Not like this, Oregon. Not like this.
A loss to UCLA on the road? Sure, that makes plenty of sense. Falling to Stanford for the third consecutive year? Considering recent history, no one would have argued. Losing to Arizona at home as more than a three-touchdown favorite after a bye week? Well, let’s proceed with caution before giving such nightmare scenarios realistic thought.
Or, perhaps not.
On late Thursday night—or perhaps early Friday morning is more appropriate—this became a reality. Oregon fell to Arizona, 31-24, in front of a silent, confused Eugene crowd, which was the expression shared with most television viewers tuning in for an unexpected thriller.
You could blame injuries, particularly along the offensive line. You could point to the play-calling, which unquestionably played a role in the Ducks’ setback. You could zero in on the defense—it was gashed for the better part of the night.
You could also offer up a hearty “boo” for this Pac-12 officiating crew, if you hadn’t already, and no one would blame you.
Regardless, Oregon’s issues are far deeper than the spotlighted items above. And while the defeat could ultimately dismantle the College Football Playoff hopes for one of the nation’s biggest brands, it also provided an opening prior to the most jam-packed Saturday of the season.
Which teams, or divisions, were winners prior to their games? With chaos looming, let’s assess some of the beneficiaries before further madness.
The offensive line still has issues, and poor tackling from the other sideline undoubtedly aided the 62-point output against Arizona State. But the Bruins, even at their worst, still have plenty of life in a congested, confusing conference.
With a game against the Ducks on Oct. 11, UCLA has to take care of matters against Utah before it can turn its attention to its next wobbly opponent.
But in a matter of seven days, the Bruins’ 2014 expectations have done a complete 180. A playoff berth is no longer just a possibility; it’s there for the taking.
As the Seminoles are dissected each week for performing below average, Oregon reminded us that there are far worse things than underperforming. More specifically, in a new postseason era built on resumes, reputation and performances, a new spot just opened up.
There are many games (and losses) to transpire, but a setback from the competition, even if it came out of conference, can’t hurt. Plus, even though it means little in the grand scheme, perspective was gained.
In reality, Michigan State will gladly continue its move upward regardless of the teams it surges past. With the Ducks’ loss, Sparty will likely be ranked higher than the program it fell to just a few short weeks ago. And with chaos brewing, Michigan State could ultimately find itself just outside the College Football Playoff, knocking on the window, by the time the weekend ends.
Does an Oregon loss help the playoff resume? Not at all. But with plenty of season left, Sparty needs all the help it can get to creep back upward. The next step is beating Nebraska on Saturday—a taller order than most realize—and awaiting more carnage.
In this particular instance, however, Oregon has done Baylor a favor. Although Art Briles’ team has a fair amount of committee convincing to do over the next six weeks, one of its indirect competitors for a College Football Playoff spot just suffered an enormous blemish.
The matchup against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 will ultimately dictate its playoff fate more so than the Ducks’ loss, although this “every man for himself” mantra holds true for all Top 10 teams looking for an edge. This new era of cutthroat football expands far beyond the teams on the schedule, and the Bears will gladly enjoy the advantage for the time being.
It’s far too early to declare that a certain conference or division deserves multiple teams in the playoff. But if such feats are to be realized when this season has finally concluded, one can’t help but wonder how the SEC West could be impacted by this loss.
If strength of schedule is as important as the selection committee is selling it to be, then Oregon’s home defeat could prove to be one of a handful of dominoes to fall when it comes to getting two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff.
What happens if the SEC West champion wins the conference? Will the resume of the No. 2 team in the division watching the conference championship from home be superior to Oregon or a team in a similar position?
Much work has to be done to make this a reality, including plenty this weekend, although perception is as much a part of this process as anything. And given recent happenings, the perception of the SEC West will likely climb further by default.