On paper, the Ducks are a lock. Ranked No. 4 in the initial Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the AP poll, Oregon seems to control its own destiny in its bid to participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff. However, any casual fan of college football knows that there is no way some coaches, pundits, and computers can even come close to predicting what will truly happen over the course of the season. By the end of the season, chances are that at least one of the four designated teams are either ranked low in the polls are not ranked at all. Heck, isn’t that why the BCS was annihilated anyway? Here’s how Oregon must approach its schedule if it wants to prove its worth atop the polls.
1. Win one out of two games against top ten opponents.
The most challenging games according to the AP and Coaches Polls will be UCLA (7) and Michigan State (8). Two games versus top ten opponents will certainly be
favorable when the playoff committee evaluates each team’s strength of schedule. Considering another game versus Stanford (11) as well, a one-loss Oregon team should be able to grab a spot in the top four as long a it comes against either UCLA or Michigan State. Oregon breezed past UCLA last season in a 42-14 rout, which will make the Ducks favorites to win again this October despite the fact that they will be on the road. With this in mind, a win in the early September game against Michigan State would be an incredible confidence booster for the team and allow for a larger margin of error the rest of the season.
2. Solve the Stanford Problem
For two consecutive seasons, the Cardinal has been the main obstacle standing in the way of Oregon’s national championship run. In 2012, Stanford’s pro-style offense and ability to stop some of Oregon’s offensive plays in the backfield allowed it to squeeze out a 17-14 victory in overtime. Heading into the 2013 season, the Ducks hoped they were prepared to counter Stanford’s power running game. To put it in simple terms, they weren’t.
Prior to a late comeback that almost salvaged the game, the Cardinal embarrassed Oregon by lining up in obvious run formations and picking up numerous first downs en route to an impressive lead in the fourth quarter. The simplicity with which Stanford manhandled the Ducks in the running game led many to question whether Oregon would ever be able defeat an elite team that values strength over speed. If Oregon can leap over this mental and physical hurdle, it would considerably improve its confidence when playing against teams in the SEC, such as Alabama, come playoff time.
3. “Every game is Oregon’s Super Bowl.”
The Ducks must live by the words that their former coach, Chip Kelly, would often utter. In college football, upsets can occur as frequently as an Oregon rain
shower. Though the tendency may be to focus on the three most important games of the season, nine other teams will view their matchup with the Ducks as a highlight on their schedule. Additionally, Oregon must not let one loss deflate them. Especially with this year’s playoff format and the Ducks’ improved strength of schedule, one loss does not necessarily eliminate them from the National Title conversation.
In all likelihood, the loss to Arizona and close call against Oregon State last season would not have happened if Oregon was still undefeated. In this crazy sport, any team that is somewhat close to contention could conceivably enter the playoff picture after one big upset. Oregon must have the mental fortitude to guard against this type deflating loss. On the other hand, it should be aware that even with one or maybe even two losses, they must continue to fight and let the scores play out.
Top Photo: Kevin Cline
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