Welp, here we go again.

Another year, another November to forget for the Pac-12, which saw its College Football Playoff chances explode like a busted piñata on Saturday night as No. 20 Utah scored a gutsy 43-42 win over No. 7 USC, with Cam Rising scoring a two-point conversion with just 48 seconds left to clinch the game.

The Trojans became the fourth top-10 team of the day to lose in dramatic fashion, following No. 3 Alabama (last-second field goal loss to No. 6 Tennessee), No. 8 Oklahoma State (lost by three points to No. 13 TCU in overtime), and No. 10 Penn State (outscored 25-3 in the second half of a blowout loss to No. 5 Michigan). On a night when the conference could have solidified its top-six standing with a USC win, the Utes played spoiler.

Now the Pac-12 torch is handed to a UCLA team sure to move into the top 10 after one fortunate bye week. Unfortunately for the Pac-12, it can say goodbye to the Playoff.

The Bruins’ non-conference schedule of Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama just about nullifies any chance they have for a CFP bid, not with three SEC teams still in the running — yes, of course, Alabama is still in the running — plus two Big Ten teams, as well as Clemson. Yes, UCLA can score big wins over Oregon next weekend and the Trojans late in the season, but would those be enough to help the Pac-12 advance to its first playoff since 2016?

Of course not. This is the Pac-12. We don’t get nice things.


Cannibalism has been practiced by civilizations for millennia. The Crusaders practiced cannibalism, as did the Mongols and even the American colonists and, more recently, the Donner Party and Uruguayan Flight 571 and, as we’re learning way too much about these days, Jeffrey Dahmer.

But forget practicing.

The Pac-12 has been perfecting cannibalization for years now. More than 30 times since 2000 has the eventual Pac-12 champion been defeated by a lesser opponent.

Last year, Oregon got all the way up to No. 3 in the rankings in late September, only to open October with an overtime loss at Stanford. Then what happened when the Ducks climbed back to No. 3 in the rankings in mid-November? The Utes stomped on them, 38-7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As I wrote just a few weeks ago, the Pac-12 has a history of this.

“In 2019, No. 5 Utah lost to No. 13 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, the same day No. 4 Georgia lost to No. 2 LSU in the SEC title game. Instead of the Utes heading to the CFP, No. 6 Oklahoma got the 4th seed. In 2018, No. 17 Washington lost at No. 7 Oregon and then at unranked Cal 2 weeks later. Then the Huskies upset No. 7 Washington State in Pullman in the regular-season finale, knocking the Cougars out of the Pac-12 title game and keeping the conference from an outside chance at the CFP. The year before, the then-No. 5 Huskies lost at Arizona State in Week 7, climbed back up to No. 9 three weeks later, only to lose at Stanford. Back in 2015, the No. 7 Cardinal were clipped by the unranked Ducks on Nov. 14.”

Before Utah’s Week 5 loss at UCLA — yet another act of conference cannibalism — Whittingham said the same thing to CBS’ The DA Show.

“I think we cannibalize each other,” Whittingham said. “The same thing may happen this year. A lot of good teams in this league are capable of beating anybody else in the league on any given Saturday. So it’s tough to run the gauntlet here and you must do that if you want access to the CFP.”

He must have known his Utes had something in store for USC on Saturday.

He must have known what Saturday’s game would mean to Utah and its players.

Coming off the field following a hard-fought game, there were tears all around. On the USC side, Caleb Williams trudged off the field with his helmet peeled back and his chinstrap in his mouth, bawling his eyes out.

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid was doing the same after a career night, as he had 16 catches for 234 yards and a score. Only he wasn’t crying tears of joy.

Perhaps no team in the country has dealt with tragedy like the Utes have in recent years.

On Christmas Day 2020, star running back Ty Jordan accidentally shot and killed himself, just a day after being named conference newcomer of the year. Nine months and a day later, his childhood friend and Utes cornerback Aaron Lowe was shot and killed at a house party in Salt Lake City.

On Saturday night, the team honored their two fallen comrades, wearing helmets specially designed with tributes to both.

“This is incredible,” Whittingham said immediately after the game. “And on a night we’re honoring our two fallen teammates. And for it to go down in this fashion. This is one of the most exciting games in Rice-Eccles Stadium history.”

It was a heavy day for the Utes, and it was only made heavier by USC’s relentless offense.

USC’s first three possessions went for 75 yards, 80 yards, and 69 yards, with all three culminating in touchdowns. The Trojans scored in a blur — five plays, 1:44; four plays, 1:36; four plays, 1:37.

By the time Williams found tight end Josh Falo for a score to cap off that late second-quarter, four-play, 1:37 drive, the Trojans led 28-14. To that point, the Trojans looked like they had the game completely in hand.

Then Rising marched the Utes down the field, going 70 yards in just five plays, capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Devaughn Vele, bringing Utah to within a score heading into the second half, with possession to start the half. And the Utes did tie it on that first drive of the 3rd quarter, setting the stage for one epic finish.

And what a finish it was, even if it was soured by the loss of two terrific Trojans.

But it wasn’t injuries to Jordan Addison and Eric Gentry that decided the day.

It was two epic drives and one epic play call.

After USC scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Williams to lightly used tight end Michael Jackson III to go up 42-35, Utah got the ball back with 6 minutes, 15 seconds left. Utah then went on a clock-eating 15-play, 75-yard drive, with Rising capping off a phenomenal night with a 1-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1, followed by the game-deciding 2-point conversion.

It was the kind of call that seals fates and decides championships.

The kind of call that haunts dreams.

And the kind of call that likely keeps the Pac-12 out of the Playoff, once again.