The Oregon Ducks cruised through the first four games of the season, including a 35-28 win over then #3 Ohio State. They had blowout wins over Stony Brook and Arizona by a combined 89-26, then stumbled late in a loss to Stanford, 31-24. Losing another game would be detrimental to Oregon’s hopes for a playoff berth. That nearly happened against California.
Down 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Oregon avoided disaster. Jaylen Redd scored on a 20-yard pass from Anthony Brown to tie the game at 17-17. Brown scampered 11-yards with under five minutes to play to put Oregon up, 24-17. The Ducks held off California late, getting a stop on 4th down to improve to 5-1. At first, in the Pac 12 North and #9 in the country, the Ducks have bigger aspirations.
Let’s look at top contenders for the playoffs and what needs to happen for the Ducks to enter the playoffs.
Georgia is ranked #1 with a record of 7-0. They have already defeated four ranked teams in Clemson, Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky. With no ranked teams remaining on the schedule, a single loss would put them in the playoffs. Expect no losses and the number one ranking heading into the playoffs.
Cincinnati is ranked #2, and as 6-0 has a win over Notre Dame. The toughest remaining game on their schedule is against #21 SMU. Barring a collapse, Cincinnati will earn one of the playoff spots.
Oklahoma is ranked #3 with a 7-0 record. They have a win against #21 Texas and have games remaining against #20 Baylor and #8 Oklahoma State. A loss to either team could move them out of the playoff picture. Losses to both, and they will undoubtedly be out.
Alabama is always in the mix, and they are again this season, despite a loss to Texas A & M. At 6-1, the Crimson Tide has three wins against ranked opponents. Their toughest game remaining is at #19 Auburn. A slip-up in that game is the only way Alabama doesn’t make the playoffs.
The Big Ten has four teams in the mix. Ohio State and Penn State are 5-1, while Michigan is 6-0 and Michigan State is 7-0. It’s unlikely that more than one team from the Big Ten makes the playoffs if any. The reason is they all have games against each other and will knock each other out of contention.
Ohio State has games against Penn State, Purdue, and Michigan State. Anything other than a sweep of those games and Ohio State will be eliminated. Much of the same can be said for Penn State, whose only loss was at Iowa. They have games remaining against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.
The Michigan Wolverines don’t have any wins against ranked teams and have a tough road ahead against Ohio State, Penn State, and top rival Michigan State. Finally, Michigan State, at 7-0, could lose one game and still get in the playoffs if any of the top teams get knocked off. They have a win over Miami but have four tough conference games remaining against Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State, and Penn State.
Don’t overlook Oklahoma State. They have three straight wins over ranked teams, taking down Kansas, Baylor, and Texas. The big game for them is against Oklahoma. If they defeat the Sooners and win out or even suffer one loss, there will be a strong case for the Cowboys to be one of the four playoff teams.
The math gets complicated, and Oregon fans may need a notepad and pencil to jot all the game scores and standings each week. The most important thing is for the Ducks to take care of their own business and win out. Everything else is out of their control, but if all the pieces fall into place, they could be one of the four teams playing for the NCAA Championship come season’s end.