Uncharted Territory on the Path of Unfathomability

It is a run of historically unprecedented success for the Ducks. Five straight eleven-win seasons. Seven straight ten-win seasons. Four consecutive BCS bowl appearances during that run. Yet in every season going back nearly a decade, Oregon’s success has often come in spite of its play in November rather than because of it.  Consider these November speedbumps:

2006: 7-2 after a November 4th win over Washington, team fails to win again, finishes 7-6.
2007: 8-1 and ranked second in mid-November before losing final three regular season games.
2008: Loss to California, 26-16.
2009: Loss to Stanford, 51-42.
2010: Only unblemished November in past nine seasons, but only scored one offensive touchdown in 15-13 win over a five-win Cal team.
2011: Home loss to USC, 38-35.
2012: Undefeated season ends with home loss to Stanford, 17-14.
2013: Undefeated season ends with loss to Stanford, 26-20. Rose Bowl hopes later dashed with a 42-16 loss to Arizona.

This phenomenon is the origin of the average Oregon fan’s skepticism about a happy ending for each season.  Despite all the success in recent seasons, November has seen the Ducks caught from behind rather than running other teams down at season’s end.

In 2014, instead of merely surviving November, the Ducks have thrived in it.

Byron Marshall was a big part of Oregon's 47-19 win in the Civil War.

Kevin Cline

Byron Marshall was a big part of Oregon’s 47-19 win in the Civil War.

The Ducks started the month by getting their first win as a program on November 1st since 1986, and in doing so, they didn’t just solve their alleged “Stanford problem” — they throttled it to the tune of 45-16, and in the process gained their first win over their nemesis in the North since 2011.

The win over Stanford was big, but everything about the following week’s contest screamed trap game: playing on the road, at altitude, the week following an emotional win against a physical opponent. The team even tried to tempt fate by wearing the same uniform combo they wore in last year’s loss to Stanford.

For a quarter, it looked like that might be the case, with Oregon appearing to go down 14-0 early in the second quarter. Of course, we all know what happened next.  Instead of another heartbreaking late season loss, the Ducks ran away with a 24 point win, in which Utah’s turf proved a greater impediment to Oregon’s postseason chances than the Utes themselves.

After locking up the North with the Utah win, Oregon could have let down in one of its two remaining games against Colorado and Oregon State. Instead, the Ducks jumped out to 30-3 halftime leads in both contests, never allowing their outcomes to be in doubt. During Saturday night’s Civil War, Oregon found itself looking like a world beater at times throughout the game. The easy joke would be that Oregon State could do that to any team, but seeing the Ducks trend up as the regular season concluded, particularly after last season, was a welcome sight.

Ducks exit Reser Stadium after winning their fourth straight game in Corvallis.

Kevin Cline

Ducks exit Reser Stadium after winning their fourth straight game in Corvallis.

Which brings us to Oregon’s potential remaining schedule.

While Friday’s opponent remains the only certain game left for the Ducks (beyond an undefined bowl or playoff opponent), if the majority of this weekend’s outcomes play out in line with their likely outcomes, there is one scenario that fits a narrative so perfect it is nearly unfathomable that such a string of games would be made available.

Of course, it won’t happen because what we love about college football as a sport is that the likeliest series of outcomes never happens, but if somehow this statistically likely scenario were to play out, this would be Oregon’s remaining schedule:

Arizona, Florida State, and Alabama.

To be clear, I’m not saying this will happen or even that I expect it to happen. The above schedule is incredibly presumptive, relying not only on Oregon to win two very difficult games, one against the team that has handed the Ducks their last two losses, the other being the defending national champions who haven’t lost since Chip Kelly was Oregon’s coach, but also relying on all the other favored teams winning their final weekend games as well. Given what we know and have seen about every other final weekend in recent college football history, even if Oregon wins, enough shifts in the landscape by other losses could alter this path. Rather, this is merely the statistically likely path, given:

  • Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State have all been ranked 1-2-3 for two consecutive weeks, and unless one of those three teams loses, should remain that way through the final rankings. Even if Oregon and Florida State switch spots, the schedule would remain the same.
  • Alabama, Oregon and Florida State are all favored in their conference championship games this weekend.
  • Given the outcomes of recent games, were Oregon to play Florida State, Oregon would likely be the Vegas favorite.

Now that we have covered that disclaimer and discussed that it won’t happen even though likelihood dictates it should, let’s examine that schedule:

Ducks hope the third time will be a charm against Arizona on Friday.

Craig Strobeck

Ducks hope the third time will be a charm against Arizona on Friday.

12/5/14: Arizona. The third meeting of these two teams in 54 weeks gives Oregon a chance at revenge on the team that not only submarined its 2013 season, but tried to do the same to its 2014 season. The toughest realization of this year’s loss to the Wildcats was the presumptive lack of opportunity for redemption, given that the two teams don’t meet again in the regular season until 2017. Oregon has been given another chance to redeem itself when that opportunity had been thought to be lost.

1/1/15: Florida State. The first ever college football playoff game could pit the Ducks against the devil’s team with a backdrop of one of the most picturesque settings in sports, the Rose Bowl.  Given my (and most of the nation’s) disdain for Florida State combined with the stakes available to the winner, this would be a dream matchup, provided I could avoid passing out from emotional overload at the prospect of it. If the Ducks could prevail, that would mean a matchup with…

1/12/15: Alabama. A national championship game of Oregon vs. Alabama that college football fans have wanted for so long that it would be so perfect the college football gods may never allow it. The chance to play the SEC team of the past decade on the biggest stage in college football with a national championship on the line would be the ultimate opportunity for an Oregon team to slay its many demons it faced while knocking on the door of a championship for so long.

The Duck celebrates another 11 win season.

Kevin Cline

The Duck celebrates another 11 win season.

It’s a path to redemption and triumph so perfect it seems nearly unfathomable.  Yet in a college football climate where the unpredictable is the only reliable outcome, maybe this is the one year that the predictable will happen, and that the unfathomable path will emerge. But don’t try to predict what will happen next. The Ducks are in uncharted territory after a flawless November.  Just know that wherever those outcomes take the Ducks, they appear ready to face them.

Top image by Kevin Cline.

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