There are 15 teams in the AP Top 25 poll with a record of at least 8-1. The Oregon Ducks are one of those teams after a 26-16 road win against Washington. The question is whether or not the Ducks deserve to be among the top four teams fighting for the NCAA Championship. Arguments can be made either way.
If the season ended today, it’s unlikely that more than one team with a loss makes it to the playoffs. In fact, four undefeated teams remain in the top 25. Georgia is undoubtedly the number one team, receiving all first-place votes in the AP and Coaches poll. Also undefeated and deserving a spot in the playoffs are Cincinnati and Oklahoma. At the moment, Alabama, at 8-1, is also in the top four in both polls. At 9-0, UTSA is ranked 15th and while their achievement is worthy of a spot in the top 25, they play in a weaker conference and haven’t beaten or played any of the top teams in the country.
Where does this leave Oregon? The schedule is favorable for an 11-1 finish with games against Washington State and Oregon State at home with a road contest at Utah. Even at 11-1, it appears that one of the top four, mainly Alabama needs a loss, or the other teams would need two losses to fall out of position.
Alabama’s next two games against New Mexico State and Arkansas should cause little trouble. The possible stumbling block is at 13th seeded Auburn in the final week of the season. Barring a major meltdown, it’s unlikely that Georgia loses a game and nearly impossible that they lose both. Cincinnati has road games against Southern Florida, East Carolina, and home against SMU. Again, a loss is unlikely out of the remaining schedule.
The opening the Ducks may need could be with the Oklahoma Sooners. They have two games against ranked teams remaining on the road against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Let’s say the Ducks win out, and Oklahoma State drops one or even two. Does that automatically put the Ducks in the playoffs?
What about Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and down the list of all the other 8-1 teams? Do any of these teams deserve a spot over Oregon should there be a crack among the current top four? The good news for Oregon is that the three Big Ten teams in the mix have games against each other, and one or more can be moved out of the picture.
According to the Jeff Sagarin computer rankings found in USA Today, there is one strike against Oregon in making their way into a playoff. Among the top teams, only UTSA, Oklahoma, and Cincinnati have easier schedules. The Ducks have played only one game against teams in the top 30 in Sagarin’s rankings, tied with Cincinnati for the least.
Of course, a team can only play who is on their schedule, and Oregon has done the job with the exception of the mishap against Stanford. However, voters clearly take into account the teams the quality of competition played, as they should.
Oregon is ranked 34th in yards per game and 16th in touchdowns behind quarterback Anthony Brown, running backs Travis Dye, CJ Verdell, and wide receivers Devin Williams and Johnny Johnson III. Defensively, the Ducks are 29th against the run and 89th against the pass. Vernon McKinley and Bennette Williams have combined for seven of the team’s 12 interceptions. Oregon is 25th in scoring and 43rd in points allowed.
The Ducks won’t make the playoffs just by winning out. There are too many other teams in the mix. They will need a top team to fall. While Cincinnati and Oklahoma have easy schedules, should one of them lose, they would likely fall below Oregon should the Ducks win out.
Once again, this will be a season where people will beg for more teams in the playoffs since several strong one-loss teams will be left on the outside looking in. Oregon certainly could be one of those teams.