Two weeks ago, the Oregon Ducks endured one of the toughest losses in recent memory when they fell to the Stanford Cardinal, 20-26, to move to No. 6 in the BCS standings.
As frustrating as this loss was, the following media attention hurts nearly as much. “The Ducks can’t win the big game.” “Oregon’s gimmicky offense will always fall to traditional teams.” “The Ducks are doomed without Chip Kelly.” These were the common themes echoing across college football nation.
Luckily for the Ducks, recent history indicates that they are far from out of the picture. In fact, the Stanford loss to USC gave control right back to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. Should Oregon win out, a Rose Bowl berth, likely against Ohio State, is the worst-case scenario. Not too shabby, Duck fans.
Even Alabama still has to play Auburn and the winner of the SEC East in the conference championship game. Florida State still has to win the ACC, while their Heisman-caliber quarterback deals with an impending sexual assault investigation. Ohio State still has to get through Michigan at the Big House.
Though they no longer control their destiny in the national title hunt, the door very well may open for the Ducks to step right back into the big picture. After all, recent history has seen no shortage of late-season shakeups in the national standings.
In 2010, a 10-0 Boise State squad was causing controversy atop the national standings due to its dominant wins against a very weak schedule. However, the Broncos fell in Week 13 to Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada team, pushing them out of the Top-10 and national championship conversation.
In 2011, No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State after a 10-0 start, opening the door for a one-loss Alabama team to step back into the national title game, which became a rematch against LSU.
Last season, Oregon was among a large string of late-season losses by top teams in a two-week span. Alabama fell to Texas A&M, and a week later Baylor and Stanford upset Kansas State and Oregon, respectively.
Even after that late loss, the Ducks had a shot to get back into the title game. All they needed was for USC to beat
Notre Dame, Florida State to beat Florida, and for UCLA to beat Stanford in the final week of the regular season.
While that may seem like a lot, the chances of that exact set of circumstances would not have been very surprising. Unfortunately for Oregon, injured quarterbacks and a hot Stanford team kept that situation from playing out. Still, it demonstrates how much can happen in the final week of the season.
This year, the Ducks may have lost early enough to make their way back into the title hunt. With the Stanford loss to USC, Oregon moved back up to No. 5 in the nation, making them the highest-rated one-loss team in the BCS. On top of that, as was previously noted, each team ahead of Oregon still has plenty of challenges ahead of them.
The Ducks have made a habit out of bouncing back from tough losses since the dawn of the Chip Kelly era. To find the last time that Oregon lost back-to-back games, one would have to go back to the 2007 season, when the Ducks lost three straight to end the season. This was in the wake of losing quarterback Dennis Dixon for the year (here I exclude the consecutive losses to Auburn and LSU as they spanned two different seasons).
The fact is that many top teams lose late. The Ducks learned this the hard way last year, losing to Stanford only a week after Alabama fell to Texas A&M, allowing the Tide to waltz right back into the national championship picture. This year, Oregon may have lost early enough to move right back up should any number of the teams above them fall in the final few weeks of the year.
To get to the national championship game, absolutely everything has to go your way. Well, unless you are in the SEC, where lately the norm has been to be granted a mulligan and still head to the title game. Fair enough, SEC teams do play some tough schedules.
This year, the SEC has eaten itself alive, and Alabama remains the only undefeated team in the conference. Missouri and Auburn are the only teams with one loss while everyone else has at least two. That means, should each team ahead of Oregon lose, the Ducks could easily receive the nod to head back into the NCG, despite not being in the SEC.
There is plenty of time for this all to play out, with two weeks remaining in the regular season. Still, the Ducks need to do their part. They got off to a good start, rebounding this past weekend with a 44-21 win over Utah behind a virtually one-legged QB, and they’ll have to carry that momentum into the final weeks of the season.
The Ducks may not control their own destiny in the national title picture, but they can certainly be seen within that frame. Three more wins will put Oregon back into the Rose Bowl, an accomplishment to be extremely proud of. However, if recent history has anything to say about it, there remains a chance that those three wins will put the Ducks back into the big one.