Oregon currently sits at No. 8 in the BCS standings, and needs a lot of things to happen in order to sneak through the back door into Jan. 7's national championship game.
After absolutely demolishing USC in front of a record crowd at Autzen on Halloween night, the Ducks suddenly find themselves in the mix of yet another potent BCS concoction. And after a monster performance on "Fright Night" against a perennial powerhouse on a national stage, it's hard to think Oregon isn't playing some of the best football of any team in the country right now.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed with four legitimate games left on the schedule, but at the very least, the Ducks are in the driver seat en route to winning their first Pac-10 title since 2001 and making their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1995. And if they run the table (and to be fair, that's still a big "if"), they could also find themselves playing for their first national title in school history.
Indeed, a lot has to happen between now and then, but conjecture is the name of the game for bloggers like me, so let's break down the scenarios.
First of all, we have to assume the Ducks win out. If they don't, this is all a moot point.
We should also assume the loser of the SEC championship game will subsequently fall below the Ducks in the standings. It's highly likely this will happen, but when it comes to the BCS, you never know.
Oregon currently has seven teams standing in its way: Florida (.9918 average rating), Texas (.9227), Alabama (.9166), Iowa Hawkeyes (.8407), Cincinnati (.8033), TCU Horned Frogs (.8008), and Boise State (.7863). The Oregon Ducks, at No. 8, have an average rating of .7651. Either Florida or 'Bama will inevitably be out of the race, which leaves Alafloridabamalsu, Texas, Iowa, Cincy, TCU and Boise State standing in Oregon's way.
Here's the most likely scenario of how Oregon could find itself in its first ever national title game:
No. 14 Utah upsets No. 6 TCU (Nov. 14)
Remember Utah? They traveled to Eugene in mid-September claiming the longest winning streak in college football at 16 straight. The Ducks, coming off a brutal loss in Boise to start the season followed by a lackluster performance (albeit it a win) against a subpar Purdue team at home, managed to do just enough to eek out a win over the Utes.
Since the two met back on Sept. 19, both teams are a combined 10-0. Suddenly No. 14 Utah is the team that could punch Oregon's ticket to Pasadena on January 7.
A Utah win over the Horned Frogs would not only help remove a team in front of Oregon from contention, it could also be enough to boost the Ducks ahead of Boise State. The Ducks trail the Broncos by .212 points, but are ranked ahead of Boise State in all but one of the computers. A Utah win could sway just enough human voters to move the Ducks ahead, but the computers will also adjust in Oregon's favor. And without a quality team left on BSU's schedule, they'd need an Oregon loss to move back ahead.
No. 16 Ohio State rolls No. 4 Iowa at the Horseshoe (Nov. 14)
Although it's a down year in Columbus, at least by Ohio State standards, the Buckeyes find themselves in an unfamiliar role when they take on Iowa next weekend: the spoiler. The Hawkeyes won't continue to get away with what they've pulled off this season against subpar foes. They've managed to beat Northern Iowa, Arkansas State, Michigan and Michigan State by a combined eight points. They had to rally to come from behind and beat Indiana, despite throwing five interceptions. Quite frankly, Iowa has gotten lucky a few too many times, and its luck is about to run out.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are 7-2 and 5-1 at home (their only loss coming to USC). Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor is improving. And the Buckeyes still have a top 10 defense. This might be the only near sure thing of any of these scenarios.
In other words, if I was a betting man (which I am), I'd bet the farm on Ohio State (and I will).
No. 5 Cincinnati drops its final game at No. 13 Pitt (Dec. 5)
Cincinnati has been arguably the best team in the country through nine weeks. The Bearcats have not only won every game, they've been consistently hammering teams, even on the road. Is Cincy good enough to play with the likes of Florida, Texas, or Oregon? I think so. The Bearcats would compete and maybe even pull out a win. They made Oregon State look like a sub-.500 team in Corvallis. They also dominated South Florida on the road. The fact is, Cincinnati is a very, very good team.
But so is Pitt. In his fifth year at the helm of the Panthers' program, head coach Dave Wannstedt has turned Pitt around and has them playing some of the best football in the country right now. If they hadn't blown a 31-17 lead in the second half against North Carolina State in Week 4, we might be talking about the Panthers and not the Bearcats.
Fortunately for Ducks fans, the two teams will meet on Dec. 5...in Pittsburgh. And Pitt hasn't lost at home since Oct. 25 last year. No. 22 Notre Dame probably isn't happy about that stat either (the Irish travel to Pittsburgh next weekend).
No. 2 Texas loses the Big 12 title game (Dec. 5)
The average Oregon fan is hoping and praying for an Alabama loss to LSU this weekend. As our good friend Lee Corso would say, Not so fast, my friend. If 'Bama loses to LSU, it will more than likely push the Tigers ahead of the Ducks in next week's standings. And even if it doesn't, an LSU win over Florida in the SEC title game would almost certainly give the Tigers enough of a boost to be the highest-ranked 1-loss team. Bottom line: It doesn't matter who wins this weekend, or the SEC title game. The chances are very good that there will be an SEC team playing for a national title.
Which is why we need Texas to lose. Right now, this looks like the least plausible part of any scenario. But don't forget about the Big 12 title game, especially since there's no clear-cut representative from the Big 12 North. That's not a good thing, you say? Think again. What if Nebraska rattles off five straight, including a win over No. 24 Oklahoma this weekend? It would seem the momentum game could come into play. And if any team should understand how much momentum can affect a season, or even a game, it's Oregon fans.
With SEC almost guaranteed a representative in the national title game (Florida, LSU or 'Bama), Texas is last remaining obstacle standing in Oregon's way. I'm suddenly a Texas A&M fan.
There are certainly other scenarios that could play out. LSU could beat 'Bama, then beat Florida, and, with only one loss, still end up behind Oregon. Or, any one of the teams in front of Oregon could lose a game they shouldn't. But it's a serious long shot for all the necessary events to happen. Here's the point: With four games to go, Oregon has a shot to play for a national title for the third time in a decade.
But, as those previous title shots showed us, let's not get ahead of ourselves.