Gateway to the Playoffs: Ducks Don’t Coug It; ‘Noles Survive Sans Winston

Oregon @ WSU  9-20-2014 288

Marcus Mariota shines under pressure in conference opener 

Marcus Mariota threw for 5 TD's and over 300 yards.

Gary Breedlove

Marcus Mariota threw for 5 TD’s and more than 300 yards.

The first road trip for the Oregon Ducks was not pretty despite managing to survive. Highlighted by seven sacks, the Washington State Cougars exposed Oregon’s obvious weakness in Week 4. With three starting linemen sitting out Saturday due to injuries, the Oregon running game never got going, and the health of Mariota became a concern. Luckily we have this Heisman candidate leading our team, and he ended up throwing five touchdowns along with making big play after big play to help the Ducks survive in Pullman.

Where’s the next pit stop for the Ducks? Well it’s simply a nice week off in Eugene as the Ducks approach their first bye weekend. But after the bye weekend, the preparation week will be short with the Arizona Wildcats coming to town for the Ducks first Thursday night game of the season.

The Wildcats are coming off one of the most exciting finishes you’ll see in college football. After trailing 31-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, Arizona capped a remarkable comeback victory with a last second Hail Mary touchdown. Led by true freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, the Wildcats are capable of keeping things close, but the Ducks will also be looking for revenge after suffering a shocking loss last season in Tucson.

The Nation’s Top Playoff Contenders

No. 1 Florida State came into the weekend biting their nails after it was announced that Heisman leader Jameis Winston was suspended for the game. However, the Seminoles fought for four quarters and came away with a 23-17 overtime win over No. 22 Clemson. Their defense proved why they’re so difficult to beat. The next toughest task for the Seminoles will be a home game against No. 8 Notre Dame.

No. 3 Alabama hosted the Florida Gators in Tuscaloosa. In what used to be a history of close match ups, the Tide ran away with this one as they went on to win, 42-21. The Tide’s schedule doesn’t get any easier however, after this bye week they have two straight road games — at No. 10 Ole Miss and Arkansas, and then a key matchup against No. 6 Texas A&M at home.

No. 4 Oklahoma was listed on upset alert as they headed to Morgantown to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Sooners must have not felt that pressure though, as they went on to win 45-33.

Coach Bill Snyder made a questionable call in Kansas States loss to No. 5 Auburn

Coach Bill Snyder made a questionable call in Kansas State’s loss to No. 5 Auburn

No. 5 Auburn was given a tough task as they went into a hostile game at Kansas State. The No. 20 Wildcats were unable to capitalize however, and punted the ball with two minutes left. Auburn went on to kill the clock and win 20-14. Up next for the Tigers will be an easy home game versus Louisiana Tech. After that they will face the tough part of their season as seven of their final eight games are against teams all ranked within the Top 20, and three in the Top 10.

Previous No. 8 LSU lost this past weekend to now No. 14 Mississippi State at home in Death Valley. This loss has likely put LSU out of contention for the Playoffs as they still have games versus Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M.

No. 7 Baylor, No. 8 Notre Dame, and No. 9 Michigan State are all on the outside looking in right now. If Baylor can beat Oklahoma then their chances will look a lot better. If Notre Dame manages to upset No. 1 FSU in a few weeks, they will have a great chance to be in the mix. Michigan State’s chances look slim now, however, even if they run the table. Most analysts believe a one-loss SEC team would make the playoffs over the one-loss Spartans.

Outlook among other Pac-12 threats

Utah had a surprising yet convincing win in the Big House as they went on to beat Michigan, 26-10. The Utes have shown they can score points and compete defensively. Up next: A home game versus Washington State.

Quarterback Sean Mannion looks to get his first victory against USC this next weekend.

Kevin Cline

Quarterback Sean Mannion looks to get his first victory against USC this next weekend.

Washington was trailing at halftime, 14-0, against FCS-turned-FBS foe Georgia State, however they responded strongly with 45 unanswered points. Up next: A home game versus No. 16 Stanford Cardinal.

Both No. 11 UCLA and No. 15 Arizona State had the weekend off but now they will face each other under the spotlight on Thursday night in Sun Devil Stadium. The winner of this game could potentially represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Oregon State had an impressive win over San Diego State in Corvallis this past weekend, but the Beavers now have to head down to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to face No. 18 USC. The Trojans haven’t lost to the Beavers at home since 1960, and will be upset after losing to Boston College two weeks ago.

Recent News in Other Fall Sports

Cross Country — The Oregon Ducks No. 3-ranked Men’s team and No. 2-ranked Women’s team have had some time off since the Bill Dellinger Invitational in Eugene at the start of the month, but this Friday both teams are headed to the East Coast for the Battle in Beantown. The meet will be hosted by Boston College.

Volleyball — After starting the season 6-0 and winning the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic, the No. 13 ranked Ducks volleyball team didn’t let off the pedal as they hosted both Michigan State and Michigan.

Led by freshman Frankie Shebby, who won Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the second week in a row, the Ducks overcame the Spartans after dropping the first set, and then swept the Wolverines in three. The Ducks then went up to Portland State where they won 3-1. Up next for the volleyball team is a match against Seattle before they begin Pac-12 conference play, which begins with a home match versus in-state rival Oregon State.

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Evan Gilges

Evan Gilges

Evan Gilges is a senior at the University of Oregon, majoring in journalism and minoring in business. While growing up in the northwest, he grew a love for sports and the outdoors. Throughout high school he developed a passion for writing, photography, and editing. Someday he hopes to work for a magazine as a writer or photographer, and then later on he would like to teach journalism in high school and write children's novels.