Can Oregon Break Up the Playoff Status Quo?

David Marsh Editorials 39 Comments

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College football is getting less competitive. The playoff’s goal was to expand the number of teams that could compete for the national championship every year by widening the field from two to four. Not much of a playoff, and it seems even less so with a cast of four usual suspects: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. These four teams have combined for 17 of the 24 total playoff berths. That’s 71%!

In any given year, there seem to be only three teams who are real contenders to win the national championship, with a fourth team invited to fill out the playoff bracket. Oklahoma has benefited greatly from the playoff format, as they often seem to sneak into the playoff over a two-loss team, only to get demolished in the semi-final game.

However, just making the playoff comes with great rewards. Not only is there a monetary payout, but arguably the biggest benefit is a recruitment boost. Many high-ranking recruits love the idea of playing for a national championship, and they have to get into the playoff to have a shot at it. This in turn leads to the playoff teams bringing in some of the best recruiting classes, and thus the cycle continues.

Craig Strobeck

Florida State was woefully outmatched by Oregon in the inaugural Semi-Final game.

In the College Football Playoff era two teams have really dominated: Alabama and Clemson. Both of these schools have only missed one playoff of the six played so far: Clemson in 2014 and Alabama in 2019. These schools have also consistently been atop the recruitment rankings, and neither seem to be slowing down.

How is this cycle going to end? What is going to break the status quo of only the same few teams being invited to the playoff?

Getting the Pac-12 Involved

Out of the Power Five Conferences, the Pac-12 has been considered the weakest. The Pac-12 hasn’t produced a playoff team since Washington in the 2016-17 season, and hasn’t reached the National Championship Game since Oregon did it in 2014-15. Oklahoma has been the greatest benefactor of this, as they have managed to sneak into the last three playoffs after the Pac-12 teams cannibalized one another. In the latest occurrence of this in 2019, Oregon was eliminated by losing to ASU and then Oregon eliminated Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game. Well done Pac-12!

Oregon and USC are two Pac-12 that could be playoff contenders. Oregon’s recruiting is reached heights it has never seen before, and as long as Mario Cristobal is at Oregon it is reasonable to believe the great recruiting classes will continue. If Oregon can gain a stranglehold on the conference and, more importantly, make it through the season with no more than one loss the Ducks will contend for a playoff berth.

Eugene Johnson

Is USC even a playoff contender?

USC has tradition on its side, and their 2021 recruiting class is looking strong. However, USC has only won the conference once in the past decade and was demolished last year in its game against Oregon. USC continues to be a team on the verge of a return to greatness, though it is unlikely that it will be the next Pac-12 team to break into the College Football Playoff.

For the Pac-12 to reach the playoff, Oregon must become the Clemson of the Pac-12. The ACC is actually a weaker football conference than the Pac-12 except for Clemson, the team at the top. If Oregon can reach the playoff for consecutive years the other Power Five conferences will feel it, especially the Big 12.

The reason why the Pac-12 has been left out has been due to Larry Scott’s failed leadership. Scott has weakened the Pac-12, and the other Power Five conferences don’t see the benefit of rushing to expand the playoff when their teams are currently making it in. Oregon can change that by “stealing” a playoff berth from another Power Five conference, in particular the Big 12 as they would be the most likely conference left out. At that point there would be increased pressure to expand the playoff to eight teams.

Dave Peaks

Oregon needs to make a return to the National Championship game.

An eight-team playoff would be the most effective way of breaking  the current status quo. If each Power Five champion had a guaranteed playoff berth it would increase the number of potential contenders. This could in turn lead to the recruiting status quo beginning to crack, as top-tier talent would have more viable options in their pursuit of playing for a national championship.

The College Football Playoff will expand to eight teams at some point, there is simply too much money in it to ignore. The Pac-12 could wait passively for the system to change, or a team could step up and break the system. Cristobal and Oregon don’t seem to have any intention of waiting around for things to change. Can the Pac-12 really afford to wait for change, or will Oregon have to crash the party?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Craig Strobeck 

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I had to shut down the daily articles on July 20th because I could no longer work the extra 3 to 12 hours per week of certain managerial/editorial duties. (beyond the usual ones with FishDuck)

I’ve had a blast writing without those duties, and now, due to a new agreement with the writers, I can announce that we will have articles seven days a week again. I wish to thank the writers publicly for their graciousness in coming to a solution, as now I still do not have do those extra duties with our agreement, and meanwhile the writers are back having fun creating articles as I am.

