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Oregon’s Near Impossible Path Back to the Playoffs

In short, don’t hold your breath.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

First of all, no one should take this article too seriously, a disclaimer I may need to write before every piece I publish. The hubris of this article is not lost on me, especially before playing a Washington State team that should no longer be considered a “trap”.

Still, where’s the fun in being a college football fan without a little undeserved optimism.

For the Ducks to defy the odds, and they certainly are staggering odds, they will need to finish PAC-12 play as 12-1 conference champions. Not only that, but they’ll need to look good doing it. But just for fun, let’s pretend they do just that. What else would need to happen for Oregon to return to the playoffs for the first time since its birth? Let’s walk through it.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

UNDEFEATED TEAMS

Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, UCF, NC State, Cincinnati, USF

What Oregon needs is a maximum of three undefeated teams when the regular season concludes. Not only that, but it’ll be best for the Ducks if those three teams are Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. Why are we rooting for these titans of college football? Because even if they have one loss, they’re most likely still making the playoffs, so might as well have them eliminate Oregon’s other competition.

If those three were to win out, that would most likely eliminate LSU, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Iowa and NC State.

Duck fans should also be rooting against the G5 contenders (USF, UCF, Cincinnati) because if any of these teams get a loss they will no longer be in the conversation. And perhaps the biggest thorn in Oregon’s side is Notre Dame; it’s hard enough to beat out the other conference champions for a playoff spot and becomes even less likely when you add a wildcard to the stacked deck.

TOP 25 ONE-LOSS TEAMS

LSU, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, West Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, Washington State

A one-loss Oregon would need to outshine the other one-loss teams currently in the top 25, which will be easier if there are fewer of them. Again, if we are assuming the top three undefeated teams and Oregon win out, that would mean all but Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon and West Virginia would be eliminated from the above list by earning their second loss. At least a couple of G5 teams are guaranteed to take their place, but we all know that would end their playoff dreams.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

So, let’s say we get our wish and there are three or less undefeated teams in the land, the Ducks will still need an unrealistic amount of events to occur before the playoff committee starts sniffing around Eugene. Here are 8 things that would greatly increase their chances:

1. BIG 10 NEEDS TO HAVE AN UNDEFEATED OHIO STATE

While the Buckeyes have looked elite on offense, their defense has looked a tiny bit susceptible if one were to scour the team for a flaw (I mean, 31 points to the Beavers?!). Their five remaining games are against @Purdue, Nebraska, @ No. 24 Michigan State, @Maryland, and then the climactic finish against No. 6 Michigan. Their final three opponents have at least a puncher’s chance at the upset, but if the Buckeyes finish strong, then the BIG 10 will be represented by the Buckeyes and only the Buckeyes.

2. BIG 12 NEEDS TO CANNIBALIZE

Luckily, this scenario doesn’t seem all that unlikely. The three BIG 12 playoff contenders (Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) already have one loss each, and at the end of the season, the top two conference teams will battle again for the conference championship. For symmetry sake, let’s say Texas loses to West Virginia and Oklahoma beats West Virgina, though there are a number of different ways the conference could get left behind. If this were to happen, every BIG 12 team would have at least two losses and the conference concludes with either a two or three loss champion.

3. ACC NEEDS CLEMSON OR NOBODY

In what’s become a regular trend for the Tigers, Clemson has looked great while at the same time susceptible in close regular season wins. Next week, they take on NC State, the only other undefeated team in the ACC. A 12-0 Clemson would shut the door for the Wolfpack, because without a conference championship appearance their schedule is too weak even if they were to go 11-1.

If NC State were to win out, on the other hand, we could have a doomsday situation for the Ducks in which both a 13-0 Wolfpack and a 12-1 Clemson make the playoffs. This situation is rather unlikely, but for Oregon’s sake, a Clemson win is slightly more beneficial for their slim chances.

Then there’s Duke, perhaps the only non-top 25 team that can make it to the playoffs. They’re 5-1 now, but if everything were to go perfect for the Blue Devils, they would make the playoffs with a 12-1 record and a win over undefeated Clemson. So, just to be safe, let’s pray for the Tigers to dominate this conference.

4. THE STATE OF FLORIDA NEEDS TO SUCK

And no, I’m not just talking about Florida State. As much as the playoff committee seems to despise G5 teams, it’d be hard to defend not choosing an undefeated National Championship winner in UCF, though I imagine the committee will try. The AAC has three current undefeated teams that will all compete against each other at some point this season: UCF, USF and Cincinnati. The Knights are by far the most likely team to make it to the playoffs, and they’re still a long shot.

For good measure, let’s hope the Florida Gators lose as well. Right now, they’re 6-1 and trending upwards. Luckily, if they were to win out, they would most likely face the buzzsaw that is Alabama. Which brings us to our next point...

5. BAMA NEEDS TO ROLL

WE WANT BAMA... to win big every game! We already know that the committee is willing to put two SEC teams in the playoffs, so why risk it. The Crimson Tide needs to embarrass every unfortunate team left on their schedule. Then, when they play in the SEC championship game, (against worst case scenario one-loss Georgia or one-loss Florida) they need to embarrass them too, leaving Bama as the lone SEC team with less than two losses.

6. IRISH NEED TO LOSE AT LEAST TWICE

Just like in 2013, the Irish look like the main obstacle between Oregon and a National Championship game (well, besides the teams that actually play the Ducks.) Undefeated Notre Dame controls their own destiny and have a pretty manageable schedule remaining- Navy, @Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse, @USC.

Furthermore, even if the Irish were to drop a game, their strength of schedule and win over Stanford would still make them a better option than the Ducks. A two-loss Irish team seams mandatory for any glimmer of hope.

7. PAC-12 NEEDS THE GOOD TO WIN AND BAD TO LOSE

Of course, the Ducks need some help from its friends in the PAC-12 as well. The remaining teams on Oregon’s schedule (Washington State, Arizona, UCLA, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon State) need to finish with at least decent records. And the Utes, Cougs, huskies and Cardinal need to finish as top 25 teams to help bolster Oregon’s strength of schedule.

And for the love of God, the PAC-12 South needs a champion that looks somewhat decent, whether that be Colorado (5-1, 2-1) or USC (4-2, 3-1). For Oregon to make some postseason noise, the PAC-12 championship game needs to be a matchup between two good to great top-25 teams.

Which brings us to our final point...

8. OREGON NEEDS TO LOOK DAMN GOOD

Time to stop competing in nail-biters and start blowing out conference opponents. We need Herbert to make some serious Heisman noise, if not win the damn thing, and we need to put up Chip Kelly era numbers on the weaker defenses we play. Only then, will the Ducks earn the opportunity to lose to Alabama in the first round of the playoffs.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images