The Pac-12 began the 2015 campaign as a candidate for "Best College Football Conference in the World!" It was intoxicating for a fanbase accustomed to being dismissed because their stadiums are smaller and less insanely populated. Yet, barring plot twists that would strain credulity, it will end said hyped season without a participant in the four-team College Football Playoff.
In the preseason, the Pac-12 celebrated six ranked teams -- including two in the Top 10 -- and a seventh that was getting votes. This week, five teams are ranked and a sixth is getting votes, yet none ranks higher than 15th. So plenty of scrappy, not much elite.
At present, eight teams are bowl-eligible and that number could perk up to a record 10 if things fall into place in scenarios that are far more reasonable than ones that have the conference finagling its way back into playoff contention.
So the story of the Pac-12 in 2015 is something that was considered as a worrisome possibility in the preseason: cannibalism. It's just too much to expect teams to make it through a nine-game slate in this rugged conference without one or two (or three) losses.
Some might say that the Pac-12 should do away with the nine-game conference schedule. We've been supportive of that for a long time, only because other conferences are gaming the system with their eight-game conference slates.
Some might grouse that that Pac-12 teams don't get the benefit of the doubt like, say, Alabama, which somehow gets a pass for losing to an Ole Miss team that isn't very good and gets too much credit for beating an LSU team that might not be either.
Some -- cough -- might conclude that the Pac-12, due to critical attrition on defense and on both lines following a banner 2014 season, as well as an epidemic of injuries this fall, is chock full of teams that range from good to middling but none that is national championship caliber.
Stanford? It couldn't stop Oregon's big plays, or, for that matter, handle a center-QB exchange in the fourth quarter of a critical game. And, yeah, it did lose its opener at Northwestern. Utah? It went down hard at USC and appears to have a peculiar phobia about Arizona, to whom it has lost four in a row, the last two with the Wildcats using their backup quarterback.
Stanford and Utah are good teams, and it's not like there are a lot of teams that have looked great all 11 weeks this season. But they simply haven't done enough to distinguish themselves as CFP teams.
Some of you reading this are probably fading, your interest waning over the big-picture Pac-12 -- "Hey, cool, look at this click-bait story about child actors who grew up to be really, really good looking!"
Perhaps a majority of Pac-12 fans are not collectivists. They root for their team and against their rival and have only a passing interest in the conference as a whole. Fine. No quibble with that. But this does concern you, even if you root for Colorado and Oregon State and know your team will be staying home this bowl season.
At the present moment, the Pac-12 is likely to have just its champion playing in a New Year's Six bowl game -- the Rose Bowl against the highest-rated available Big Ten team. That means no CFP team and no second New Year's six team.
That's going to cost the conference big bucks -- big bucks that will go, instead, to competing conferences, who surely will use that money to lure away all the West Coast's good quarterbacks.
A Power 5 conference will receive $6 million for each team that is selected for the CFP semifinal games. A Power 5 conference also will receive $4 million for each team that plays in a non-playoff bowl (Sugar, Rose, Fiesta and Peach bowls this year). Last year, the Pac-12 pocketed $10 million with Oregon in the CFP (Rose) and Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.
The SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten are angling for the trifecta this year: The $14 million payday. That means the Pac-12 potentially losing out on a $10 million lottery. So there's a substantial "ouch" to the pocketbook there, whether you root for Stanford, Arizona or Oregon State.
Of course, the season probably has at least one more set of surprises. Week 11 was the Pac-12's implosion weekend, so it's not unreasonable to believe a similar fate might befall another Power 5 conference.
Yet, seemingly falling out of national title contention with this much football left to play means the college football gods are holding a large red stamp over the West Coast, one that imprints one word over a frowning face.