Even if Colorado loses in Pac-12 title game, USC could be out of Rose Bowl, but it shouldn't

USC finished the season as the best team in the PAC-12, yet it probably will not appear in its premier bowl.

From rags to Roses, USC's twisting path to bowl glory finally looks straight and smooth, right?

Washington beats underdog Colorado on Friday in the Pac-12 Conference championship game. Washington is swept up into a College Football Playoff semifinal. USC swoops in to claim the Rose Bowl bid ahead of Colorado because both teams will have three losses and, back in October, USC beat Colorado.


A nice and simple ride up the 110 Freeway, right?

Wrong. Trojans fans, stop counting roses before your hands get bloody. Trojans fans, prepare for one more detour.

All indications are that even if Colorado loses, the eighth-ranked Buffaloes will get the Rose Bowl bid because the CFP committee will not drop them below No. 11 USC in the final ranking, and the Rose Bowl folks are contractually obligated to give "strong preference'' to the highest-ranked team.

Crazy, but true. It will apparently require a complete obliteration of the Buffaloes by the Huskies for the CFP folks to come to their senses.

"Unless there is a huge blowout in one of those conference championship games, I don't think the committee wants to hurt a team for playing in them,'' said Scott Jenkins, chairman of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. "If Colorado loses, I'd be surprised if Colorado drops much, if at all. It would be a surprise to me if USC jumps Colorado."

Lemme see if I've got this straight. USC finished the season as clearly the best team in the Pac-12, yet it probably will not appear in the Pac-12's premier bowl? If this were the college basketball  tournament, USC would be a No. 1 seed and be given home-region advantage. But because it's college football, they could get yanked off the stage and shipped to San Antonio?

This is crazy. The Rose Bowl has long been the rightful home for great USC teams, and this is a great USC team. A Rose Bowl matchup between USC and either of the Big Ten Conference contenders — Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan — could be the most-watched holiday game outside of the national championship. It would captivate some of the biggest markets in the country. It would be a throwback intersectional, a great win for Grandaddy.

"USC is one of the best teams out there right now,'' Jenkins said. "But does that make the decision hard for us? No. We have our parameters.''

Don't blame the Rose Bowl. It's just following rules. USC has had a stronger Rose Bowl run than anyone, appearing a record 33 times. Heck, Jenkins is a graduate of the USC Law School who spent last Saturday sitting in the rain watching his Trojans defeat Notre Dame.

Those parameters place the heat squarely on the shoulders of the dozen members of the CFP selection committee, who still have a couple of days to get it right.

Hey, group, before sitting down to watch that Pac-12 title game Friday, throw in a couple of tapes of the only team that beat both finalists. Watch the Trojans dominate Washington. Watch the Trojans gain 548 yards against Colorado while holding the Buffaloes to a pair of touchdowns. Focus on how the Trojans became a completely different team when Sam Darnold became the starting quarterback in the fourth week, going 8-1 since then, with their only loss occurring in the final 16 seconds at Utah.

Study all that, then think about how, every spring, the best-seeded college basketball teams are often the ones that evolved from slow starts back in November. If the kids who play college basketball are rewarded for growing up, why not give the same grace to the ones who play college football?

And if you're still not convinced, just put on adjoining tapes of Colorado and USC and see for yourself. There's no question. It's not close. USC is more skilled, more powerful, and just plain better. Maybe even two touchdowns better. At this point in the season, the only team in the country that would be a clear favorite over USC would be Alabama, and here's guessing their rematch wouldn't be another blowout.

Jenkins noted that, if two Rose Bowl contenders are ranked within six places of each other, his committee can use an "extraordinary circumstances'' clause to pick the lower-ranked team. But since Colorado has never been to the Rose Bowl, and the wonder and awe of a first-time Rose Bowl team is contagious throughout the community, all the ''extraordinary'' belongs to the Buffaloes.


"As I'm looking at these teams, talking to you, I don't see extraordinary circumstances,'' Jenkins said.

As for the massive ticket sales that USC's presence would produce, Jenkins noted that Colorado carries its own economic possibilities.

"USC hasn't been in several years" — since 2009 — "and ticket demand would be huge,'' Jenkins said. "But looking at it another way, Pasadena and the entire Southern California community does better when we have two out-of-town teams."

Jenkins and the Rose Bowl folks will do the proper thing like they always do. They will follow the mandate of their 70-year-old contract with the two conferences and take the higher-ranked team, as predictably as the sight of a smiling child watching roses roll past on a chilly morning in Old Town.

The pressure is now on the CFP committee to do the proper thing and ensure that the higher-ranked team is USC. If they are still in need of guidance, they need only to listen to the words of one of their own.

"It's always been the best teams,'' said Kirby Hocutt, CFP Committee chairman, when asked about his own parameters on the Doug Gottlieb Show last week.

If that's true, then if Colorado loses — no matter how Colorado loses — USC wins.

Right? Um, right.

Twitter: @BillPlaschke