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I would re-phrase the question to: Can Oregon put a complete team together?

2007 – injuries
2010 – inferior linemen
2012 – a bad loss to a conf opponent (Stanford) kept them out
2014 – poor linebacking and Elliot ran wild, Mariota didn’t have a great game either that day
2019 – showing playoff potential and then a bad loss to Az St, but lame playcalling left over from last year
2020 – best left tackle ever at Oregon “retires” from college football – such a loss that I already write it down

It’s NOT the other conferences. It’s NOT the administrators. It IS Oregon and their lack of ability to put a COMPLETE team together.

ONE GUY cannot win college football like Jordan or James in the NBA.

The most complete team wins. See LSU last year – and that includes the offensive scheme.

Before coronavirus stuff, I gave Oregon a chance at a championship. But now, without Sewell, they have at best just a longshot.

With the way recruiting is going, Oregon can be the next Oklahoma – get in but not do much as long as they can keep winning the pac12 and not lose non conf games early in the season.

Then taking it to the next level and beating the likes of Ohio St, Alabama, Clemson will require a massive uptick in recruiting. Oregon will need 5 star guys, not 4 star guys to get to that level.

None of the other drama matters.

Mike West

Your college playoff team should look as close to an NFL team as possible. Fast Hard Finish. Big, strong, fierce…intimidating. Style is no replacement for substance. Ever. Do you see the words that are written on this forum Memphis, Cinci and UCF? You don’t look like, those kind of teams, and wouldn’t survive even the PAC12 week in and week out.

Life isn’t fair. TCU and Utah have pretty much settled the question of whether UCF, Cinci, and Memphis could handle a P5 conference schedule. And someone please tell me what left out team in the last seven years could beat the Georgia team that just got whupped by Bama on Saturday. Conference champs especially.

Sad to say, but the year Bama lost their division and reached the playoffs was the most legit decision ever. They were WAAAAAAAAY BETTER than everyone else. Wasn’t even close. I never want to see another Oklahoma team with no defense reach the playoff. It’s fraud. By that premise, conference champs like last year’s Ducks, who lost to third place SEC West Auburn, and edged out third best Big Ten Wisconsin are not qualified.

Why do we keep having this discussion about fairness. Elite teams beat lesser opponents up FAIR AND SQUARE. All this talk about conference titles makes me think of little league trophies for participants as well as difference makers.

The only major sport that still holds interest all season is college football. Why? Because teams can’t afford to lose. The playoffs start Mid October. That is why the four best makes sense. Win or go home. Bowl season is for the pretenders. Let’s never forget that.


Georgia has a bad QB. Some Penn St teams not too long ago could have beaten them, but just because of the QB play.

Oklahoma looks like they have some pretty good defensive players (by the eye test). Grinch is sucking at Oklahoma like Chip Kelly is sucking at UCLA. Two over-rated coaches.

Jon Sousa

Late to the party, I know.

I think that it is very encouraging that USC has the 4th ranked recruiting ranking in the country. If USC and Oregon can both stay in the top 7 most years, that would set up a dream scenario for the PAC getting “IN” every year. With Oregon winning the North and USC the South, it makes for some epic championship games and an epic developing rivalry. The PAC 12 Championship game could frequently be between two top 10 teams.

With USC’s long term history and Oregon’s short term history, either one would make the POs with only one loss.


Dont’e Thornton, nation’s No. 6 wide receiver and key Oregon Ducks target, sets commitment date


The Pac-12 champ is not getting in unless the other P5s only play 7-8 games. Politically, it won’t fly. Others running a marathon. Pac-12 running a half.

Jon Joseph

I’ve got to go with you, 30 and the Pac-12 guru, Jon Wilner.

Playing for a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2020.


The short answer to the article is yes. The pursuit of excellence is always worthwhile and the ultimate prize is a National Championship. However, I think the current 4 team playoff long term hurts college football. It either needs to be expanded, or eliminated.

