Oregon moved up one spot in the college football playoff rankings Tuesday evening and for the first time ever, the No. 3 Ducks weren’t the Pac-12’s only representative.
The Utah CFP joined the top-25 party after overtaking Stanford for their fifth win in the last six games.
The 24th-ranked Utes could add more to Oregon’s résumé after a Fresno State exit, but the Ducks face a complicated road to the semi-finals.
To finish in the top four, the Ducks would need to beat Utah twice—a double whammy that could push the Utes out of the top-25 and leave Oregon with only one win over a ranked rival.
That rival is, of course, Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were ranked a notch this week below Oregon, followed by No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State, which fell four places after losing to Purdue.
Georgia and Alabama were once again the top two teams.
“Last week, the difference-maker for the committee was Oregon’s victory over Ohio State,” said selection committee chairman Gary Barta.
“And I would just suggest that since nothing has really changed in the eyes of the committee since last week, with both teams winning, both teams on the road, Oregon probably shone a little more, but at the end of the day Oregon ahead of Ohio State this week.”
Oregon’s high ranking because of the upcoming program is more fragile than it appears.
The SEC and Big Ten powers have matchups against top-10 teams down the stretch, lending potential rocket fuel to their resumes. The Ducks only have Utah, which can exit if Oregon wins the head-to-head duel in two weeks.
Put another way: Danger is looming, ready to knock the Ducks out of the top four, even if they end up as one-loss Pac-12 champions.
Threat No. 1: Alabama. If the second-ranked Crimson Tide moves up the table and beats Georgia in the SEC title game, the conference will almost certainly capture two of the four playoff berths. (Georgia is a lock, unless it has more than one damage.)
Threat No. 2. Big Ten Champion. Whether it’s Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, a one-loss Big Ten winner can use their November schedule to overtake the Ducks. This includes Ohio State, despite the head-to-head results from September. Note: The committee ranked Michigan ahead of Michigan State this week, even though MSU recently won head-to-head.
Threat No. 3: The Big 12 Champion. The undefeated Oklahoma is five places below the Ducks, but currently has at least two and possibly three games remaining against teams ranked in the top 15 (Oklahoma State and Baylor). If the Sooners finish 13-0, they’ll pass Oregon 12-1. And if Oklahoma State ends 12-1, it could cross Oregon.
Threat No. 4: Another Big Ten team. If Number 7 Michigan State wins, it will end up as a losing champion with a win over Ohio State. And if No. 6 Michigan wins, it will end up as a losing division runner-up… a win over Ohio State. At that point, the difference in the number of wins over the ranked teams (i.e., conference strength) could lead both schools of Michigan to the Ducks.
Hazard No. 5: Cincinnati. The Bearcats are ranked No. 5 this week and beat Notre Dame in South Bend, but they do not currently have games remaining against ranked teams. That said, public and media pressure on the committee to include an undefeated team from a group of five would be significant – to the point that Cincinnati could potentially jump the duck.
Threat No. 6: Texas A&M. Don’t laugh, because the two-loss Aggies have a path to the SEC West title and, consequently, a path to the SEC Championship. And if they somehow run the table and present a resume that spells victory over Georgia And Alabama, a playoff berth would surely follow.
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