2:09 AM ET
Kyle BonaguraESPN Staff Writer
- Covers the Pac-12.
- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Attended Washington State University.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For the fourth time in six years, the Pac-12 will not send a team to the College Football Playoff.
The continued absence has limited the conference’s national visibility and damaged its perception, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said his program will not make any scheduling concessions to facilitate an easier path to the four-team playoff.
“They want to play the best teams in the country all the time, and there is no way we’re going to go away from that mentality to try to schedule down to appease — whatever, I guess I should stop there before I get in trouble, right?” Cristobal said. “These guys deserve to find out how good they are by playing against the best, so we’re going to continue doing that.”
Oregon entered Friday’s conference championship game against No. 5 Utah well out of the playoff picture, in part due to a season-opening loss to Auburn. Had the Ducks not scheduled Auburn and settled for three easier nonconference games — similar to the schedule Utah played — their 37-15 win against the Utes might have put them in position to receive strong consideration for a playoff spot.
The Ducks play Ohio State the next two seasons and Georgia in 2022.
Despite the loss to Auburn, Oregon remained in playoff contention until a 31-28 loss to Arizona State on Nov. 24.
“I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for talking about [playoff] systems, but I think there has to be a lot of weight placed on winning your conference,” Cristobal said. “You can go through your conference and win your conference — especially one where you play nine conference games like we do — that has to and needs to carry a lot of weight going forward.”
Utah, despite playing BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State in nonconference play, went into the game with a realistic shot to become the third team from the Pac-12, joining Oregon (2014) and Washington (2016), to reach the playoff. Had the Utes won convincingly and LSU beaten Georgia in the SEC title game, Utah would likely have received the No. 4 seed.
The Pac-12’s playoff certainly isn’t a new issue.
“I’ve been asked that a lot of times the last couple years, three, four years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I pretty much always have the same answer: You got a very balanced league, nine conference games. You got to pretty much run the table in conference, nonconference as well. 12-0, 11-1, that’s pretty much what you got to be.
“Nobody has been able to do that because we beat each other up every year. We play that ninth game, which gives you another opportunity to take a loss. There’s been a lot of balance. I hate the word ‘parity,’ but competitive, it’s a very competitive conference.”
Prior to the game, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was asked about the possibility of his conference again being left out, and he gave no reason to believe he would advocate for playoff expansion.
“When we designed the playoff, we understood there were four slots,” Scott said. “There are five big conferences, independents. That would mean years that teams couldn’t get in. So we understand that.”
Oregon (11-2) will play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, while Utah’s bowl destination remains unclear. It’s possible the Utes (11-2) could receive an at-large berth into the Cotton Bowl, a part of the New Year’s Six, but the lopsided loss makes it likely that they will drop to the Alamo Bowl. If Utah is not selected for the Cotton Bowl, the Alamo Bowl will have the option to choose Utah or USC. Should the Alamo Bowl pass on Utah, the Utes will play in the Holiday Bowl.