The Oregon Ducks’ paths to the PAC-12 title game took a massive blow after their loss to Washington on Saturday. If you missed it, the drama around the game surrounded Bo Nix, Dan Lanning, and a decision not to re-enter the quarterback who had left with an injury during a critical play.
Dan Lanning said this about his decision, “Bo said, ‘Coach, I feel good.’ I said, ‘Let me confirm.’ I said, ‘You’ll go in the next play.’ Why not call a timeout? Really, in retrospect, I wish I would have called a timeout based on the look we got, not so much just to get Bo in. But it’s really easy to go back and replay the game in your head. There are probably ten plays that I would have played a lot different.”
Because of that drama and many other factors in that game, the Ducks are now 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference. They sit a game behind the USC Trojans, who play UCLA this week, and are tied with Utah for third place.
Before last week, the path to the PAC-12 Championship was pretty simple: win out. If you remember, the conference restructured their regular season winners. In previous years, the winners of each PAC-12 division would play one another for the title. They realized the new format would have altered the matchup in five of its last 11 title games. Promoting your best teams is critical if you want a team from your conference in the College Football Playoff.
Even after the Washington loss, Oregon still has to win out. Their final two opponents are Utah and Oregon State. Oh, and by the way, the Utes are the 10th-best team in the country, and the Beavers are back in the Top 25.
If Oregon beats Utah, they will hold the tiebreaker with them, giving them an advantage. If they then go on to beat Oregon State, they will have more wins than Utah anyways and clinch a spot in the title game. The Ducks could lose to Oregon State, beat Utah, and still be in great shape.
The nightmare scenario for the Ducks would be ending their season on a three-game skid. If they lose this game to Utah, the Utes are in the driver’s seat over Oregon. At that point, Utah could even lose their final game, and they’d still be in over the Ducks. But say the lost and Oregon lost in the last week of the season, the Ducks would still be on the outside looking in.
ESPN predicts the Utah Utes with the best percentage chance to win the PAC-12 title at 36.7 percent, with USC behind them at 27.7 percent and the Ducks at 26 percent.
Let’s break down these final two games.
The Ducks are no longer favored to win this game by ESPN. Their FPI has them at just over a 48 percent chance to win. This game will be played in Oregon but the Ducks winning streak is over. For what it’s worth, Vegas has put the Ducks as a three-point favorite.
Here is what Lanning said about his opponent:
I’ll probably start off defensively, they’re one of the more aggressive teams obviously in our conference. They’ll six-man pressure, five-man pressure over 28% of the time, which is a really high percentage for a team. They’ll challenge you. They’ll blitz zero on either side of the 50. They play with relentless effort, they pursue, and they’re obviously smart; they’re well-coached. You see the technique show up consistently. So they’re really good. On offense, it’s a West Coast offense. At times they can really pound the ball. They’re going to hop into some unique personnel groups; they’ll get in 14, 13, 12 personnel and run it down your throat, and then when you become too aggressive, they’ll hit you over top. Their quarterback, I can’t say enough good things about, he’s a relentless competitor. He makes it tick for them.”
Oregon is on a two-game losing streak against Utah.
It’s hard to say much about this game until we see how Oregon bounces back from a tough loss to Washington. If they respond well against Utah, I am confident they can win. But if they fall short, this team’s wheels may come off.
Oregon State has won three of its last four games. Their losses have come to USC, Washington, and Utah. That tells me that they are struggling with upper-echelon teams and that maybe they aren’t really the 25th-best team in the country.
These two teams have split the last two meetings, but the Ducks have won all but two games against the Beavers since 2008.