After losing their chance at a perfect season, fifth-ranked Oregon can’t afford to hang its head for very long.
The Ducks, also fifth in the BCS standings, still have an outside chance at reaching the BCS title game - with a whole lot of help.
Oregon first has to secure bragging rights Saturday in Corvallis with a Civil War win over 16th-ranked Oregon State.
With an offense averaging an FBS-leading 54.8 points per game, Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) spent just six days as the nation’s top-ranked team before its once-unstoppable offense sputtered in a stunning 17-14 overtime loss to visiting Stanford.
That ended Oregon’s 13-game winning streak, which was the longest in the nation. It also snapped the team’s NCAA-record streak of 23 games with at least 30 points.
Now, the Ducks need a few things to fall in their favor to play in their second national championship game in three years. A USC win over No. 1 Notre Dame would be a huge help, as would losses by Alabama, Georgia and Florida this weekend.
Additionally, Oregon has to hope Stanford has a bit of a hangover. While UCLA has already clinched the Pac-12 South, Oregon can still represent the North with a win and a Bruins victory over the Cardinal on Saturday.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we understand that we have a couple of more games and whatever plays out plays out,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “We just have to control what we can control.”
Mariota has to find a way to get the offense back on track after Oregon was held to a season-low 405 yards against Stanford and converted just 4 of 17 third downs.
Mariota led the team with 89 rushing yards while completing 21 of 37 passes for 207 and a touchdown with one interception. Tailback Kenjon Barner, who was averaging 136.0 yards per game, finished with just 66 against a Cardinal defense that came in as the nation’s best against the run.
The Ducks, fifth in the nation on the ground (313.5 yards per game), face another stout run defense in Oregon State, which ranks second in the Pac-12 at 108.7 yards per game.
The Beavers (8-2, 6-2) improved to 5-0 at home last Saturday with one of their best performances of the season, outgaining California 559-322 in a 62-14 victory.
Sean Mannion shined by completing 24 of 34 passes for 325 yards and matching a career-high with four touchdowns while starting in place of Cody Vaz, who had taken the job before getting hurt late in a Nov. 10 loss to Stanford.
Mannion, who threw for 299 yards with three TDs and two interceptions in a 49-21 loss to Oregon last year, will be under center again this week.
“Sean obviously prepared very well,” coach Mike Riley said. “And he had a look in his eye this week.”
Terron Ward, coming off a 128-yard, two-touchdown effort against Cal, will try to put together another strong performance against a banged-up Oregon defense that allowed 161 yards to Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor.
Another big day on the ground likely won’t come easy, though. The Ducks have held Oregon State to 2.6 yards per carry during their four-game series winning streak, and allowed only 16 rushing yards while playing the final 38 minutes with the lead in last season’s rout.
That, of course, came against a Beavers team that finished 3-9. Now, beating the Ducks for the first time since a 38-31 double-overtime win at Autzen Stadium in 2007 could put Oregon State in a high-profile bowl.
“It’s great to be where we are,” Riley said. “We try not to be surprised by success, we work for that hard. But I am proud of the turnaround in this team and the work they did in the offseason and what they’ve accomplished to this point.
“It’s much more fun and exciting to be going into the Civil War at 8-2 rather than 3-8.”
The Beavers have turned it over a Pac-12 low 14 times this season, but they’ve given it away eight time in their last two home losses to the Ducks.
Prior to that, Oregon State totaled only three turnovers during a five-game series winning streak in Corvallis.