Oregon’s Path to the Playoff Is Riddled with Potholes

David Marsh Editorials 35 Comments

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Oregon can make the College Football Playoff in 2020 despite a a shortened season. Their path, however, is narrow, and the Ducks will require help.

What Oregon has control over is two things: win and win big. Oregon cannot afford to win games by only one score this year. If Mario Cristobal and company are serious about making the playoff, they will need style points.

This will mean a defense that holds opponents under twenty points — ideally under ten, as we saw Oregon’s defense do against Stanford, Cal and Colorado last year. On the other side of the ball, it will require Cristobal to turn Joe Moorhead loose so the offense can score heaps of points. Oregon cannot afford to leave any doubt about their dominance.

One thing Oregon has on their side is hype. Upon the announcement of the return of Pac-12 Football in the fall, the following AP Top 25 poll included Oregon as the only Pac-12 team. They have since been joined by USC. In addition, Oregon has been included in at least one playoff prediction. This hype means people will be watching, and getting the attention of the committee members is vital to making the cut for a playoff berth.

Eugene Johnson

A Rose Bowl win was nice, but as fans, we want more.

What Oregon Needs to Happen

Assuming Oregon takes care of business and wins out in a dominant fashion, Oregon is still going to need other teams to lose to make their path to the playoff possible.

The Big-12 has already done a fine job opening the door for Oregon by eliminating many of their top teams from playoff contention. Oklahoma and Texas are both sitting with two losses and are effectively out of the running.

Oklahoma State remains a potential barrier, as they remain undefeated. However, Oklahoma State has been unimpressive offensively so far, and though their defense is currently highly ranked, they have a relatively small sample size against some of the weaker Big-12 teams. The first test will come this weekend when Oklahoma State plays Texas, so Oregon fans should root for Texas in this one.


The Red River Rivalry certainly caused a lot of chaos this year.

Notre Dame, this year, is effectively a full ACC member and has so far made it through their schedule without any real problems, though that won’t last. Clemson, the reigning power in the ACC, doesn’t have any challengers, and Notre Dame is unlikely to be much more than a bump in their road to the playoff.

Furthermore, if Notre Dame were to make it through the rest of their schedule unscathed, they would have to play Clemson again in the ACC Conference Championship game, which they are eligible for this year.

The ACC should produce only one playoff team this year: Clemson.

As for the B1G, Ohio State is the obvious team to root against. Though Ohio State is likely to take care of business and earn a playoff spot, they did look vulnerable in the first half of their season opener against Nebraska. However, in the second half, it was clear Ohio State was the superior team. Penn State was supposed to create a challenge for Ohio State in week two, but Penn State dropped their first game of the season and does not look like Ohio State’s equal.

John Giustina

Oregon would love another shot at Ohio State in the playoff.

The Complicated SEC

That leaves the SEC and the myriad of potential roadblocks for Oregon — namely, does the SEC get two teams into the playoff?

The previous time the SEC got two teams into the playoff was when Alabama lost the Iron Bowl to Auburn during the 2017-18 season, and Auburn represented the SEC West at the Championship Game. There, Auburn lost to Georgia, and Georgia was the SEC Champion and got the playoff invite. Alabama got an invite as the highest ranked one-loss team.

This year is a bit different, but equally as complicated.

Alabama played Georgia already this year and Alabama completely dominated the second half of that game, winning 41 to 24. However, Georgia is still the favorite to win in the SEC East. Theoretically, if Georgia were to win the East and beat Alabama in a rematch in the SEC Championship game there is a legitimate argument that both teams deserve to be in the playoff.

This would be bad for Oregon.

Georgia FB Twitter

The Bulldogs have had strong outings outside of their lost to the Tide

Georgia is still scheduled to play Florida, though this last weekend, Florida missed its second game due to COVID, and Georgia missed its first due to COVID. Florida has looked good this season, but not great, and with a COVID outbreak, they have also lost practice time. Georgia would probably have the edge in their matchup later in the year.

