The BCS era is over and a new age rules the college football landscape. This is the first season with the new College Football Playoff format and so far it seems to be a step in the right direction for the NCAA, giving multiple teams a shot at the National Championship despite some midseason slip ups.
Regardless of how well the new system works, there are many surprises this season with teams that are fighting to make the top four spots. At the beginning of the season, Arizona was predicted by many to finish with seven or eight wins in what was deemed as a building step, breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback and with no true starting running back.
Instead, the Wildcats have put together a more successful season than anyone in Tucson has seen in the past 15 years and the door is still open to for improvement. Currently, Arizona sits with a 10-2 record heading into the Pac-12 Championship game while being ranked in the 7th slot in the College Football Playoff rankings. While the record is important, being in the championship game and being ranked so close to the top 4 are even more important.
Here’s a look at what the top 7 look like:
#1: Alabama (11-1)
#2: Oregon (11-1)
#3: TCU (10-1)
#4: Florida State (12-0)
#5: Ohio State (11-1)
#6: Baylor (10-1)
#7: Arizona (10-2)
Arizona beats Oregon
There are really only two scenarios that matter at this point and those are the two possible outcomes of the Pac-12 Championship game. Sure there are several offshoots of what can happen this weekend, but in the simplest terms, if Arizona beats Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, the Wildcats would have proven their right to be in the top four.
If the Wildcats pull off the season sweep over the Ducks, Arizona would improve to 4-1 against top 25 teams and 3-1 against those teams away from Arizona Stadium.
Only two other teams in the conversation have similar resumes and those are Alabama, which has gone 4-1 against the top 25 this season with the one loss coming on the road and just one of those wins coming away from home, and TCU, which has gone 4-1 against top 25 teams with only one of those wins coming on the road.
Oregon and Florida State are both 3-0, while Baylor and Ohio State are just 2-0.
Additionally, the Wildcats' RPI is the second highest among the teams in contention, currently sitting at 13 and just behind Alabama, which sits at 10. Oregon is at 36, TCU is at 39, Florida State is at 46, Ohio State is at 47, and Baylor rounds out the group with a whopping 85.
None of this really matters unless you look at the teams that are between Arizona and a spot in the top four.
The Wildcats need only to move up three spots in order to make the playoff, which means jumping three of the top six. This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but in the grand scheme of things, isn’t incredibly difficult to do if Arizona takes care of business at Levi’s Stadium.
With a second victory over the Oregon in this year, both coming away from Tucson, the Wildcats will jump the Ducks.
For the sake of making things easier, the rankings just shift up one for now with the Wildcats now sitting in sixth place, putting Baylor and Ohio State at the fourth and fifth places. This is where things get a little tricky.
Arizona, with the win, has a solid chance to jump Ohio State, who plays Wisconsin in the B1G title game, due to a better overall resume and the fact that the Buckeyes are now starting a quarterback who was third on the depth chart to start fall camp.
It is entirely possible that Ohio State loses to Wisconsin and makes this much easier, but as of now, we think a win over Oregon jumps the Wildcats over the Buckeyes.
The final spot that Arizona needs to jump in order to get to the playoff is Baylor, who just struggled to put away Texas Tech after losing its quarterback to a concussion.
Arizona will likely jump Baylor and it may be entirely political. Before that change, the playoff would feature Alabama, Florida State, Baylor and TCU. It is highly unlikely that the committee would find it acceptable to put in two members of the Big-12, which lacks a conference championship game and was clearly the third best conference this season.
Also, Arizona has far superior numbers than Baylor on the season and a better overall resume than the Bears, which should give the Wildcats the nod.
That gets Arizona into the two game playoff, but the seeding will depend on how any of the other teams play in their championship games. Florida State is facing a red hot Georgia Tech team that is capable of giving the Seminoles their first loss in nearly two years.
Alabama plays a Missouri team that has hung with just about every team it has played this year. TCU gets Iowa State, a lowly 2-9 team that would love nothing more than to knock the Horned Frogs out of the picture.
Just getting to the bracket is the first step for the Wildcats and they should be in with a win over the Ducks.
Oregon beats Arizona
If the Wildcats come up short on Friday, the season is not lost. Unless Arizona is completely blown out by Oregon, we think the Wildcats will likely stay within the top 11. There are only a few teams that the Wildcats would need to worry about and there is really only one scenario where the Wildcats are left out of the top 11. If teams such as Kansas State, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, and Missouri all win their respective conference titles and Arizona puts on a poor showing, it is conceivable that the Wildcats could sit at #12 when the final rankings are released.
That is an unlikely scenario, but in the event that it happens then the Wildcats are pigeonholed to the Alamo Bowl, which in this scenario would be against Kansas State or Oklahoma.
If Arizona doesn’t drop out of the top 11, there a few possibilities that can still be broken down to just a few options. The top 11 are selected to play in Cotton, Orange, Peach, and Fiesta Bowls.
Realistically, Arizona cannot be selected to the Orange Bowl, which retains the qualifier that it would take an ACC team versus a SEC or B1G team. Additionally, it seems that Arizona would also be left out of the conversation for the Fiesta Bowl unless the bowl committee chooses to go with an in-state team, which is unlikely as of now.
That leaves the Wildcats in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas or the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. The Cotton Bowl seems most likely, as Arizona would likely travel well and fill up a good chunk of the stadium.
As for opponents, the Wildcats would probably face Ohio State, Wisconsin, TCU/Baylor, or Michigan State. Using the same criteria that eliminated the Fiesta Bowl, TCU and Baylor would both likely be off the table. Georgia Tech would be playing in the Orange Bowl against Mississippi State, as those two teams make the most sense for the terms of that bowl. The favorite here would be Wisconsin or Ohio State.
If Arizona somehow manages to get shipped to Atlanta, the same teams would be in play, but TCU and Baylor (whichever one gets left out of the playoff) comes into play. If neither team is picked up by the Fiesta Bowl, this is the likely landing spot.
With a win against Oregon, Arizona should be planning on playing on New Year’s Day in Pasadena or New Orleans. With a loss to the Ducks, the Wildcats seem destined for the Cotton or Peach Bowl, with a very small possibility of being dropped to the Alamo Bowl depending on other outcomes.
Either way, the season for Rich Rodriguez and his crew has come much further than anyone could have expected at the start of fall camp.