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Oregon, Arizona battle for Pac-12 crown, bigger dreams

Antonio Gonzalez Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – National title implications, a possible Heisman Trophy at stake and a new $1.3 billion stadium to showcase the whole thing.

The Pac-12 will have the spotlight to itself tonight when No. 3 Oregon (11-1) and No. 8 Arizona (10-2) meet in the conference championship game at sparkling Levi’s Stadium.

“We have a chance to win a championship,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “And that’s pretty neat.”

The Ducks are all but guaranteed a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff with a win. The selection committee could have a hard time keeping Arizona out if the Wildcats upset Oregon for the second time this season.

For all the success the conference has enjoyed in recent years, the Pac-12 has not celebrated a national champion since USC after the 2004 season. Oregon was the last school in the conference to play for a national title, losing to Auburn in the 2011 BCS Championship in Glendale, Arizona.

The start of the playoff era is looking like it could be a big boost to the league’s fortunes.

Alabama (11-1) is No. 1, Oregon is second and TCU (10-1) is third in the playoff rankings followed by Florida State (12-0), Ohio State (11-1), Baylor (10-1) and Arizona – which jumped five spots after beating rival Arizona State last week to reach the conference championship game.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has said all along that the winner of his league – widely considered the second best in the country behind the Southeastern Conference – would be in prime position to earn a playoff berth.

“We haven’t talked about the playoff one time,” Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said. “And that’s why we’re in the opportunity to get there.”

Oregon, led by Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota, is the Pac-12’s best hope to make the playoff. The Ducks have won seven straight games by an average of 24.2 points and look like the same offensive juggernaut under coach Mark Helfrich that they were under Chip Kelly.

Arizona handed the high-flying Ducks their only loss – 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2.

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