Pac 12 championship game : Oregon dominates Arizona 51-13 to win Pac-12; next stop, playoff

Pac 12 championship game : Oregon dominates Arizona 51-13 to win Pac-12; next stop, playoff

Pac 12 Championship Game : From a fumbled kickoff the first time Arizona touched the ball, the Wildcats never got off the ground in the Pac-12 championship game.

Marcus Mariota ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more scores, and No. 3 Oregon’s defense shut down the eighth-ranked Wildcats in a 51-13 rout Friday night.

The lopsided loss could derail the Wildcats’ pursuit of a berth in one of the major New Year’s bowls and cause a shake-up in the Pac-12 postseason pairings, which will be determined Sunday.

Oregon’s fate is sealed. The Ducks are headed to the College Football Playoff — perhaps as the No. 1 seed.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Mariota, whose team avenged two losses to Arizona in the past 13 months. “Now we need to get better for whoever comes next.”

Mariota was erratic in the first half but efficient in the second, finishing with three touchdowns running and two passing. He also made the game’s biggest play, a 73-yard connection to receiver Charles Nelson that set up the second-quarter touchdown that gave Oregon command.

The performance might not have earned Mariota additional Heisman Trophy votes — he is considered the front-runner — but it probably didn’t scare off voters who planned to put him atop their ballot.

“If this guy isn’t what the Heisman is all about, I’m in the wrong profession,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

Mariota was named the most valuable player, but the star of the game was Oregon’s defense, which seemed to know exactly which play the Wildcats were going to run before the snap.

The Ducks (12-1) held Arizona to 25 total yards in the decisive first half, including minus-9 on the ground.

For the game, the Wildcats mustered just 224 yards of total offense, or less than half of what they gained (495) in their October upset of the Ducks.

“They played well, we didn’t. They out-coached us, outplayed us,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It seemed like a different reason every time that this play didn’t work and that play didn’t work.”

The lopsided defeat could prove costly for Arizona (10-3), which had designs on sneaking into the playoff with a victory.

Instead, the woeful showing raises serious questions as to whether the No. 8 Wildcats will be ranked high enough Sunday morning to be placed into one of the New Year’s bowls that aren’t part of the playoff.

“To win the Pac-12 South is a great accomplishment,” Rodriguez said. “It could be the toughest division in college football. We should be in very, very good bowl.”

The selection committee’s placement of Arizona could ripple through the conference. If the Wildcats drop out of the New Year’s games, they could be viewed as damaged goods and get passed over by the Alamo and Holiday bowls.

In that case, conference selection rules would force the Foster Farms Bowl (played at Levi’s Stadium) to select either Arizona or Arizona State.
That, in turn, would knock Stanford all the way down the Pac-12 lineup to the Cactus Bowl (Jan. 2), which has the seventh and final selection.
Stanford’s tumble, in turn, would knock Washington out of the Pac-12’s partner bowls and turn the Huskies into an at-large team, available to a bowl not affiliated with the league.

All that will be settled Sunday, beginning at 9:45 a.m. with the announcement of the playoff teams.

Until then, the story of the week in the Pac-12 is Oregon — specifically Oregon’s defense.

“We’ve gotten better weekly,” Helfrich said. “This was a completely different challenge from all the rest of the games. Our guys were dialed in tonight.”