To the delight of Duck fans across the nation, the Oregon ‘O’ flashed across the screen on ESPN when Rece Davis and crew were unveiling the top-25 rankings for the initial College Football Playoff on Tuesday.
With a 7-1 record, many Duck fans, including myself, were preparing for the likelihood that Oregon was going to be ranked somewhere near the No. 6 or No. 7 spots, presumably behind the likes of Ohio State and Cincinnati.
Instead, common sense prevailed, and the playoff committee showed that head-to-head victories matter, giving credence to the fact that Oregon beat Ohio State earlier in the year, and ranking them with that in mind. The Buckeyes came in at No. 5, with the Bearcats at No. 6.
Of course, there are still 5 weeks left until these rankings become final, so treating them as an end-all-be-all at this point in time is a waste of energy. The truth is, several teams will take themselves out of contention over the next month with unfortunate losses. On the flip side, teams like Ohio State — who plays both No. 3 Michigan State and No. 10 Michigan over the next month — can play themselves into the top 4.
Regardless of what takes place next, here are our three biggest takeaways from Oregon’s ranking at No. 4 on Tuesday night:
Honorary Mention: Fresno State. It may not be as big as the other takeaways, but Oregon’s win over Fresno State has looked much better recently than it did at the time. FSU came in at No. 23 in the official CFP rankings, giving the Ducks a second top-25 win. It may have seemed like the sky was falling when Oregon struggled to beat them in Week 1 of the season, but their continued success has done nothing but buoy the Ducks ever since.
The Ducks Control Their Own Destiny
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
We remarked after the loss to Stanford earlier in the season that Oregon still had a chance to get to the College Football Playoff, but they were no longer in control of their own destiny. Translation: They needed other teams ahead of them to lose in order to rise up into the top-4 and make the CFP.
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, though. With a ranking at No. 4, it seems that the committee is saying that if the Ducks continue to win and can come away with a third-straight Pac-12 Championship, they will make it into the playoff. That should be considered a gift if you are an Oregon fan.
What it really comes down to is the fact that there are two teams ranked behind the Ducks who we were almost certain would be in front. Those teams are No. 6 Cincinnati, and No. 8 Oklahoma. Both schools are currently undefeated, but neither plays in a very respectable conference nor has many impressive wins on the record. A couple of days ago, we were under the impression that in order for the Ducks to crack into the top-4, they would need the Sooners to lose to either Baylor or Oklahoma State later this year, but the committee says otherwise.
It seems as simple as what we thought it was earlier in the year — if you win, you’re in.
The Ducks have a stretch of relatively tough games left on the schedule, with away games at Washington and Utah, and home games vs. Washington State and Oregon State still to come, but should they get through those and add another Pac-12 title to the trophy case, Mario Cristobal should have the opportunity to play for a spot in the National Championship.
Up Next: The Stanford Loss…
The Stanford Loss is Explainable
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said something on Tuesday night ahead of the release of the ranking that was tough to swallow for Duck fans. He noted that while Oregon may have the single best win of any team in the nation — Week 2 vs. Ohio State — they may also have one of the worst losses of any top-25 team — on the road vs. Stanford.
While it may be bad, the committee seemed to say on Tuesday night that it may not be as damaging as we may have believed. Stanford is unranked with a 3-5 record and a last-place standing in the Pac-12 North, but if you’re willing to give Oregon an excuse for that loss, there are a couple that are readily available.
For starters, we can now feel comfortable with the fact that missing offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead likely played a bigger factor than we believed at the time. Since that game, Oregon has had some offensive success at long last, and the game-plans and playcalling have been impressive. So you think that not having your OC or QB coach late in a close game doesn’t play a major factor? It definitely did.
Outside of that, you never want to blame a game on the referees, but it’s impossible not to look at that outcome and say that the zebras played a part in the loss. A missed false start on the final drive kept Stanford alive, and a very questionable pass-interference call on Oregon gave Stanford an untimed down to send it into overtime. On top of that, Kayvon Thibodeaux was suspectly ejected from the game for a bogus targeting call.
If that wasn’t enough, take into account that Oregon was playing its first game without safety Bennett Williams, who suffered a freak injury in practice the day before, and also lost all-conference RB CJ Verdell in the second half of the game.
Yes, excuses are excuses, but sometimes they factor into the reason a team won or lost a game. It seems that the committee thinks Oregon at full strength would have beat Stanford and still be undefeated at this point in the season.
Up Next: The Importance of Head-to-Head…
Head-to-Head is Important
A lot of Oregon fans had some fear going into Tuesday night, thinking that the playoff committee might rank Ohio State ahead of the Ducks, even though Oregon went on the road and beat the Buckeyes in Week 2.
Despite that, Ohio State had been more impressive via the ‘eye test,’ having blown out many of their opponents, though they have a weak strength of schedule to date. The Ducks stack up well next to the Buckeyes, but their wins haven’t been as convincing, and with Ohio State being a traditional power, it would not have been shocking to see them grab a top-4 spot in the rankings.
That isn’t what happened, of course, and the Ducks were rewarded largely because of their win over Ohio State. Kirk Herbstreit said before the rankings were released that Oregon’s win over the Buckeyes is quite possibly the best win in all of college football at this point, and the committee’s decision reflected that as well. For now, the Ducks are ranked ahead of the Buckeyes, and as long as they keep winning, that should remain the case.