SANTA CLARA, Calif. — During his annual media session before the championship game, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott made an argument for Utah’s inclusion in the College Football Playoff.
With the caveat that the Utes would go on to win, of course.
And the Pac-12 will be shut out of the four-team playoff for the third consecutive season.
Not that No. 13 Oregon cares about the national narrative after punching its ticket to the Rose Bowl with a 37-15 romp over No. 5 Utah on Friday at Levi’s Stadium.
“We’re coming off two years where we did not make the playoff, and it absolutely helped shape a perception of the conference was down,” Scott said. “I think we’ve all seen this a year where the conference has been stronger top to bottom, including elite teams in the hunt for the playoff at the business end of the season.
“I think it would be an important step to get back in the playoff and hopefully win a championship.”
Oregon’s playoff run ended with the 31-28 loss at Arizona State on Nov. 23.
The parity Scott was bragging about before kickoff — the Pac-12 has had eight different teams ranked this season, is the only conference in which all of the teams had four or more wins, and seven conference teams are headed to bowl games — comes with a price.
"You've got a very balanced league, nine conference games. You've got to pretty much run the table in conference, nonconference as well," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the challenge of getting to the football final four. "Nobody has been able to do that because we beat each other up every year. We play that ninth game, which gives you another opportunity to take a loss.
"There's been a lot of balance. I hate the word parity, but competitive, it's a very competitive conference."
The Ducks (11-2) are packing for Pasadena, Calif., while the Utes (11-2) could fall from the brink of the national semifinals to the Alamo Bowl.
“When we designed the playoff, we understood there were four slots and there are five big conferences and independents,” Scott said. “And there would be years when teams couldn’t get in. We understood that.”
Oregon (2014) and Washington (2016) are the only two Pac-12 programs to be selected for the College Football Playoff.
The Ducks’ romp over Florida State in a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl is the conference’s only victory in the playoff format.
• Oregon, which won the inaugural Pac-12 championship game over UCLA in 2011 at Autzen Stadium and beat Arizona in the 2014 title game at Levi’s Stadium, joins Stanford (2012, 2013, 2015) as the only three-time champions since the conference expanded.
• The Pac-12 championship game, which drew 38,679 on Friday at Levi’s Stadium, moves to Las Vegas next year in the Raiders’ new NFL stadium.
• Justin Herbert’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Johnson was the 95th of his career. The Oregon senior passes former Washington rival Jake Browing for sixth in conference history.
• Oregon’s defense held its opponent scoreless in the first half for the second time this season (also Montana, 21-0) and without a touchdown for the eighth time.
• The Ducks have outscored the opposition 232-99 in the first half this season and 37-7 in the first quarter of the program’s three Pac-12 championship game appearances.
• Utah fell to 0-2 in Pac-12 championship games after losing 10-3 to Washington last year.
Oregon senior linebacker Troy Dye didn’t want to let go of the Redbox Bowl trophy after last year’s 7-6 win over Michigan State at Levi’s Stadium. So yeah, he was excited to grab the Pac-12 hardware in his final conference game.
“Damn right winners get trophies,” Dye said. “We’re 2-0 at Levi’s Stadium, baby! …
“We’re going to Pasadena, baby!”