College football is expensive. For a college to field a team requires a tremendous amount of cash flow. To become a perennial title contender requires even more money. A small college with limited alumni support has a difficult time surviving. Le


Oops…didn’t finish…

My take is that the sport needs to change to stay viable. Otherwise, I can see many schools being forced to drop the sport.


A big drawback to this completely fair and logical plan to get the best teams competing for the championship is that ESPN won’t be able to put on its, “Are You In?” show every week. Of course there’s no actual suspense, ESPN milks it for all its worth. This plan cuts all that out.


We’ll have to disagree on whether 4 out of all the teams getting picked, or 5 teams filling arranged slots, a G5 team and two at large teams create more drama.


Interesting note, Oregon’s football team, back in the day, was a drain on the athletic department. Times have changed for Oregon’s Athletic Department, but the financial costs of falling behind are huge.


Does Scott Suck, Sure! but I don’t think we can entirely blame him for the lack of p12 in the playoffs. Every single year the leading pac 12 team fails to make its way into the playoffs. Oregon lost to ASU, not scott. in 15 Stanford lost to oregon. In 18 your pac 12 champion was 10-4, in 2017: 11-3.

Scott isn’t responsible for the 10-4 or 11-3 champions. that belongs to the pac and while you can blame the schedule and the 9 game conference, that doesn’t belong to scott either, that’d have to be passed of by the Presidents.

He stinks ar marketing the conference, he stinks as a TV executive and securing revenue for the conference but he absolutely can’t be to blame for 10-3 conference champs.

outside of 14-15 season with oregon and the 16-17 season with washington no pac 12 team has passed the threshold of undefeated or one loss conference champion. and I believe all but one team has made it in under this premise(Georgia in 2018)


When you realize that college football is about money then you can see how Lazy Larry is helping to prevent the Pac-12 schools from winning more. His decisions take away much need revenue from the schools that could be used to buy better coaches, increase recruiting from the East and keeping the Western 5 stars in house. The more money a school has the better it plays (if it cares about football). Lazy Larry takes away that money from the schools so he can make his 5+ million dollars a year, also wasted money on the losing Pac-12 TV network. On and on.

Winning games is what its all about but if you can not keep up with the coaching salaries you don’t get the good coaches and you don’t win as much. Just look at how many schools out there pay their head coach much more than we pay Cristobal. Lazy Larry takes away money from the schools and wastes it.


I think it also comes down to coaching. Recruiting is one element, but sc proves you can have the horse that might win the race, but you need the jockey to make it go.

The question is did Cristobal make the move that will allow our offense, to again, out run the other teams? The other question is will Cristobal stay out of the way of Moorhead? Coach O learned that lesson and won a natty.

I think Oregon can break up the status quo, but they need to break the routine Cristobal goes through during the offensive play calling.

I also think the reason Larry still has a job is smart people have a hard time saying they were wrong. I have seen it over and over when smart people make a bad decision they have a hard time changing. Fortunately, and unfortunately Larry is doing everything he can to make that decision easier.


Interesting observations Haywarduck.


Great points, Hayward, about whether smart people can be smart enough to do the smart thing and change their minds.


Can they admit they were wrong and still protect their, most important, aura of intelligence.

It is interesting we have the Pac-12 guys trying to look smart by hiring an Ivy League guy. We then have the Ivy League guy trying to impress by overspending and over-projecting what he can do. Hopefully the Ivy leaguers overreach will provide the fodder to end his reign of destruction on the league of champions!


We can only hope!

Jon Joseph

Terrific take. Thank you.

Oklahoma is 0-4 but did play 1 very close PO game when it lost to UGA in double OT in the Rose Bowl.

OK lost at K St last season but made the final 4. I’d argue the L vs Auburn that Oregon suffered in 2019 was more impactful than the ASU loss? Especially when taking into consideration that no Pac-12 team has run the conference schedule since CU and Utah joined. In the initial playoff season when Oregon got in, it lost a conference game but it also defeated Michigan State at home in a big time OOC game.

