When it comes to college football, Oregon and Stanford have always been the teams to watch in the Pac-12. This season, the conference-dominating teams dropped the ball, allowing previous underdogs a place on the national stage.
Throughout the 2016 college football season, the Pac-12 advanced in the rankings with unpredictable upsets.
The start of the season placed multiple Pac-12 teams in the AP Preseason Top 25 rankings, however, those shifted to show a different side of the conference over the course of the year. Teams considered an easy win became powerful forces in the battle for post-season games.
Representing the Conference of Champions in the preseason polls were No. 8 Stanford, No. 14 Washington, No. 16 UCLA and No. 24 Oregon.
In the final weeks of play, the Pac-12 is represented by five teams in the College Football Playoff ranking: No. 4 Washington, No. 8 Colorado, No. 11 USC, No. 18 Stanford and No. 20 Utah. At several points in the season, half of the conference was ranked. Only two teams remain ranked as the postseason of college football edges closer.Washington (11-1) has flirted with the possibility of a run at a national championship all season, consistently climbing the polls. After starting the season at No. 14, the Huskies fought their way up to the No. 4 spot and earning a playoff bid.
This season has exceeded the expectations of most Husky fans. After a mediocre 2015 season, it was hard to imagine so much success so soon.
Washington is a young team, led by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, who was considered for the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
Browning and dynamic head coach Chris Peterson built a team with a strong defense and offense. Washington faces Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game Friday in the final fight for the playoffs.
The Huskies weren’t the only team that broke through the cracks.
The Buffaloes (10-2) snuck their way to No. 8 in the CFP rankings. This is the first year Colorado has been ranked in the Pac-12, after joining the conference in 2011.
After battling through the 2015 season only to continuously come up short, Colorado has found success under Pac-12 Head Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre and senior quarterback Sefo Liufau.
Colorado claimed the Pac-12 south title in its 27-22 victory over formerly No. 22 Utah, securing a spot in the conference championship game.
Losses against No. 5 Michigan (10-2) and No. 11 USC (9-3) are the only losses holding the Buffs back. As a Husky fan, its been exciting to watch my team climb the rankings, surprising teams and fans around the country.
On the flip side, it’s hard to feel excitement when entering a conference championship game with playoff chances on the line.
The 2016 Pac-12 highlighted all that is great about college football — wild victories, upsets and shakeups across the country. This season the tables turned and the underdogs pounced on their chance to climb, reminding fans and myself, why people love college football.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com