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Canzano: Oregon Ducks have a path to playoff
So does USC...
Another batch of College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday. A few things became evident. Among them, that the potential Pac-12 Conference champion is still alive in the playoff race.
There’s a path to the playoff for Oregon or USC.
Maybe even for UCLA.
Here’s how I see it…
• No. 6 — Oregon (8-1): The Ducks have remaining home games against No. 25 Washington (7-2), No. 13 Utah (7-2) and play the regular-season finale at Oregon State (6-3).
Oregon has some lifting to do. It must win all three games and maybe even do it with a little style. Also, the Ducks must win the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas.
The selection committee may never forget the 46-point loss to Georgia (9-0), but I think it wants to forgive it. Oregon has ample opportunity to give the committee that chance.
• No. 8 — USC (8-1): The Trojans have a path to the playoff themselves. They have remaining games vs Colorado (1-8), at No. 12 UCLA (8-1) and home vs. No. 20 Notre Dame (6-3). Do that and there would be a potential conference title game in Vegas vs. No. 6 Oregon (8-1) or maybe a rematch with Utah (7-2). The Trojans lone loss came vs. the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium by a single point.
You can argue that USC’s path is cleaner than Oregon’s because it doesn’t involve making anyone forget a high-profile blowout loss. But I’m still looking for a signature win by the Trojans.
USC’s best victory to this point? Maybe the three-point victory at Oregon State (6-3)? The Trojans don’t yet have a victory over a ranked team. But it could get as many as three strong victories between now and the final playoff ranking. That feels good enough given that USC is starting this conversation within striking distance of the top four.
No. 12 — UCLA (8-1): The Bruins played a soft non-conference schedule. Michigan bailed on them. UCLA’s lone loss this season came on the road at Oregon (8-1). The Bruins are home vs. Arizona (3-6) and No. 8 USC (8-1), then play at Cal (3-6) in the regular-season finale. If UCLA wins out, it would also be a 12-1 conference champion, but would the committee look past the non-conference schedule?
I don’t like that UCLA is starting this race eight spots behind the final playoff spot. It feels like a really long jump. The Bruins had a very good win over No. 13 Utah (7-2), and hypothetically would add big victories over No. 8 USC (8-1) and, maybe even No. 6 Oregon (8-1). But UCLA would have to do all that and also leap a series of teams that potentially includes one-loss Clemson, one-loss Tennessee, two-loss LSU, two-loss Alabama and the eventual Michigan vs. Ohio State loser to get to the playoff.
It feels dicey, but not impossible.
No. 13 — Utah (7-2): A two-loss conference championship is still out there for the Utes. They’re mathematically in play and I wouldn’t put anything past Kyle Whittingham. He’s a great coach. But there’s just not a path to the playoff for the Utes. Utah hosts Stanford (3-6) this weekend, then plays at No. 6 Oregon (8-1), before finishing the regular season at home vs. Colorado (1-8).
The losses to UCLA (8-1) and Florida (5-4) are too much to overcome in the playoff conversation. The ceiling for Utah this season feels like another high-profile bowl game.
Some other things…
• INVITATIONAL: This thing really isn’t a playoff. It’s a four-team invitational tournament. I hate that we call it a “playoff” while knowing that it’s just four really good teams getting invited by a selection committee. There are no automatic qualifiers. It won’t be a “playoff” until its expanded to 12 teams and each of the conference champions are included.
• LOW BLOW: Rece Davis, one of the ESPN studio hosts, made a snarky comment about Oregon having the advantage of playing against “Pac-12” competition. I don’t get it. The rankings were right in front of Davis. The Pac-12 currently has four teams ranked among the top-13. If Oregon goes 12-1 and wins the conference title, would it not have validated itself?
I talked with Davis a few weeks ago and he told me that he just couldn’t get the taste of Oregon’s Week 1 blowout loss to Georgia out of his mouth. It was evident again on Tuesday.
• HELP WANTED: The Pac-12 Conference got some big-time help when Notre Dame upset Clemson last weekend. LSU’s overtime win over Alabama helped, too. The next positive development for the Pac-12 Conference in the coming weeks would be for No. 4 TCU (9-0) to suffer a loss.
TCU has road games remaining at Baylor and Texas and plays Iowa State at home in the regular-season finale. There’s also a potential Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 3.
• MICHIGAN-OHIO STATE: The Wolverines (9-0) are ranked No. 3. The Buckeyes (9-0) are No. 2. They play each other on Nov. 26. The winner is a likely playoff participant. The loser is likely out.
• SEC PROBLEM: I still think the Pac-12 has a looming SEC problem. Georgia is going to win the SEC East. The best-case scenario for the Pac-12 has the Bulldogs winning out, blasting the SEC West champion (LSU or Mississippi) and landing as the No. 1 seed in the playoff. But if that doesn’t happen, look out.
The committee isn’t keeping one-loss Georgia out of the playoff.
No. 5 Tennessee’s only loss this season is to Georgia. It came by a more respectable final score (27-13) than Oregon’s Week 1 defeat. If the Ducks win out, would the committee still rank Oregon behind Tennessee? If so, what happens to the final four spots if Mississippi or LSU knock off Georgia in the SEC title game?
• SCHEDULING: Oregon got paid $4.5 million to play the season-opening “neutral site” game vs. Georgia. The Ducks didn’t have to play the game. It’s become a topic of debate this week. Should Oregon have just scheduled a patsy opponent and called it good? The Ducks would be undefeated and probably sitting No. 2 or No. 3 in the rankings.
Kirk Herbstreit raised the question on Tuesday’s ESPN broadcast. He took a little shot at Portland State in doing so. I happened to have PSU coach Bruce Barnum on the radio show later in the day. I played Herbstreit’s comments for Barnum.
His response is in my tweet:
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