Somehow, the Pac-12 South title falls into the hands of Arizona. Not Arizona State, who held the lead until a shocking loss to Oregon State and not UCLA, who had it all sewn up but lost on the last day of the regular season to Stanford of all teams, with someone as reliable as Brett Hundley practically shooting himself and his team in the foot. The Wildcats aren’t just now playing for a conference championship, but also for the shot of making the College Football Playoff.
It’s been 21 years since Arizona won the conference. Their dominance in basketball hasn’t translated to the football arena, where they’re often far away from the limelight, and even taking a backseat to their state rivals. But a redeeming night for them, as it was for Rich Rodriguez, puts them in a spot of beating a team they’ve already beaten this season, which will get them into a New Years Bowl game, not to mention very strongly into the playoff consideration.
All of this was made possible by UCLA losing at home to Stanford. The Bruins had a shot and somehow blew it. They took a lead with a Hundley touchdown pass and then it was over. Stanford outscored them 31-3 the rest of the way, en route to a 31-10 win. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. Despite a bad season for the Cardinal compared to their recent successes (7-5, 5-4 in the conference), they’re used to playing in the Rose Bowl. Kevin Hogan more than anyone.
Hogan completed 16-of-19 passes including two for a touchdown, throwing for 234 yards. The running game with 202 yards was finally playing like it should be, and the defense reminded everyone of the team that looked like national championship contenders for a few years running under two different coaches. This time, they were only playing as spoilers, but for a brief moment, that is just as satisfying.
Knowing what was happening in Los Angeles, the Arizona teams traded punches and touchdowns through the first half, Arizona State always coming back with a reply, both teams going to the locker rooms with the game tied at 21-21. Things changed in the third quarter. Rodriguez is great at making adjustments, with Nick Wilson scoring two consecutive rushing touchdowns to give Arizona the one-score lead they kept holding on to until the very end despite ASU’s best efforts.
It’s a new day for Arizona football, leaving the USC’s and UCLA’s of the world behind them. It’s also a reminder that Rich Rodriguez might have failed at Michigan, but he’s not a bad coach, and that the things happening at West Virginia under him weren’t a fluke o a surprise. He’s a very good head coach, who has done an excellent job of putting Arizona in a position to become a regional power for more than one season. Getting some love from the committee might help him out with that.
There’s one question to be asked: Does an Arizona team with two losses, if they beat Oregon in the conference championship game (and they’ve already beaten them in Eugene), get into the College Football playoff? It all depends on how the committee ranks them ahead of championship week, and of course the results of other teams. Right now they are number 11 in the nation, but the only way is up. UCLA got out of the way. Oregon might too. Arizona don’t have style points, but can a Pac-12 champion with two losses, if they do beat the Ducks, stay out of the playoff? Hard to see, but also hard to say.