The Oregon Ducks were one of the first teams to qualify for the College Football Playoff near its inception, as the Marcus Mariota era of the team was able to win a game in the playoff to get to a national title game. Since then, both the Ducks and the Pac-12 as a whole have had difficulty getting back to college football’s final four. This season, though, the Ducks have things set up to where they could do the job. The question is whether or not they will be able to.
In recent years, one of the things that has kept the Pac-12 out of the College Football Playoff has been a perception that its teams have scheduled soft non-conference games. Oregon has been lumped into this category in the past, but this season they went and scheduled a couple of teams that cannot be misconstrued as cupcakes. Along with a game against FCS squad Montana, the Ducks will play a tough Nevada team along with the Auburn Tigers out of the SEC.
While Auburn might be missing one of its biggest threats on offense for that game, the Tigers have been to prestige bowl games more often than not this decade. A win over the Tigers would put the rest of the country on notice that Oregon can beat anyone out of conference, and that the eventual College Football Playoff selection committee would be foolish not to consider them later in the year.
Aside from a more rigorous non-conference schedule this season, the Ducks are also hoping to benefit from an advantageous quarterback situation within their own conference. Ducks QB Justin Herbert decided to come back to school for another season, and is looking to build on last year. Meanwhile, the Washington Huskies just lost their starting quarterback, as Jake Browning finished his career with the Huskies in their Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State. With Herbert rising to become the best quarterback in the conference, Oregon should have the edge over the rest of the league to get to the playoff.
However, Washington will still be a threat to the Ducks even as they figure out their quarterback situation. American football odds for college football still have the Ducks and Huskies even with one another to get to the College Football Playoff. And both teams sit behind multiple squads from the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12, along with Notre Dame and defending champions Clemson.
But the Ducks can take solace in the fact that the teams in the other Power 5 conferences will have to play one another and will likely eliminate each other from playoff contention. Meanwhile, the Ducks will have to avoid falling to Auburn and their Pac-12 schedule, but that schedule should be manageable given the advantages that the Ducks have over the rest of their conference heading into the year.
Typically, even one loss has been enough to disqualify Pac-12 teams from the College Football Playoff. But with a strong non-conference slate and a quarterback who is likely to become one of the stars of college football this season, it might not be possible to keep Oregon out of the playoff as long as they can win all of their games or all but one of them.