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FanPulse Top 25 Week 6: The Pac-12 Needs Oregon and Someone Else

The Utes moved up following the bye week to No. 15 in the FanPulse Top 25, the same spot the team occupied at the start of the season. Despite the setbacks the team has faced, the season still has a chance to be special. And the Pac-12 is going to need all the help from Utah it can get.

Creating a college football poll is tricky business. In any given week there are roughly 50-60 FBS football games being played. It can be overwhelming to keep track of all the games and the teams that are playing the best. This is what makes the FanPulse College Football Top 25 a remarkable experience. While one fan can’t possibly watch every game, the voice of every fan helps to create a true view of what the nation is thinking. And the nation is currently skeptical of Clemson, awarding Alabama the top spot again this week.

As we reach the midpoint of the season, polls become more important as we begin to prepare for the release of the College Football Playoff Poll. This is our chance to build a special poll for the fans rather than one made by 13 people sitting a room. Join us in our endeavor to make the best poll around, and the one representative of the nation rather than the opinions of 13 people.

All right let’s get to the data. Here is the National FanPulse College Football Top 25:

And here is the BlockU Top 25:

Also, here is a bonus poll of the game fans are most excited for this week. It’s shaping up to be the best slate of games we’ve had up to this point in the season:

Where is Utah at?

Utah came in at No. 15 in the FanPulse National Top 25 and at No. 14 in the BlockU Top 25. The discrepancy came from the national poll placing Boise State ahead of Utah rather than behind the Utes like the BlockU poll did. After two weeks of angst following the USC loss, Utah has settled back into the spot in the national poll the team occupied at the beginning of the season. The main difference is Utah fans are far more inline with the rest of the nation in their evaluation whereas before the Utah fans generally had the Utes three to four spots higher than the national poll.

Time tends to heal all wounds, and it feels like the Washington State win and the bye week have helped the Utah fanbase recover from the USC debacle. There is certainly less hype coming from the fans than before, but there is also recognition that the program has a lot going for it. This is represented in the confidence poll in the last two weeks.

After dropping to 53 percent after the USC loss, the fanbase has returned to 100 percent confidence in the direction of the program. Utah is not ideally positioned in the Pac-12 currently (more on this in a moment), but as the rest of the teams in the conference seem to be crumbling, it’s hard not to feel better about the direction of the program by comparison.

Utah will play lowly Oregon State this week before returning home to face No. 18 Arizona State. As long as ASU doesn’t do something stupid against Washington State this week, that would be a Top 20 matchup and a chance for a Utah statement win. The Top 10 is still within reach, the Pac-12 is still winnable and the goals Utah had at the beginning of the season are still in play. For all the melancholy that accompanies a loss, this season still has a chance to be something special.

Which Team is the Second-Best in the Pac-12?

It feels easy to say that Oregon is the best team in the conference at the moment. The Ducks one loss on the season came against an Auburn team that is ranked No. 12. The Ducks outplayed the Tigers for all but the fourth quarter and despite all the Pac-12 dread that followed the loss, established Oregon as a top tier program.

The Ducks are the safest bet in the Pac-12 for sure. Washington had a legitimate case at the beginning of the season but losses to Cal and Stanford have ended much of the talk surrounding the Huskies. The Pac-12 North is Oregon’s to win, and a win against Washington next week would make that a near certainty.

The Pac-12 needs Oregon to keep winning to keep the conference’s diminishing playoff hopes alive. But, Oregon needs help from the rest of the conference. Oregon needs the best possible team from the South to make the conference title game. After the struggles of Washington and Stanford, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to say that the second-best Pac-12 team will come out of the South. The question is which team will establish themselves and dominate the South. The worst-case scenario for Oregon and the Pac-12 is to have a team that finishes conference play 5-4 or 6-3 playing in the Pac-12 Championship. They need a team from the South to finish conference play at 8-1 or 7-2 to really bolster the resume of whoever ends up winning the conference.

Utah remains the choice for best team in the South based on talent and experience. The USC disaster aside, Utah has had four commanding wins, the most impressive of which was the shutting down of Washington State in the Utes’ most recent game. The Utes’ biggest problem in actually making the title game is they gave away control of their own destiny with the loss to USC. The Trojans hold the tiebreaker going forward, meaning Utah will have to win the division outright against USC or get left at home in favor of the Trojans.

