SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The College Football Playoff has its first ever participant, and about the only question is whether it will wind up the No. 1 seed overall.
Oregon (12-1) won't officially be given a spot in the inaugural four-team postseason event until the field is announced at 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday, but after a 51-13 blitzkrieg of Arizona here at the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks are in.
Oregon is currently ranked second in the college football committee rankings behind No. 1 Alabama. On Friday, the Ducks made their case for the top spot overall, even if the Crimson Tide win the SEC title Saturday, with one of the most dominating performances of the season.
Oregon's resume? Four victories over current top-25 teams, the runaway championship of a strong league and almost complete "game control" for most of the season. In their 12 victories, the Ducks trailed for just 39 minutes, 23 seconds total – or just 5.5 percent of play – and were behind just once at halftime (24-18 to Michigan State) and never in the fourth quarter. Each of those 12 victories was essentially put away fairly early with the Ducks leading for an average of 45:11 per game.
Oregon's lone loss, a 31-24 defeat to Arizona during the regular season, could easily be blamed on a horrifically unwarranted unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defensive lineman Tony Washington that gave the Wildcats a critical, game-changing first down.
Regardless, the Ducks avenged that with a complete and thorough beatdown of the Wildcats here in the South Bay, played in a half-filled, rain soaked NFL Stadium.
Oregon flexed its defensive might as much as its high paced offense behind likely Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, who finished with three touchdowns rushing and two passing and was the game's MVP.
Oregon outgained Arizona 627-224, including 386-25 in the first half when the Ducks ran a whopping 54 plays, and would've led by more than 23-0 except for some ill-timed penalties in the red zone. All that against a team that arrived ranked No. 7 in the playoff committee rankings.
Put it this way, Alabama wouldn't have done this any better.
"Now we just have to get ready for whatever comes next," Mariota said.
If the Tide defeats No. 16 Missouri in the SEC title game in Atlanta Saturday, their claim on earning the top seed in the playoff would be five victories over currently ranked teams. And while many of their victories were tight, the week-in, week-out grind of the mighty SEC West is far more grueling than the Pac-12 North. A lot of the decision could come down to the committee's nebulous definition of game control.
In reality, of course, it hardly matters.
The Ducks are certain to play as the home team in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day regardless. Even if 'Bama is No. 1, it will choose to play in New Orleans, the other semifinal site, which is far closer to home, leaving the Ducks a spot in the Rose Bowl, the historic landing spot of the Pac-12 champion.
As for matchups: If the current rankings hold through the weekend, the Ducks would play No. 3 TCU while Alabama would get No. 4 Florida State. That's anything but a guarantee, though, especially since those teams could easily swap because of their respective opponents – No. 11 Georgia Tech for FSU, a two-win Iowa State for TCU. Or Baylor could bounce in. Or upsets could happen.
The only certainty is Oregon has its spot reserved. And in the playoff, it's about getting in, not who's No. 1. For this rising power out West that knows it still needs to prove itself against the SEC when it matters, the opportunity is now at hand.
The Ducks are in and with what they showed here Friday night, they're ready to play with anyone.
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