How Important Is Washington State Vs Auburn for Pac-12 and SEC?


Aug 30, 2012; Provo, UT, USA; Washington State Cougars linebacker Jeremiah Allison (8) walks out onto the field before the start of the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a debate already raging among the conferences in this final year of the BCS system; who would deserve a bid to the National Championship should there be three undefeated teams at years end? Could Oregon or Stanford leapfrog an undefeated Alabama or Ohio State team to get the Pac-12 their fair shot at the title? If Texas A&M went undefeated would they trample over Oregon or Stanford in the polls? What if either team ended up with a single loss but still won their conference title?

There are a lot of variables and games that will decide it all, but there is no denying that in any non-playoff system there are more games not involving the direct candidate that change the outcome of their fate in the final polls. Early and late impressions of your conference are key, especially when put up against the other conference directly involved. It seems that ever since USC fell off, the Pac-12 is always on the outside looking in for this scenario. It hasn’t helped that the Pac-12 has so many good teams that inevitably the conference hopeful is defeated late in the season to crush any dreams of getting in (save for Oregon going undefeated a few years ago).

Because of some weak schedules to the top teams, this year more than ever regular season conference clashes mean something. Therefore, with Washington State playing Auburn to open the season on Aug. 31, there are extra ramifications for each conference.

Both teams went 3-9 last season. The outcome of this first game could either prove or disprove the Mike Leach theory that the bottom of the Pac-12 is stronger than the bottom of the SEC, which would help enormously when considering the variable of “strength of schedule” for either conference. Also, it’ll be the only opportunity for the Pac-12 to make that particular statement against the SEC. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season for either team, the game will serve as the only true benchmark for Alabama, A&M, Stanford and Oregon as far as common opponents go.

The only other Pac-12/SEC matchup in 2013 is Tennessee traveling to Autzen to take on the Ducks. While that’s of course a must-win for Oregon, it has absolutely no impact on how the rest of their schedule sets them up. As bleacher report depicts in THIS ARTICLE, there is more than just Washington State in that equation, but common denominators make for the easiest comparison. Stanford doesn’t have an SEC matchup, so their fate in the title race lies squarely on the shoulders of Oregon and Washington State winning those games for them.

If WSU beats Auburn on national tv, that will automatically drop the bottom of the SEC down a notch or two, meaning close Alabama and A&M games will hurt them, since both their schedules are already incredibly weak. If Auburn wins the WSU game, those SEC teams could win all their games by 1 point and nobody will care if the Ducks or Cardinal destroy everyone they play by 50.

In the end, I don’t expect it to mean very much if an SEC team goes undefeated anyway. Bama’s resume in the past five seasons is unmatched and they won’t be bumped. If they lose to A&M, the Aggies would jump over everybody based on conference affiliation. And you know the polls will still try to sneak a 1-loss Tide or Aggie team back into the championship race somehow because that game between them is so early in the season. Assuming Oregon or Stanford go undefeated, Washington State has a chance to kill any hope of that happening by weakening either teams’ strength of schedule even more.

We’ve left Ohio State out of this equation, but their schedule is weak also. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they have more say in how they want themselves to stack up, as they go on the road to face California and could just make their statement at that time. Also, don’t expect a 13-0 Ohio State team to be bumped, as that would set a benchmark for 26 straight victories and many would be in the mindset that had they been eligible last season they may have got the NC shot and certainly would be deserving after starting the season at #2.

A 1-loss Big 10 team will find it much more hard-pressed to receive the votes than a 1 loss SEC team, so if a Pac-12 team does go undefeated they at least shouldn’t have to worry about Ohio State if they were to falter.

All stories told, Washington State’s matchup with Auburn will matter only in a 1-loss scenario for the SEC. But in that case it could also ultimately decide the fate of the conference in their opportunity to leapfrog an undefeated Pac-12 team to claim a berth to the title game. Image is everything, so I’d say it’s a really big game for both conferences.