Posted on October 10, 2020
Their current ranking in the AP Top 25 reflects that, but it also provides a distinct advantage over the other Conference teams. Without strong nonconference foes, and with only seven games to make their case, other Pac-12 teams may not have enough opportunities to work their way into the Top 4.
In this pandemic-shortened season when every game counts, it’s difficult to envision a Pac-12 team making the CFB Playoff with a loss. All things considered, Oregon seems most likely to go undefeated.
I think we can all agree that Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State are going to be the top three schools come season’s end. The Big 12 appears to have provided the Conference the opening it needs, with Oklahoma losing twice.
But with Georgia and Florida both enjoying strong seasons, any Pac-12 team with a chance of claiming the fourth Playoff spot must have a spotless record.
Some have argued that Commissioner Larry Scott and the Conference designed Oregon’s schedule to maximize its chances of going undefeated. True or not, it makes some sense because no other program is better positioned to land a CFB spot.
That is not to say the Ducks can’t lose. It certainly helps, however, that they won’t have to travel to Arizona or ASU this season, where they’ve struggled in recent years.
Nonetheless, the same scheduling that improves Oregon’s chances could also hold the Ducks back. Playing USC during the “regular” season, even if they were to meet again in the Pac-12 title game, would likely have enhanced their chances of making the Playoff.
Now in light of Oregon’s third season schedule—after the original 12-game slate and the subsequent nine-game miscarriage—it seems even more plausible that the Ducks can win out.
Let’s take a brief look at each matchup and see why.
The Ducks host Stanford in the season-opener at Autzen, a team that finished dead last in the North Division last season, failing to make a bowl game.
And while a rash of injuries contributed to the Cardinal’s downfall, not much positive has happened in Palo Alto since, especially with the departure of K.J. Costello. His replacement, Davis Mills has shown promise, put he isn’t likely to have the supporting cast he needs to compete with Oregon.
Things don’t look much better on the other side of the ball. Last year, the Cardinal defense gave up an average of 30 points per game, managing to put up just six points against Oregon at home.
Game One should be an easy win for the Ducks.
After Stanford, Oregon heads to Pullman to face Washington State, which doesn’t appear be well-positioned to compete after losing Mike Leach and several key players. Wazzu finished just above Stanford in the North last season, and they don’t figure to do much better this year.
Oregon hosts UCLA in its crossover game, and the Bruins haven’t won in Autzen since 2007. Even with a more-experienced quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Chip Kelly isn’t likely to rediscover any of the winning magic he experienced so consistently as Duck head coach in Eugene.
That puts Oregon at 3-0 heading into the second half of the regular season.
Next comes the rivalry game against Oregon State in Corvallis. The Beavers won only five games last season, and they don’t appear to have the horses to do much better in 2020.
Another win puts the Ducks at 4-0.
Oregon then faces one of its toughest tests of the season against Cal in Berkeley. The Golden Bears, who finished 8-5 last year, played the Ducks tough in 2019, despite missing quarterback Chase Garbers, who went 7-0 in games he started and finished.
This contest will likely test Oregon’s depleted secondary, while also providing an opportunity for Oregon’s elite pass-rushers. If the Ducks can hold the Golden Bears to under 20 points, this should be another win.
Oregon ends the six-game regular season with a home game against rival Washington. With the loss of Jacob Eason and other key components, I don’t see the Huskies being as competitive as they have been in previous seasons.
The Washington win would have Oregon sitting at 6-0.
That would leave the Ducks needing a Pac-12 title game win to cap their requisite 7-0 season, making it difficult for the CFB Playoff Committee to ignore them.
But merely going undefeated may not be enough. Ideally, Oregon will also win every game by double digits to show their dominance over the rest of the Pac-12.
I see Oregon playing USC in the Conference Championship game in what should be a competitive fight, provided the Trojans stay relatively healthy and play to the level most expect.
No doubt, it’s going to be an interesting and unusual season, though the outcome is far from certain.
But if the Ducks play up to their preseason hype, and the schedule plays out the way I expect it will, an undefeated Oregon team could be playing in the CFB Playoff come January.
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