If Georgia reaches the SEC Championship and loses to Alabama again, that would shut down the argument that Georgia is worthy of a playoff berth, as they would have lost to Alabama twice. The reason why Alabama was able to sneak into the 2017-18 playoff as the second SEC team was they had the argument of not playing Georgia.

Pac-12 Factors

Root for the Pac-12 and, most importantly, the Pac-12 South leader, whether that is USC, ASU or Utah. USC would be the best, only because they have the power of hype on their side. However, any undefeated Pac-12 South team would do, as it would set up a Pac-12 Championship Game between two undefeated teams.

The last factor to root for is that the Pac-12 COVID protocols do not lead to any postponed games. Oregon has already lost practice time, as five players tested positive for COVID this past weekend. The Pac-12 schedule has maxed out all possible dates, and there isn’t any wiggle room to reschedule games before the playoff selection committee picks the final four. A missed game for Oregon would be a major blow against them, one that would eliminate their already narrow path to the playoff.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: John Giustina

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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For Football Season: FishDuck Back to Seven Days a Week!

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.

Everybody is happy! So below is the new schedule through football season:

Monday: Mr. FishDuck
Tuesday: Darren Perkins
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Friday: David Marsh
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Sunday: Jordan Ingram

A couple of writers could not join us as they have new projects in their lives, and cannot write for anyone at the moment–but perhaps we will see them back later.

Things rarely work out so well for all parties in agreements, but this time it has and truly….everyone wins!

Our 33 rules at FishDuck can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) keep it clean, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

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Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Forum Work Continues:

I have delayed the forum, but we are still chipping away at it and will have it available sometime yet this season.

We will also have something up every day; either an article or a Ponder-Point being published on FishDuck. Flexibility as a publisher is important as it is for the football team, as things change!


I hate to say it but I doubt a PAC12 team makes it in this year. The conference is late to the party. The only way I see it happening is if the traditional powers have losses and don’t look dominant and the top PAC12 team completely dismantles their opponent every week. There can be no doubt who the top PAC12 team is.

Jon Joseph


7:30 Eastern

Stanford at Oregon – ABC

Clemson at Notre Dame – NBC

Ducks may not have more the larger audience but will have the better broadcast team.

BTW: Desmond Howard has tested positive for COVID. Will Charles Barkley pinch hit? Anyone other than Stephen A, PLEASE?


Fortunately, we will be spared SAS, the plan is for Desmond to work from home.


Attention to the details. I enjoy listening to him. This team while unproven on offense should be tired of practicing against our defense. That alone should prepare them for the games ahead.


I like the use of the term potholes, but in 2020 I would have used the term blind corners. It seems each step of the way this year we have had something happen which we didn’t see coming. We have to move forward, but up ahead is a turn which we have not idea where it will take us.

Hopefully one of those blind turns, soon real soon, will take us to a beautiful place where our team makes it to the National Championship and wins. This year it could just as well be a blind corner where we see the end of the road and have to turn around and start again. We can hope though!

Jon Joseph

Do you have a license for that monkee? What, are you blind!

Great comment and so true.


I’m very on the fence here: We’re replacing an NFL franchise caliber QB among others and this is the first year for a new offensive coordinator during a season where practices are limited and new and unusual protocols are in place. And I think coaching will be the difference in dealing with this seasons unusual distractions. I think we might have the exceptional coaching that’s needed; we’ll know soon.

Jon Sousa

Last year was a pretty good year for the defense in its first year under a new coordinator. The idea that history will repeat itself for the offense has a better than a 50% chance. The defense was doing so well at the end of the year it was hard to remember that it was the first year for Avalos. (Or maybe that’s just my very old brain – What were we talking about?)

Jon Joseph

Man, I wish Breeze had not opted out. Still puzzled by his decision. But, it’s his absolute right to sit out.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Fun article to ponder with David, and thanks for reaching back into our photo archive from nearly six ago to insert some very cool photos.

In a “rebuilding” year–a Fiesta Bowl would not suck.

Jon Joseph

But with the COVID rules, they could have played this year and next year. But all the best to these young men.


