How Can USC Win the Pac-12 South? Scenarios and Tiebreakers Explained

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

USC took a major hit in their quest to win the Pac-12 South last week, after losing 24-21 to the Utah Utes. A win would’ve put the Trojans in good position to be one of the favorites for getting to Santa Clara, but now they find themselves needing a ton of help to have a chance.

Due to the tiebreakers at hand, USC at best could finish 2-2 in tiebreaker games with wins over Arizona and UCLA. But of course, that would be dependent on the Trojans winning out. With how inconsistent they’ve been this season, that’s far from a sure thing.

Winning the division outright or through tiebreakers requires a scenario in which the Trojans actually wind up rooting for UCLA. Seriously.

Here’s what USC needs from each team in order to win the division without a series of tiebreakers:

Arizona State (4-1)

Tiebreaker edge: ASU Remaining schedule: vs. Utah, at Oregon State, vs. Washington State, at Arizona

Assuming the Trojans win out, they would need the Sun Devils to go 2-2 in their remaining four conference games. That’s not out of the realm of possibilities given that they host Utah and travel to Arizona, but it’s likely that ASU will be favored in three if not all four games.

In a perfect world, the best situation for USC is that Arizona State loses their two toughest games vs. Utah and at Arizona, to allow the Trojans the chance at finishing ahead of them in the standings.

While it would give the Utes another win for the Trojans to chase, Utah’s difficult schedule is favorable to USC, as they’re likely to lose in other difficult games on their schedule.

Inversely, if ASU gets through this Saturday’s game with a win, the chances of them dropping two of three to OSU, WSU and Arizona is slim and it’s safe to say that the Trojans would need a miracle.

Arizona (3-1)

Tiebreaker edge: USC Remaining schedule: at UCLA, vs. Colorado, vs. Washington, at Utah, vs. Arizona STate

USC holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wildcats after beating them in Tucson back on October 11th, but trail them in the standings due to Arizona having just one loss. Therefore, in order for USC to catch the Cats, they’ll need them to lose at least once, while winning out themselves.

But Arizona can be of special help to the Trojans, based on their schedule. Since they play both teams that USC has lost to –ASU and Utah–, it’s in the Trojans’ best interest for the Wildcats to win both of those games.

That would mean that they would need Arizona to then lose at least one of three games against UCLA, Colorado and Washington. That’s a very realistic possibility, as both the Bruins and Huskies are capable teams.

The Cats lost to both of those teams last year and were blown out the last time they were at the Rose Bowl to play UCLA.

Utah (3-1)

Tiebreaker edge: Utah Remaining schedule: at Arizona State, vs. Oregon, at Stanford, vs. Arizona, at Colorado

My, oh my, does Utah have an incredibly difficult road to finish the season despite controlling their own destiny. Not only do they still have over half of their conference slate remaining, they play the best four teams in the conference in four successive weeks.

USC needs the Utes to do no better than 3-2 in those five game. Fortunately, you have to like the Trojans chances to get that help.

Oregon will be a heavy favorite over the Utes even in Salt Lake City next week.

Plus, the feat of Utah sweeping both the LA schools and the Arizona schools would not only be incredibly impressive, but borderline unheard of. And then there’s Stanford up in Palo Alto, where the Cardinal are notoriously difficult to beat.

In a somewhat realistic scenario, USC needs Utah to beat Arizona State, lose to Arizona and then fall to either, or both, Pac-12 North teams. Should that happen and the Trojans win out, Troy would finish ahead of the Utes despite not holding the tiebreaker.

UCLA (3-2)

Tiebreaker edge: TBA Remaining schedule: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford

Much like Utah, the Bruins have a daunting schedule. All four games are lose-able, and it’s not entirely out of the question they wind up going 6-6, given how many times they escaped defeat this season to inferior opponents.

But the Trojans wouldn’t mind the Bruins playing the role of spoiler and winning some games.

Since USC and UCLA have yet to determine a head-to-head tiebreaker, all either team needs is to be within one game of the other by the time they meet in order to finish ahead in the standings.

That said, as mentioned earlier, the Bruins play Arizona at the Rose Bowl. They will serve as one of the biggest tests left for the Wildcats. With USC needing the Cats to lose at least once, it would behoove the Trojans for UCLA to provide that benefit.

Plus, UCLA winning out but losing to USC would allow the Trojans to have a better chance of winning a multi-team tiebreaker, should there be a logjam atop the conference.

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