USC did Utah a solid by getting smoked by Washington, dropping their lead on the division to one game, but Utah remaining undefeated is far from a sure thing. The most likely loss on the schedule seemed to be the road game against Washington, but that is looking less intimidating with each passing week. However, Utah has a known habit of dropping conference games the team should have won. The Washington game aside, the Utes’ should go undefeated against the rest of their schedule. But even one more loss will get rid of the team’s margin of error. USC still has a home game against Oregon and road trips to ASU and Cal on the schedule, so there are potential losses on the schedule. But Utah remains far from a sure thing to win the division, even if the Utes’ win out the rest of the way.

USC looked to have capitalized on its talent advantage in the win against Utah, but the Trojans have proven to still be as flawed as ever under Clay Helton. While USC may win the South, there is still a game against Notre Dame on the schedule and several conference games the Trojans could lose. USC would be a near worst-case option for the conference to have in the title game because the Trojans will be entering with three losses (assuming they lose to Notre Dame) at best. It remains difficult to trust USC to do more than create disaster for the rest of the conference, so maybe we should expect them to win the South.

The actual leader of the South division right now is Arizona. After wins against Colorado and UCLA to start conference play, the Wildcats are starting to receive some notice. Arizona even received votes in the AP Poll this week. However, the Wildcats schedule has been frontloaded with easy games. Arizona likely has one more game the entire season that the Wildcats will be the favorites in, a home game against Oregon State. The other six games on the schedule are road trips to USC, Stanford, ASU and Oregon and home games against Washington and Utah. Arizona may have control of the South for now but getting to bowl eligibility will be an achievement for the Wildcats.

If a team is going to rise up in the Pac-12 South this year and make a legitimate challenge for the conference title, the only other option besides Utah is Arizona State. The problem for the Sun Devils is the same as every other South team, they can’t be trusted in the slightest. ASU won three games to start the season, including a 10-7 win over Michigan State. There started to be hype surrounding the program, so naturally the Sun Devils did something to destroy their reputation, they lost to Colorado. The Sun Devils were then written off and therefore followed that game with a win over the last undefeated Pac-12 team, Cal.

It’s hard to look at Arizona State’s remaining schedule and feel confident. The Sun Devils are home against Washington State before coming to Salt Lake City to play Utah. They still have home games against Oregon and USC. The difference between Arizona State and Utah is the Sun Devils have control over their destiny still. If Arizona State wins out, they’ll be in the conference title game. Utah can’t say that. This is the dilemma the Pac-12 faces, the second-best team in the conference is at the mercy of lesser teams just to even have a shot at the Pac-12 Championship.

Arizona State came in at No. 19 in the FanPulse Top 25, so most voters don’t see much of a difference between the Sun Devils and Utah at No. 15. The Pac-12 better hope that one of these teams can run the table or have no more than one loss the rest of the way, so they can give Oregon a resume-building matchup in the conference championship. Realistically, if either Arizona State or Utah can run the table, they’ll have to at least be in the conversation for the playoff, even if the odds of making it would be slim.

That’s the best the Pac-12 can hope for at this point, to have even two teams be mentioned as potential playoff worthy teams. Oregon will be one of them unless disaster strikes. The only other hope for the conference lies with Utah and Arizona State. Now, the Pac-12 needs to hope USC doesn’t just screw everything up. Again.

It’s Time to Talk About the SEC

This is one of the most unpleasant conversations in all of college football, but it’s one that is necessary. There is a real chance that the SEC is going to put two teams in the Playoff this year. Just looking at the rankings, the SEC has Alabama (No. 1), Georgia (No. 4), LSU (No. 5) and Florida (No. 8) all undefeated and in the Top 10.

All four of these teams will not be undefeated at the end of the season, but there’s a real chance that three of them will have one or fewer losses. LSU and Florida play on Saturday, so one of them will take their first loss and will likely be out of the playoff conversation, but the other three will be in prime position. There is a real scenario where LSU has one loss to Alabama in the regular season, Georgia in turn loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship, and the Crimson Tide finish undefeated. Based on the 2017 season when Georgia and Alabama both were put in the playoff, all three of those teams would have legitimate arguments for being put in again this year.

There are a few things that would need to happen to make this argument a reality. The Pac-12 would be all but eliminated with another Oregon loss. After that, all it would take is another two-loss conference champion (probably the Big 12) or even one Clemson loss, to start the whole discussion of which SEC team deserves to be in ahead of the other conference champions. Unless disaster strikes LSU and Georgia during the regular season, this whole discourse is coming. Prepare yourselves now.