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The PAC-12 South Playoff Scenarios

The PAC-12 South Football Contenders

The PAC-12 South is shaping up to be a contest down to the final play of the final game. Here are the various teams still mathematically in the conversation (percentages from ESPN’s FPI [Utah, Arizona State, Arizona, and USC]). USC and Utah have much higher percentages than the teams, because they’ve already played 8 of their 9 PAC-12 games. The PAC-12 Conference has been brutal for teams this team (especially in the South), the North Division is mostly assured to either Washington or Washington State which will most likely be decided on November 23rd game played at Washington State.


Scenarios (Sorted by likelihood):

Scenario 1: Everyone but Arizona Wins

Arizona has a less than 20% chance (11 point underdogs) to win in Pullman against one of two possible champions for the PAC-12 North. Everyone else has a reasonable chance of coming away with a win. Utah is a touchdown favorite even playing away from home, USC is a 3.5 point favorite at the Rose Bowl, and Arizona State is a 4 point underdog at Oregon. This would ensure that Utah at least share of the PAC-12 South Division because they would have 6 wins. There would be at most 2 teams that could reach the 6 conference win plateau because Arizona and Arizona State play each other to close out the season.

Scenario 2: Arizona State loses

An Arizona State loss would ensure that Utah are crowned PAC-12 South champions by the fact that they hold tie breakers over Arizona and USC. Because Utah will have played all nine games and a 6-3 record, the next best record possible would be 5-4 (and would be Arizona State). The fight would then be solely for second and beyond.

Scenario 3: Utah loses and things get interesting

If Utah loses to Colorado, then they will finish the season at 5-4 in conference which could theoretically mean that four teams could make that mark. If that happens, then tie breakers would come into play.  Mathematically there could be four teams in this scenario, but remember that Arizona are huge underdogs at Washington State, which means that it is most likely that there would be only three (USC, Utah, Arizona State).

Scenario 4: Everyone loses

If everyone loses, then USC will drop out of contention with five losses. Utah would get at least a share of the PAC-12 South Title, and one of the Arizona teams would join them. How the rest of the dominos would shake out is dependent on which Arizona team wins the “Duel in the Desert” and the Territorial Cup. If Arizona were to be victorious in that match up, then Utah would represent the PAC-12 South in the PAC-12 Championship because of their loss against Utah.

Scenario 4: Everyone wins

This scenario is substantially less likely than Scenario 2, but the real world implications are very similar. If this entire group of PAC-12 South teams win, then it will come down to the “Duel in the Desert”, where if Arizona State wins, they would represent, any other outcome would have Utah representing the PAC-12 South in the Conference Championship game.

Scenario 5: Everyone but USC loses

Under this scenario, Utah and USC would be tied at 5-4 final standings in the conference and Arizona and Arizona State would enter their final game 4-4. Depending on who won the “Duel in the Desert” the tiebreaker scenarios could get really crazy. If Arizona State won, they would represent the PAC-12 South by virtue of their wins over Utah and USC. If Arizona wins that the game, the tiebreaker would go to Utah who has wins over Arizona and USC.

Tie Breakers:

The PAC-12 Conference reports the following as the official tiebreaking procedures:

Two-team ties: If two teams are tied for a division championship, head-to-head results between those two teams are used as a tiebreaker to decide who participates in the Football Championship Game.

Multiple-team ties: If three or more teams are tied atop a division at the end of the season, the following criteria are used to eliminate teams until just two teams remain, at which point the two-team tiebreaking procedure is used.

  1. Head-to-head results (best record in games between tied teams)
  2. Record in intra-divisional games
  3. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on the record in all conference games), proceeding through the division
  4. Record in common conference games
  5. Highest ranking in SportSource Analytics poll entering the final weekend of the regular season

PAC-12 Conference

Tiebreakers held by team:

Utah – Arizona, USC

Arizona State  – Utah, USC

USC – Arizona

Who They’d Play:

The PAC-12 North has two teams that are mathematically still in the race Washington and Washington State. Both of these teams enter with a game they are huge favorites for and then, they play each other. FivethirtyEight gives Washington State a better chance of winning the conference and the playoffs and the head-to-head matchup is at Washington State. ESPN analytics, however, have the Huskies as the most likely to garner a win, but only by a slight margin, however, none of the oddsmakers have posted official spreads yet.


In Conclusion, despite looking on the surface like a four-team race, it’s really only a two-team race. No matter the outcomes, it will be Utah or Arizona State participating in the Conference Championship. If Utah is able to overcome Colorado, it will be the first time they’ve won their division since joining the PAC-12. Per FivethirtyEight, Utah has a 29% chance to win the PAC-12, and Arizona State doesn’t even make it onto their list for consideration.

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