It would have been very interesting last season to see which of 1 L Oregon and 1 L Oklahoma was picked for the final 4? Oregon had an impressive champ game win but OK finished with one more top 25 win.. And therein, as you noted David, lies one of the Pac-12 playoff rubs. You either need strong in-conference competition (pathetic that only 3 Pac-12 teams won 8 or more games last season) or. like Clemson, you have to routinely blow out weak conference foes. You cannot struggle against teams like last season’s Wazzu and Oregon State. You have to destroy these teams. And if you play a mid-level SEC team OOC you have to win. Like Clemson routinely defeats South Carolina and last season defeated A+M.

I do believe the PO will go to an 8 team field. And with the COVID financial hit, this could happen before 2026 when the current deal expires? But I am not certain this will significantly change the recruiting calculus for conference champs who get in but do not advance. I think an 8 team field will likely mean 2 SEC teams in the field year after year with the B1G also having a good shot to get 2 teams in the field.

Can Oregon playing in a conference that plays many games late at night on a joke of a network, struggles against quality OOC opponents, insists on playing 9 conference games and is not stellar in its post season games, get in? More importantly, like Clemson, can the Ducks routinely make the final 4 and advance to play for a title?

The recruiting is there. Next season Oregon will have an SP+ ‘championship roster’ with more than 50% of the players being 4 and 5 star recruits. But will the in-game coaching be there? Many schools recruit well, see for example Tennessee under Butch Jones, but cannot translate recruiting success to on-field success.

You will never bring your ‘A game’ in every game in a 12 game season. But you cannot completely no show against lesser opponents.

Thanks again, great stuff.


Also of note, the year Oregon got in, it also beat (in the conference championship game) the only team that had beaten them that season: Arizona. So, alongside Florida State, Oregon was the only other squad who had beaten every team they’d played that season.

Jon Joseph

Great point, thanks.


A very interesting article David. You bring us 5 points to ponder, so let’s take them one at a time and look them over.

1) You said “The playoff’s goal was to expand the number of teams that could compete for the national championship every year by widening the field from two to four”. I thought the reason the national championship was expanded to 4 was to get rid of the two team selection by the different biased “polls” that were in place. Thus changing the decision from being in the minds of sportscasters to a decision made on the field of play.

2) You said “If Oregon can gain a stranglehold on the conference and, more importantly, make it through the season with no more than one loss the Ducks will contend for a playoff berth”. In most past years that would be true, this year it may not be, and even then a no loss Pac-12 team may not be enough. (as you correctly point out, thanks to Larry Scott)

3) You said The ACC is actually a weaker football conference than the Pac-12 except for Clemson, the team at the top”. Would someone tell me once again why strength of schedule does not seem to matter when it comes to Clemson ??

4) You said “The reason why the Pac-12 has been left out has been due to Larry Scott’s failed leadership. Scott has weakened the Pac-12”. You are so correct here. Which beg’s the question “why are the powers to be not seeing this and replacing Larry Scott” ?? And more importantly “Why isn’t anyone pressuring the powers to be to make the change” ?? There has been many articles about Lazy Larrys problems, inside FishDuck and outside of it, but here we sit discussing the same Larry Scott problem over and over again and no change in sight. I’m tired of words without action. We need to pressure those that need to apply pressure. I’m sure the University of Oregon has some say about Larrys future so let’s put pressure on that person who has the say in it.

5) You said “Can the Pac-12 really afford to wait for change, or will Oregon have to crash the party?” No we can not wait, nor should we. Oregon has and does lead the Pac-12 conference, however if Oregon can not make it because of the Pac-12 weakness then Oregon needs to leave the Pac-12 conference. Period.

Thanks again David for brining us this article, its been enjoyable.


Thanks, David & BDF, removing the bias of the original BCS poll, computer selection process, and replacing it with the, Committee” was the lofty idea behind the format change. Ha, good one!!!. The “ESPN, Dr.Pepper Invitational” , “Are You In?” has been nothing but a pageant for ESPN and the teams it wants to showcase.

Clemson is Boise State if it had gotten a chance to play for the title. Nobody has gamed a system better than has Clemson when it comes to the “Playoffs”.

Oregon will get no favors from the “Committee”. The SOS, which of course doesn’t hurt Clemson, will keep Oregon at arms length from competing for a title. Undefeated Clemson? “Come on down!” Undefeated Oregon? “Yeah, don’t think so, nice try though”.

