Recently there has been a lot of chatter about the best one loss team in college football. It is a fair question, since the season is winding down and there are a massive pile of teams vying for only a few playoff spots.
So what does Oregon need to do in order to set themselves apart from the crowd?
Well, the first hurdle that Oregon needs to overcome is winning down the stretch, securing 11-1 in the regular season. The first hurdle is substantial, with a trip to Arizona State followed by a visit from the Beavers on the 24th. Beating ASU should happen on paper. Should. But trips to the desert late in the season have been tough for visiting teams in the past. The added bonus of the annual rivalry with the Beavs, particularly with how strong of a team they are, falling on a Friday leads me to believe that game will be no joke.
But win those two games, and the Ducks find themselves facing UW in the conference championship.
That is hurdle number two. Beating a team that good in that game on that stage is a requirement for Oregon to make the postseason – there is no more room to give up and make the four team playoff. Beat the Huskies, avenge your only loss, and the Ducks are automatically in the playoff, right?
The third hurdle Oregon needs to overcome is that they need help from some of the other top teams in the nation.
First and foremost, Oregon needs OSU to lose to Washington at home this weekend. Why? Oregon needs Washington to be as highly rated as possible, because they need to beat an undefeated team for the sake of their perception. Next, they need Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC championship, to eliminate the Tide from the playoff race.
Why is UGA beating Alabama so important?
Because Oregon has a fourth hurdle to overcome, one thing bigger and badder than any opponent on their schedule: bias.
Why is bias so important to keeping the Ducks out of the playoff? Simply put, the current CFP rankings are a no risk scenario for the committee. On the day the CFP is announced, if one-loss teams: Oregon, Alabama, and Texas are all vying for two playoff spots (in this scenario, Alabama beats UGA, and Texas wins the Big 12). Would you expect the college football playoff committee to leave out a one-loss SEC champion? What about media darling Texas?
Would the expectation really be that the Ducks get into the playoff over Texas, a future SEC team that beat a presumably playoff bound Alabama this season? It doesn’t seem likely, despite the rankings. A one-loss UT almost certainly makes it in over a UO team with the same record, because the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt. Not to mention, it is Texas. The CFP wants them involved.
So if Texas wins out (as they are likely to do), Oregon needs Alabama to lose to Georgia, because a Texas team with a win against playoff-bound-SEC-champion Alabama is not getting left out. The only hope for the Ducks is for a tiny bit of the luster to be removed from that early season win for Texas in this scenario.
This playoff field would be: 1. UGA 2. BIG 10 Champ 3. FSU 4. Oregon.
So what if there is a bit more chaos?
Fortunately, Oregon has made a good impression in almost every game this season, so they have some cache. For example, it is unlikely that Oregon misses the playoff at all if FSU loses a game before the end of the season.
The problem for the rest of the country is that there is no guarantee that there will be any fewer than four undefeated teams before the end of the season. There is only one more loss above Oregon for sure: either Ohio State or Michigan. The annual game between the two teams will be for a spot in their conference championship, and an almost assured playoff berth. All of the Oregon playoff hope comes from assuming they beat the Huskies to win the conference (that isn’t certain either), and Florida State plays North Alabama and Florida while UGA plays Tennessee and Georgia Tech to end the season; neither face an undefeated team and neither is favored to lose the rest of the way.
That leaves our Ducks with only two options:
Alabama loses to Georgia to end their CFP hopes, diminishing the Texas strength of schedule.
Either way, the Ducks don’t quite control their own destiny to close out the season. That being said, they are favored the last two regular season games, and expectations are they will be heavy favorites in the Pac 12 championship game if they get there, as UW has not been impressive since their win against Oregon.
Regardless of what happens, having the Ducks in playoff discussions in mid-November has been sorely missed throughout the fanbase. If Dan Lanning and the Ducks can dominate their way through the regular season and the conference championship, they will be in a prime position to make the last ever four team playoff. Bookend National Championship appearances for this era, culminating in a trophy in the trophy case in Eugene would certainly make all this fretting over scenarios feel silly at best.
Now go dominate in the desert.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
Top photo by: Craig Strobeck
Ryan Robertson is a defense contractor for the United States Marine Corps. A lifelong Duck fan from Grants Pass, he joined the Army out of high school. After four years as an Intelligence Analyst he decided it was time to further his education and pay more attention to his Ducks. One of Ryan’s first memories is of watching the Ducks, led by Joey Harrington, beating up on the Utah Utes in 2001. His grandfather ran track at Oregon in the ‘50s. He loves the Ducks, and has a passionate interest in reading every scrap of analysis centered around the football team.
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