There are many storylines to focus on as we head into Saturday’s game between the No. 9 Oregon Ducks and No. 10 UCLA Bruins.
Two potential Heisman candidates will square off: Bo Nix and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly will make a return to Eugene, looking for his first win on the visiting sideline at Autzen.
There’s also the race for the Pac-12 championship. The winner of this game will still be undefeated in conference and have an inside track to get to Las Vegas.
One thing few are mentioning, however, is that the winner of this game might have a case for a berth in the College Football Playoff. With what will be a top-10 win on Saturday, the team leaving Autzen Stadium victorious on Saturday may start to sneak into the conversation.
Let’s break down the case for each team, and give some reasoning provided by ESPN “College GameDay” crew members Rece Davis and David Pollack on Friday:
The Case for UCLA
If UCLA wins this game, it will absolutely be in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and there should be little argument against it. Chip Kelly’s team will have an undefeated record, the top spot in the Pac-12, and wins over No. 9 Oregon, then-No. 11 Utah, and then-No. 15 Washington. That’s hard to argue against.
The Bruins may still be outside the top four looking in after a potential win on Saturday, but they would likely be ranked somewhere in the 5-7 range and would hold an inside track to the top four, since some of the SEC teams ranked ahead of them will beat up on each other later in the year.
The Case for Oregon
A case for Oregon is harder to make, even if it wins this game against UCLA, simply because of the Georgia loss at the start of the year. Of course, a loss to the No. 1 team in the nation isn’t the worst thing to have on your resume, but the way in which the Ducks lost — 49-3 — is hard to forget.
There have been times in the past when the CFP committee looked at losses on the schedule and justified them. Could they look at that Week 1 game and give Oregon a pass, considering it was Dan Lanning’s first game as a head coach, and they were playing the defending national champions? That theory is boosted by the Ducks being spotless since. Should they run the table in the Pac-12, would have wins over No. 9 UCLA, No. 11 Utah, and potentially No. 12 USC, should they meet in the Pac-12 championship game.
The path for Oregon to get into the conversation is certainly more convoluted, but it still might be there.
Rece Davis' case against Oregon
I got the chance to talk to Rece Davis on Friday and asked him about the possibility of Oregon getting into the College Football Playoff conversation. This is what he had to say:
“Now, this is not going to make me popular in Eugene and I want to be popular in Eugene. I want to be liked here, but I’m going to be consistent. Absent everybody coming up with some type of awful albatross around their neck, I don’t see Oregon making the playoffs even if they win out, because in 2016 I said Penn State shouldn’t go with a 49-10 loss to Michigan on the resume. 2017, Ohio State had a 31-point loss to Iowa. And I think there’s too much, I think that’s a bridge too far in a four-team field. So I think Oregon is playing for the Pac-12 championship and that’s kind of the ceiling. Absent everybody or two or three teams winding up with similar type albatrosses then obviously the equation changes. But that’s still pretty good. I mean, still playing for that, playing for the Rose Bowl and playing, maybe everybody’s going to screw up and it makes that not seem so bad because you have some time and space between that loss.”
David Pollack's case against Oregon
I asked the same question of ESPN’s David Pollack — should Oregon beat UCLA this weekend, would they have a realistic chance at the CFP still? Here’s what he had to say:
“I think they would have to have a lot of help. Have a lot of people lose because you didn’t get beat, you got hit upside the head with a frying pan. So you got beat to a pulp. There was nothing about that that was pretty, so I think you’d have to win convincingly the rest of the season and you’d have to get a shoot-ton of help to get that and to get in that conversation.”
David Pollack's case for UCLA
With a win over Oregon, could UCLA get into the playoff? Here’s what Pollack thinks:
“100%. I mean, I think UCLA they’ve already beaten Utah. They beat Oregon, and they beat USC? I think they’ll be in a good situation to be in the playoffs. Because again, we got a bunch of undefeated teams and I don’t think it’s going to continue to happen. And I think the Big-12 is the most competitive conference top to bottom like week in and week out. TCU this week playing Kansas State I think there’s a good chance they could lose that game like it’s just going to be competitive games week in and week out. So that conference I think is going to beat each other up. The SEC, you know, Georgia, Tennessee and Bama are gonna play each other at some point again. Georgia definitely plays Tennessee and then Bama and Georgia gonna play, or Tennessee and Bama are gonna play again. Clemson, do they run the table? They obviously got games in front of Syracuse starting with this week. This is the first time in a while that we’ve been to Week 8, and we have at least one team for every conference alive. And that’s pretty cool. Usually, we’ve already killed the Pac-12. I mean, at this point, like in the last couple years, the Pac-12 hasn’t been competitive enough to where you point to a team and you can find it so I think it’s cool. I think there’s more parity in college football than there there’s been and I don’t even think it’s just Bama, Georgia, Ohio State. I feel like there’s a lot more teams that can be competitive and I think the transfer portal has changed college football. I mean y’all are obviously, if you look down the road at Southern Cal, I call them Transfer Porter University. I mean, that’s what they’ve as much as they brought in.”