And you’re right. The “Committee” couldn’t care less that the Pac-12 is the last of the P5’s to start playing this season, “no changes to the playoff protocol” was the directive. If the SEC or Clemson was delayed, every concession to make it work would have been considered, until ultimately, Alabama & Clemson would have settled it with a Winner Take All Championship Game. Most likely, unless Scott Frost and the “Huskers can beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, Oregon won’t make it to the Final Four this season.. If they don’t make it next season, The Duck should definitely look for accommodations other than the Pac-12.


You are so right on all counts.

Jon Joseph

Interesting. Jerry Palm at CBS Sports still has Oregon playing Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. He has taken a lot of flak for this projection as he went out of his way this week to justify the Oregon pick. (BTW- Palm is a Bama grad.)

He believes that a 7-0 Oregon will not be excluded. I tend to go your way here 30, I do not see a 7-0 Ducks taking a spot from a 1L SEC runner-up. Bama’s remaining schedule is a piece of cake before a likely re-match with UGA in the SEC Champ game. If UGA runs the rest of the table and hangs with Bama in the champ game could a 2L UGA get in?

I’ll come with the remainder of this weeks wagers on Friday but before the line mover in Minnesota’s favor I got down on the Gophers +3 playing at home against Michigan. Minnesota returns the B1G’s leading passer from 2019 in Tanner Morgan. Morgan threw for more yards than did Fields. And Minnesota’s top receiver, Bateman, opted back in after opting out. Michigan will have a new starter at QB, I’m rowing the boat.

Other Palm projected Pac-12 bowl games are as follows.

Fiesta – USC vs Boise St

Alamo – ASU vs Iowa St

Sun – Stanford vs BC

Holiday – UW vs VA Tech

Independence – Oregon State vs Army

LA – CAL vs San Diego State

Jon Joseph

Sorry, I missed the Las Vegas Bowl – Utah vs Auburn


Jon, call me cynical, but I think that Bama Paul’s projection of Oregon is more the desire of a “Picker” to go outside the box, than an actual valid belief.

Jon Joseph

Good call.

Jon Joseph

BDF, I believe the real reason the Playoff expanded and will expand again is $.

Clemson had the 66 ranked SOS last season but it also went 13-0. A lot of ‘stuff’ would have to happen for an undefeated P5 conference champ not to get in. Especially, a team with 2 wins over SEC teams, as Clemson accomplished last season

Larry needs to go. But how do you pressure his clueless bosses? How much face does the conference have to lose nationally, the latest example being the payment of big bonuses just before layoffs at the network, before these folks wake up?

Are they savvy enough to fire the commissioner and network president prior to the media deals being renegotiated in 2024? I have serious doubts.

But I believe this issue goes beyond the leadership of the conference. How invested are the Pac-12 teams beyond Oregon, USC and UW in being a national ‘player?’ The head honcho at UCLA has never attended a UCLA football game.

The logical big business move would be to merge with the B12 with WSU, OR ST (both IMO would be better off in the MW where their budgets for athletics would be a better fit,) IA ST and W VA, both too far east, left behind. To BK the Pac-12 Network and expand the LHN to cover the entire the new 18 team conference, with ESPN staying as owner/operator of the network. To get conference offices the heck out of San Francisco and for B12 Commish Bob Bowlsby, to stay on as the conference commissioner.

But the folks calling the shots are not business people.


Their is enough time to be able to not renew Larrys contract and get a replacement in before the TV deal gets renegotiated. Its tight but very do-able, if they want to. The problem is that the presidents don’t want to unless we can highlight in the press the fact that the presidents are not doing their job in keeping him. Some very pointed articles naming names and pointing fingers, might do it.

Love your idea of how the Pac teams could move on to new places in order to finally dump this dinosaur of a conference. My bags are already packed.


Would someone tell me once again why strength of schedule does not seem to matter when it comes to Clemson ??

Clemson is so good, that strength of schedule doesn’t matter. They have a great defensive line. They move the ball at will. Their DBs and linebackers are fast and rarely are out of position. They have great receivers.

In short, just one look at them, and you know they are a top 3 team.

Did you see what they did to Miami? And Miami is actually pretty good.