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Pac-12 shut out of football playoff in early ESPN projections

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Pacific 12 Conference football fans eagerly anticipating the new four-team playoff in college football may want to take a knee: an early ESPN look at next year's preseason top 25 has already excluded the league from the mix.

Oh, well, you can't say the Pac-12 didn't get a serious, hard look through Easter.

ESPN staff writer Mark Schlabach (a Georgia grad, if that means anything) does not include a Pac-12 school in his post-spring playoff projections for the 2014 season. His admittedly "Way-Too-Early" top 25 starts with defending champion Florida State at No. 1.

Alabama is second, followed by Oklahoma and Auburn. Oregon, at No. 5, is the early-bird outsider.

If the 13-member selection committee sides with Schlabach's assessment, the national semifinal pairings would be Florida State versus Auburn in one game and Alabama and Oklahoma in the other.

Gee, how exciting, as both games are rematches from last year. Florida State defeated Auburn in the Rose Bowl to claim the last Bowl Championship Series title; Oklahoma upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Next year, the Rose and Sugar bowls, coincidentally, will host the first two semifinal games in the new playoff rotation, with the first College Football Playoff title game set for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The BCS era was not kind to the Pac-12. Understandably, you can't blame Commissioner Larry Scott's league for thinking its championship odds might improve in the new system.

The Southeastern Conference dominated the BCS, winning nine of the 16 titles. The Pac-12 made only three championship game appearances (USC in 2004, 2005, Oregon in 2010) but was much more competitive if you extended the rankings beyond the top two teams.

That's what made the idea of the four-team playoff so appealing.

In the 16 years of the BCS, the SEC had 22 teams finish in the top five of the final BCS standings. The Pac-12, surprisingly, had 17.

The Left Out conference flirted often with the top two positions but just couldn't crack the SEC stranglehold.

The Pac-12 had a team finish third in the final BCS standings (USC, the No. 1 team in both polls back in 2003), six teams finish fourth and seven teams finish fifth.

It's tough to quibble with Schlabach's top 25 except to argue that the first reflexive act for many pundits seems to be to exclude, not include, the Pac-12 from championship contention.

Schlabach easily could have included Oregon in his top four. While Oregon did lose top receiver Bralon Addison to a serious knee injury this spring, the Ducks return star quarterback Marcus Mariota and all five starting offensive linemen.

Oregon also got good news when All America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return instead of declaring for the NFL draft, where he was expected to be a first-round pick.

It might also be noted Oregon was the only Pac-12 team listed in ESPN's top 10. Stanford is No. 11, UCLA is No. 12 and USC is No. 20.

The Pac-12, perhaps, should be grateful anyone thinks it could produce a team as good as preseason No. 5 in May and hold tight to that hope before ESPN releases its next "way-too-early" rankings in August.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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