I don’t think we actually need to root against Ohio State(Although I am not opposed to it).

At best we probably want undefeated: Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio state. Essentially this locks up these divisions allowing an undefeated pac team to also enter the playoffs. when also adjusting and assuming Oklahoma State losses multiple games against Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, or Kansas State.

Oregon needs to root for the winner of the USCvASU game this next weekend and hope that whoever wins goes undefeated. my guess is that an Undefeated USC in the championship looks better purely on the fact that they are currently ranked and that will allow them to be near the top 10 come the Pac12 championship game in December. Whereas ASU would be pushing top 15.

Last point, while I don’t think an undefeated BYU gets picked before an undefeated pac12 champion it wouldn’t hurt to see them lose in Boise.


I don’t think we actually need to root against Ohio State(Although I am not opposed to it).

It’s pretty much a reflex action for me to root against Ohio State; to despise them on every occasion.
The Webfoots did beat the Buckeyes,46-33 in 1939, to win the first NCAA Basketball Championship. But since then it hasn’t been pretty.

It isn’t even just the Ducks that Ohio State poisons. In the 2007 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers could have picked Kevin Durant. But no, they picked Greg Oden, of Ohio State.

Jon Joseph

Agree on BYU; I think an undefeated Cincinnati would trump BYU but I do not see a G5 team in the final 4.

Jon Joseph

Sports books did the right thing. Returned the $ down on Clemson (including my bet) at -31.5..

Clemson’s best LB is also out Saturday and is likely to miss the ND game. Hats off to the ND students who with the stadium at 25% capacity have shown up and made noise. Futures bets for Clemson/ND are also off the board. IF ND wins the game with or without Lawrence playing and then takes a respectable L against the Tigers in the ACC champ game, a 1L ND will be a serious contender for the playoff 4 spot. But will a 1L ND get in over a 1L A+M with the Aggies 1L at Bama? And how about a 1L Michigan if the Ohio State game is a contest?

The 4 seed in 2020 is likely to be as contentious as when Baylor/TCU was left out in year 1. I think either of these 2 would have given the Ducks a far better game than did FSU? FSU may have been the worst undefeated FBS team of all time. It’s been all down hill for FSU after that Rose Bowl beat down when Herbie called the Seminoles out for quitting.

I don’t see Bama losing this season, even with Waddle out. If this is the case, Bama with a 10-0 all SEC games record will likely be the Committee’s #1 seed, playing the 4 seed in the Sugar Bowl. I think The Pirate will be ready to abandon ship in Tuscaloosa before the 2nd half kicks off.

BTW, with all of the 7:30 start times Saturday, Arkansas at A+M, Mizzou at Florida, OH ST at Penn ST, MS ST at Bama and OK at TX Tech kicking off at 8, I think the Pac-12 would be well advised to have a number of 9 AM kick offs? Unfortunately, I think the Ducks game vs Stanford will likely be played at the same time as Clemson at ND.

IMO, Larry should be all over FOX and ESPN to get early kickoffs for more conference games than just ASU at USC. Personally, I’d love to watch the Ducks playing at noon eastern time and not 7:30. 7:30 kickoffs in WA, OR, NO CAL and Utah in November and December? Does NIKE make long underwear?


I’ve heard speculation from the biotech biz that some, if not most, of the rapid antigen tests are skewed towards false positives to lessen the rate of false negatives. It makes sense, in the same way that a positive pee stick for pregnancy can be confirmed/invalidated by more precise methods that are more costly / time consuming. A false positive is no pony ride, but a false negative could be much worse.

Here’s hoping that Lawrence has bumped into the same situation as Saban and the Ducks Gang of Five. Or, he could wind up like Wisconsin’s QB Mertz, but hopefully not with the same harsh Big10 quarantine protocols.

Some auto correct here: one ESPN article cites that Lawrence has said that his symptoms were ‘mild’ but no mention of confirming PCR test(s) either way. So, hard to know if his isolation is protocol driven exclusively.


They have the heir apparent, DJ Uiagalelei, ready to step in. The guy is the 5 star prospect everyone wanted, including the Ducks. Another west coach product who didn’t stay in Socal and also didn’t end up at Oregon.

