Arizona State just shook up the College Football Playoff race.
For No. 6 Oregon, Saturday night’s trip to Tempe seemed like just another step on the road to a Pac-12 title game that could decide a CFP berth. Instead, the Ducks’ CFP dreams came crashing down in a 31-28 loss to the Sun Devils.
Oregon’s offense put forth a miserable performance through three quarters, especially from star quarterback Justin Herbert.
While the defense kept Oregon in the game, Herbert made two costly decisions that put ASU in position to take a sizable lead. Herbert telegraphed a pass right to ASU corner Jack Jones, a turnover that would give the Sun Devils excellent field position. Four plays later, ASU freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels delivered an excellent ball to Frank Darby for a 26-yard score to put the Sun Devils ahead 21-7 with 12:43 to play.
On the ensuing drive, Herbert threw another interception, this time right into the arms of Khaylan Kearse-Thomas. Herbert’s second gaffe gave ASU the ball at the Oregon 20-yard line, setting up a field goal that increased the lead to 24-7 with 8:42 to go.
But Oregon wouldn’t just lay down. It scored on its next two drives and did so quickly, cutting ASU’s lead to 24-21 with 5:24 to play.
All of a sudden, the momentum was on Oregon’s side — until Daniels made another play. Facing a third-and-16 from the ASU 19, Daniels looked deep down the sideline and found Brandon Aiyuk running free behind the defense. Aiyuk caught the pass in stride and took it to the house for the decisive 81-yard touchdown to put the lead back at 10 points, 31-21.
Oregon would again cut the ASU lead down to three points, but the Ducks were unsuccessful on an onside kick try. From there, ASU was able to run the clock and come away with a massive upset victory, clinching bowl eligibility in the process.
Wide-reaching College Football Playoff implications
The College Football Playoff implications of Oregon’s loss are immense.
For one, it gives a one-loss Alabama team — currently ranked No. 5 — a much better chance to sneak in as the No. 4 seed, despite the Tide’s inability to win the SEC. Of course, that would only be possible if No. 4 Georgia loses to No. 2 LSU in the SEC title game.
Elsewhere, a one-loss Big 12 champion — whether it’s No. 9 Oklahoma (should it hold on to beat TCU) or No. 14 Baylor — could make a big move should it win the rest of its games. No. 10 Minnesota could slide in if it gets past Wisconsin next week to win the Big Ten West and then beats undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
But Oregon’s loss is not so good for the other one-loss Pac-12 team, No. 7 Utah. If both Utah and Oregon entered the Pac-12 title with one loss, the winner of that game would add a tremendously important victory to its resume. The committee, of course, greatly values conference championships. But beating another top-10 team for a conference title would’ve been of added importance.
What’s next for Oregon?
This is a tremendously disappointing turn of events for Oregon. The Ducks opened the season with a heartbreaking loss to Auburn, and then proceeded to win nine straight games.
Oregon entered the game with a 7-0 mark in Pac-12 play, so it already wrapped up the Pac-12 North title, clinching a trip to Santa Clara on Dec. 6 for the conference championship game. But that game won’t come with playoff stakes for Mario Cristobal’s group. It could for Utah, should the Utes enter the game with only one loss.
Instead, Oregon can play the role of spoiler.
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