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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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