Pac-12’s miserable weekend reaffirms view it’s irrelevant in Playoff race

The Pac-12 delivered itself one final indignity this weekend in a consistently forgettable season for the conference.

Washington State, which surprised everyone all season and stubbornly clung to the College Football Playoff conversation, reverted to form in the Apple Cup against archrival Washington.

MORE: College Football Playoff picture | Week 13 power rankings

The No. 7-ranked Cougars, in the unlikely position of favorite, lost to the No. 16 Huskies for the sixth straight year and ended the Pac-12’s last hope for a bid to the College Football Playoff.

The 28-15 loss amid snow storms would be wholly expected in September, but Washington State surprised the pundits every week while the traditional Pac-12 powerhouses like Washington, Stanford and USC found ways to disappoint and disappear from the national picture.

While other conferences will play conference championship games with Playoff implications, the Pac-12 will offer a virtually meaningless affair between Washington and Utah. The Rose Bowl will be at stake between two 9-3 teams, and nothing else. It will simply be another season with the Pac-12 watching the national championship from the outside.

The only question now is whether the Pac-12 will find a way to duplicate last season’s horrendous 1-8 bowl record.

Ironically, there is a silver lining to Washington State’s demise: The Cougars could still finish in the top 12 of the College Football Playoff rankings and guarantee a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That means each Pac-12 school would receive an extra $333,000, and Washington State gets a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

But Washington State’s hard fall deprived the Pac-12 of its Cinderella story. Cougar quarterback Gardner Minshew had his worst performance of the year for fans who waited until Thanksgiving weekend to give the Pac-12 a look. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass in a game for the first time this season. He did throw two interceptions, completing 26 of 35 passes for a season-low 152 yards and two interceptions.

“I do think they blocked better than we did and tackled better than we did,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “They won.”

If that wasn’t enough, USC’s woes continued on the national stage in a 24-17 loss to No. 3-ranked Notre Dame that left Trojans coach Clay Helton’s future in doubt. Furthermore, Ohio State’s destruction of rival Michigan on Saturday opened up a conversation between the Buckeyes and Oklahoma as to who deserves that final spot in the Playoff. Washington State could have been in that conversation, had it won.

In all, this weekend reinforced the view the Pac-12 is irrelevant compared to its Power 5 rivals. It also begs the question: When the Pac-12 will return?

USC (5-7) suffered its worst season in 18 years, while UCLA mustered three victories in Chip Kelly’s first year. Stanford and Oregon each lost four games after bright starts. Washington (9-3) fulfilled its recent role of being just good enough to fail when expectations rise above being the best of the Pac-12. Utah overachieved, but who outside the West really talked about the Utes?

The Pac-12 started the season at a crossroads and still seems headed down the wrong path. The season was marked by a scandal over its replay booth policies, an awful look when commissioner Larry Scott already faces constant questions about the quality of officiating.

What could Scott say to skeptics over the conference’s sinking fortunes? Nothing, except perhaps things couldn’t get worse. Hopefully.

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