Trevor Lawrence also started his freshman year. Clemson is another team that just reloads.


Just to keep it accurate: five asymptomatic Oregon players received false positive Covid antigen test results this past weekend. There is a difference.

Jon Joseph

Thanks David.

DJU to start against BC and possibly, Notre Dame.

Trevor Lawrence has tested positive for COVID. He definitely will not play Saturday and he may not be cleared to play next Saturday in South Bend?

THIS could alter the playoff calculus in a big way.

Bets on BC/Clemson are currently off the board.

OK State – I think last week’s game versus Iowa State was a solid test for the Cowboys. Now, OK ST gets a flailing Texas team at home. I think it is too early to count out OK ST, a team that now has its starting QB back.

SEC – A 1L A+M could definitely be in playoff mix if it wins the rest of its games. A+M will be favored in all of its remaining games and if it gets to play the full schedule, would finish 9-1 against all SEC competition. It’s only L would have come at Bama and Bama very likely will be the playoff #1 seed. I think a 9-1 A+M definitely trumps a 7-0 Ducks.

I also think any 7-0 Pac 12 team could be tested by an undefeated Cincinnati squad?

Big 10 – It’s 1 game but Michigan looked much improved. If Michigan’s only L is a close L at Ohio State, a 1L Michigan could get a playoff bid. Too bad for Wisconsin that 1 game has already been called off and its starting QB will not be available to play on 11/7.

With the Clemson COVID news, Notre Dame is a team very much in play. Can a Clemson team possibly without Lawrence win in South Bend? If ND plays Clemson twice and drops but 1 game, it is definitely in the playoff mix.

Will the Ducks play 7 games? As you noted David, there has to be 7 convincing wins for Oregon to make the playoff and this includes likely having to defeat a 6-0 SC in the champ game.

Realistically, I think Oregon in 2020 is playing for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

Jon Sousa

Realistically, I think you are right. An interesting note that would set up Oregon well going into next season: If Oregon goes undefeated this year at 8-0 (including Fiesta Bowl) they will enter next year riding an 11 game winning streak, a stat that only the defending National Champion will be able to better, assuming they go undefeated this season while playing all their games.

Also, if Oregon is a 7-0 PAC12 champion, especially if having beat a 6-0 USC convincingly, it would make it instantly controversial if they are not let into the playoffs. This all by itself increases the “hype” factor for 2021.

Jon Joseph

Absolutely Jon. I just hope that 7 games will be played? COVID does not appear to be going away and asking college age guys to social distance is a big ask.

As I mentioned above, I think the playoff 4th spot and the playoff seeding is going to be subject to great debate and furor?

If the Committee stays its SEC course, I expect both an undefeated Bama and a 1L A+M will be in? Likely playing a rematch in the Sugar Bowl?

But lots of ball to be played, if the games are played?


Fantastic post, JS


“It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbar called it in “Star Wars” and I’m calling it now. Ohio State, giddy after their romp over Nebraska bounces in to Happy Valley; waiting for them there, a nasty, riled up Nittany Lions, still throbbing after their humiliating loss to Indiana! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG5OsfOuEy0


Good job, David. I read your article, and like Jerry Palm’s and some guy at USA Today’s, it makes me believe, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

And there might be. But in the case of The Invitational, where there is no protocol, no criteria, it’s a long chance. What the Committee does have is precedence; 2 SEC teams in. It’s quick & easy, and who can really argue? The Pac-12 After Dark Guys?

Your best point was that all Oregon can control is Oregon. The Ducks need to pulverize the Cardinal and move on from there, leaving its opponents like squirrels on the road. That’ll be fun.

Jon Joseph

Beat down all 6 opponents and pray that the Ducks go against a 6-0 USC in the champ game and win convincingly. I see no other way for Oregon to make the final 4.


Sometimes you just can’t catch a break, but we need them all this season. The Ducks have a lot of variables and a narrow path to follow. The offense better be all that we’ve hyped it up to be.