Alright, maybe it isn’t quite that simple.
But it also is that simple, isn’t it?
There are two routes that lead to the College Football Playoff for the Ducks, and one of them is definitely to arrive at selection day with 13 wins and zero losses — leaving no doubt in the mind of the committee about the worthiness of the team.
Finishing the season as the undefeated Pac-12 champion with a win against Auburn at a neutral site to kick off the season would be a resume worthy of a top-two spot in the Playoff.
But what if the Ducks lose? What if they hit that stumble that feels so inevitable with the lack of returning production at receiver? Can the Ducks still make the Playoff?
If the Ducks don’t go undefeated in 2019, they can only stand to lose one of two games.
The first team that Oregon can afford to lose to is the Washington Huskies.
Before I have an army of devoted fans at the door of my apartment, I’d like to point out that I did not say that the Ducks will lose, only that the committee would accept a loss to Washington.
This win is contingent on the Huskies being an upper-tier team in the conference, but they must lose two conference games, allowing the Ducks to play in the conference championship game. This would be viewed as a strong loss, as long as the game is close and Washington ends the season with only two losses.
The second team that the Ducks could lose to and still make the playoffs is USC.
A loss to USC, with 11 other wins in the regular season, would be acceptable to the committee, as long as USC makes the conference championship game and the Ducks redeem themselves with a solid win in Round Two. This is the exact scenario that played out in 2014 with the Ducks and the Arizona Wildcats.
Auburn Is Not an Acceptable Loss
Losing to Auburn in Week 1 would serve only one purpose: it would further damage the perception of the entire conference.
Washington lost to an Auburn team that went on to lose FIVE games over the course of 2018, and it couldn’t have been worse for the Pac-12.
The Tigers will also be breaking in a new starting QB after losing Jarrett Stidham to the NFL. Losing an NFL-caliber QB should be enough to hinder any program, especially one that struggled to move the ball all season long.
Besides, the Ducks ended the 2018 season on a high note. They got a hard-fought win against a physical Power 5 opponent in a defensive slugfest. Sure, it was a style of play that fans in the Pacific Northwest are unaccustomed to witnessing, but the Ducks won the game, nonetheless.
If they follow that up with a week-one loss to Auburn, all the momentum built by that win would be undone.
The Ducks Need to Be Dominant
This is pretty simple; if the Ducks are going to be a one-loss playoff team from the Pac-12, they need to win 11 regular season games and their conference championship in a very convincing fashion.
If the Ducks play like Ohio State did last year, struggling to beat inferior teams, they are going to be left out of the Playoff in exactly the same fashion. Winning games by 10 or more points each week would make the Ducks look like the premier team out west, even if they lose a close, highly competitive game.
A Heisman-worthy 2019 by Justin Herbert would also go a long way toward validating the Ducks’ season, similar to how Marcus Mariota’s Heisman run did for the 2014 team.
But Herbert can’t do it alone.
A 1,000-yard rusher would make the Ducks’ offense look balanced yet again, and a top-25 defense would make a one-loss Pac-12 team look significantly more worthy of a Playoff spot than one getting by on mediocre play, beating inferior opponents.
If Troy Dye can put together yet another 100-tackle season and be in the conversation for first team All-American, and Kayvon Thibodeaux can put together a season that lives up to the immense hype surrounding him, the Ducks will undoubtedly be considered one of the most talented teams in the nation.
If they can be statistical darlings and win in a dominant fashion all year long, they should have enough leeway to drop a single game to Washington or USC and remain in the discussion for the Playoff, provided they win the conference.
Or, they could just go undefeated.
Yuma, Arizona Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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