The Risk of Having Divisions


After five weeks of the college football season, the Pac-12 North has four undefeated teams in conference play and five teams with at least a 3-1 overall record. In the Pac-12 South, only one team is currently undefeated in Pac-12 play (Arizona State), the second place team is ineligible, and three teams are still winless in the conference.

NCAA requirements state that in order to have a championship game, a conference must have a minimum of 12 teams and they must be put into two divisions. In addition, only the division winners can play in the championship game, regardless of whether the best two teams in the conference are in the same division. This has resulted in some unfortunate situations of teams who shouldn’t be in the title game at the expense of a better team who only lost one game all season.

Everyone remembers in 2008 when Texas beat Oklahoma, and three teams (Texas Tech also) ended up with the same record 7-1 record in the Big 12 South. However, Oklahoma got to go to the Big 12 Championship game to play the North champion Missouri who had a 5-3 conference record. After pummeling the Tigers, Oklahoma went on to play for the national championship. #3 Texas would go onto win the Fiesta Bowl over #10 Ohio State, while #8 Texas Tech played in the Cotton Bowl.

In the Pac-12’s first season, it appears a similar situation is unfolding. Clearly at this early stage of the season, things can still change dramatically. But, it is also becoming quite clear that the Pac-12 North is  superior to the Pac-12 South both at the top and in overall parity. With USC ineligible to play in the championship game, it makes it all the more uneven in terms of which teams have a realistic chance to play in the title game.

Pac-12 StandingsConferenceOverall
Washington State1031
Oregon State0204
Arizona State2041
USC (ineligible)2141

In head-to-head match ups between North and South teams so far, the Pac-12 North is 5-1 (and that doesn’t even count the “non-conference game” in which California beat Colorado).

Obviously things will change as the Pac-12 season continues and teams like Oregon, Stanford, and Washington start playing each other. But, clearly the Pac-12 South appears to be Arizona State’s to lose at this point. Regardless of the record they end up with, it seems they will probably play an undefeated or at least AP Top 10 Pac-12 North team in the championship game unless a lot of unexpected things happen.

But, wouldn’t it be ironic if a potentially 8-4 Arizona State ended up in the Rose Bowl by virtue of a weak Pac-12 South division and then pulled an upset victory over Stanford or Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game?