Black out the duck!
That has been heard across the ASU campus for weeks now. Anticipation has been building, waiting for Thursday when the Sun Devils face their first real opponent- the Oregon Ducks. ASU is buzzing, Frank Kush Field is ready, and the Sun Devils are amped for the fight of their lives. The funny thing? It doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Arizona State will not be playing in the national title game. That’s just a truth. The best bowl game that ASU could realistically hope to compete in is the Rose Bowl. In order to do that, they would need to win the Pac-12. And in order to that they need to win the Pac-12 South. And for that they need to beat the best team in the Pac-12 South, the University of Southern California.
ASU visits the USC Trojans on November 10. By that time the Sun Devils will have played Oregon, UCLA, and at Oregon State and will know if they are legitimate contenders. Oregon and Oregon State are both top 10 teams, and objectively can be projected as losses. UCLA is a game that should be won, which would give ASU a record of 6-3, 4-2 in conference.
USC on the other hand, has a schedule that consists of Colorado, at Arizona, and at home against Oregon before their matchup with the Sun Devils. They’ll beat Colorado, beat Arizona, and then let’s assume for the purpose of this article that they beat Oregon as well. That gives USC a record of 8-1, 6-1 in conference.
Looking beyond the showdown between the two maroon and gold teams, ASU goes up against Washington State and at Arizona, two games that should be won. USC goes to UCLA then back home against Notre Dame, both presumable wins for this article’s sake. Excluding the game between each other, that gives ASU a projected record of 6-2 in conference, and USC 7-1.
That sets up a matchup between ASU and USC. Here is why this, not Oregon, is the game that will send them to either the title game or back home. Looking at the above projected record, an ASU victory would give both teams a conference record of 7-2. If ASU (9-3 overall) beats USC (10-2), the tiebreaker rules would award the Pac-12 South to the Sun Devils, even if the Trojans have a better overall (non-conference) record.
In fact, even if the Sun Devils pull off a miracle win Thursday, the scenario plays out the same. ASU would then have a 7-1 record besides the USC game, the same as the Trojans in our projections, and that game would mark the difference in the records. And, just in case you’re as nitpicky as my editor, if USC loses to Oregon and ASU beats Oregon, We’re looking at a 7-1 ASU facing a 6-2 USC, which means that ASU must beat USC in order to avoid falling into a tie that would be broken by their head-to-head record in the reverse of the scenario presented in the previous paragraph.
The only way the USC game doesn’t decide the Devils’ Pac-12 championship hopes is if the Sun Devils go undefeated in Pac-12 play, something that hasn’t happened since 1996, and is extraordinarily unlikely to happen this year, or the Trojans find a way to lose to Colorado, Arizona, or UCLA.
ASU needs to win the Pac-12 South in order to play for the Pac-12 title against what can be assumed to be Oregon or Oregon State (essentially whoever wins their head-to-head matchup), though Stanford could theoretically sneak in, but that’s an argument for another day. At that time ASU can focus on beating the Ducks. But win or lose Thursday, all eyes need to be on November 10, when ASU faces USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the winner could go on to take the Pac-12 South.