Six Pac-12 teams in 'too early' top 25, but is there a playoff team?

If you're anything like the Pac-12 blog reporters, you were probably watching last night's National Championship wondering which Pac-12 team will be in the College Football Playoffs in 2016.

Since the conference was blanked from this year's tournament, which ended with an Alabama victory over Clemson, the pressure will be on the Pac-12 next season to place a team among the top four. But if national perception has anything to say about it, the league might have another tough time getting into the playoffs.

ESPN senior writer Mark Schlabach, a dead ringer for Miss Cleo in the predictions department, laid out his way-too-early Top 25 teams for 2016. It's by no means scripture. Any ranking that has “way too early” in the title should be taken with granulated NaCl. (And that also goes for my way too early Pac-12 power rankings which posted last night).

But Schlabach's Top 25 is a decent gauge for what the league's identity is nationally.

The good news is there are six conference teams listed among his top 25 -- half of the league. That's a nice tip of the cap to the Pac-12's depth. The bad news is none of those teams rank in the top five and only one is in the top 10 -- Stanford at No. 8.

The pessimist says the Pac-12 will start the year at a disadvantage. The optimist says the league is just flying under the radar. The theory/path is simple -- win and you're in. But the practice/path is never that simple.

Take Stanford, Oregon (18), Washington State (20) and Washington (25). The North Division -- which has owned the conference title every year since expansion -- is starting to shape up much like the South has the last couple of seasons. Good teams that will knock the bejeezus out of each other on a weekly basis. Consider the North in 2015: Stanford beat Washington State, which beat Oregon, which beat Washington, which beat Washington State. Oh yeah, Oregon beat Stanford too.

Much like last season, it's unlikely any Pac-12 team can make it through league play unscathed.

The South has its own worries. Most of the upper-echelon teams from the division are in rebuilding mode. Schlabach's placement of USC at No. 15 -- ahead of Oregon -- is quite generous while Utah's absence is noticeable. Sure, the Utes have some rebuilding to do -- but after a 10-win season, I would have been inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt as a preseason top 25 team. UCLA at No. 21 seems about right. But it's hard, at least as of today, to get excited about a South team making a run at the league title next year.

Sometimes being under the radar isn't a bad thing. Notre Dame started off 2012 unranked and went on to the BCS title game. In 2014, Ohio State stumbled all the way to No. 22 after losing to Virginia Tech early in the season and ended up winning the national championship. Even Stanford last year was in position to erase a body-clock-tampering trip to Northwestern before Oregon knocked them out of contention.

Of course, we don't know what the rest of the field will look like in 2016. Will there be an undefeated team like Clemson was this year? Will there be multiple one-loss conference champions?

An undefeated Pac-12 champion is unlikely. And the league's best teams reside in the North, meaning we'll likely see a repeat of 2015 where the league guts itself. It's an achievement to win the Pac-12. As David Shaw likes to say, it means you've traveled a road tougher than most. But it'll be tough for that road to end with a top four team. Especially when the league needs to reclaim its national credibility.