And just like that, the dream is dead. For the Oregon Ducks, their loss Saturday to an unranked Stanford team in front of a sleepy Palo Alto crowd reset the goals for the Ducks. The dreams of the College Football Playoff have been all but dashed, and we’ve barely reached October. Now, does that sound like an overreaction? Potentially. But the truth is that the Ducks had to be perfect (or close to it) to overcome a mediocre (at best) Pac 12 Conference. Losing to Stanford was as far from perfect as you could have.
While the Ducks are still positioned in the Top 10 of both the AP and Coaches Polls, it’s now an uphill battle to envision a scenario where Oregon can climb their way back into the CFP top four. Unfortunately for Oregon fans, the main reason why is entirely out of the Ducks’ hands. Let’s face it, the Pac 12 stinks. The conference of champions should be known as the conference of parody. After Oregon’s loss Saturday to Stanford, the league officially does not have a single undefeated team left. Problem.
Next, the league also has a significant drop-off to their second-best team. In fact, who is that second-best team? USC, the team most people would have guessed to be the Pac 12 South favorite before the season, has stumbled and been crushed at home on two separate occasions. Washington, a preseason top 25 team, apparently left all offensive skill power back in the Chris Petersen era. UCLA is another team that showed significant promise, primarily when they handled LSU in Pasadena. But since that win, the Bruins have looked mediocre at best in two home losses to Fresno State and Arizona State. The Pac 12 has about nine decent teams, two bad teams, and then Oregon. Problem. That kind of league can’t carry the weight needed to lunge back into the CFP discussion.
Another CFP obstacle facing the Ducks dead in the eye could be considered a blessing in general but not for the Playoff. Oregon’s strength of schedule from here on won’t be anything to boast about. Starting with next Friday’s game against Cal, the Ducks will be heavily favored in each of their remaining seven games. Their biggest “statement” game opportunities left in the regular season will be road tests against UCLA and Utah, two teams with a couple of losses each.
To go along with the weak schedule history also suggests that Oregon might have trouble winning out, to begin with. The last one-loss Pac 12 Champion was USC, back in 2017. Since then, each of the previous three champions has had at least two losses. If you’re a believer in history repeating itself, Oregon might be doomed already.
Yes, sure, it’s possible for the Ducks to run the table, have the teams in front of them unravel a tad, and face a worthy and ranked opponent in the Pac 12 Championship game to boost their resume. But that’s a lot to ask for in a conference that hasn’t shown much at all to believe in or trust.
Let’s be honest, before Oregon worries about any of the above issues, they need to fix their play on the field. Outside of their massive win at Ohio State, the Ducks have looked pretty underwhelming in wins against Fresno State, lowly Arizona, and of course, in their loss to Stanford. To have a chance at the CFP, the first task is fixing the play on the field, then hoping for everything else to fall into place. The problem is, Oregon no longer controls its destiny. They must perform and also hope for things to align. But will they? Time will tell, but Duck fans, I wouldn’t count on it. Good thing the Rose Bowl is not a bad consolation prize.