a game this year.

Travis Dye continues to be the workhorse running back. He finished with 98 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.

The Trojans will go as far as their defense is able to carry them. Earlier in the season, they were relying on turnovers, but they haven’t done as well in that department recently. Injuries to linebackers Ralen Goforth and Eric Gentry have taken their toll on the Trojans, who will need to be at their very best when they play UCLA Nov. 19. USC fans are still smarting from the 62 points UCLA ran up on them last year.

The Bruins are poised to do that again after their win against Arizona State. UCLA rolled up 571 yards in total offense without their ace running back Zach Charbonnet, who missed his second game of the season. Head coach Chip Kelly doesn’t discuss injuries so no one is certain what is wrong with Charbonnet. But the Bruins didn’t seem to miss him, rolling up 402 yards on the ground. Kazmeir Allen led the way with 137 yards and a touchdown and Dorian Thompson-Robinson added 120 yards and two touchdowns, hurdling over tacklers on at least two occasions.

Both Allen and Thompson-Robinson averaged more than 10 yards a carry.

Like USC, the Bruins had trouble putting the game away in the second half. They held a 28-10 halftime lead, but were outscored 26-22 in the second half.

Like USC, the Bruins need to survive this week’s game with Arizona to set up the Nov. 19 rivalry game. It has been a while since the USC-UCLA game meant anything to anybody but fans of the two schools. It would be nice if one of the best collegiate rivalries in the country mattered again.