Road to the Orange Bowl: Oregon upset paves playoff path for Pac-12

The Pac-12 has been left out of the college football playoff picture for many years. The only two teams from the conference to reach the playoff have been Oregon in the first edition and Washington in 2016. 

Yet after five years on the outside looking in, there may finally be hope for the Pac-12 in the form of Mario Cristobal’s Ducks. 

There were originally some concern after beating Fresno State by only a touchdown but Oregon’s 35-28 upset win over No. 3 Ohio State has the newly ranked No. 4 Ducks in the CFP hunt as the Pac-12’s flagship program. 

Ohio State hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2018 against Purdue but the Buckeyes’ were shown to be vulnerable to the ground game. Minnesota senior running back Mo Ibrahim ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State last week.  

The Ducks were carried by junior running back CJ Verdell, who ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns and also caught three passes for 34 yards and a score. 

“We saw the Minnesota running back was having a good game, and we wanted to do the same thing,” Verdell said after the game.

It seems like an entire NFL big board could be compiled of running backs on Ohio State’s schedule. 

It’s not quite a fatal loss for the Buckeyes, but it does leave with running the conference table as their only remaining path. Ohio State, now on the outside looking in at No. 9, will take on a Tulsa team that nearly defeated Oklahoma State after losing to UC Davis of the FCS ranks the week before. 

As for Oregon, all that’s left is to win the Pac-12 title. The Ducks have a good chance of running the table but a midseason matchup with No. 13 UCLA, led by former Ducks coach Chip Kelly makes for an interesting obstacle. 

Outside of Stanford, who avenged its lopsided loss to Kansas State with a convincing win over then ranked No. 14 USC, the Pac-12 North Division is entirely winnable. Whoever comes out of the South Division to meet in the Pac-12 title game maybe a harder challenge. As of now it’s race between UCLA and No. 19 Arizona State, who took care of UNLV. The two teams face off on October 2 in the Rose Bowl.  

Rat poison proof

After dismantling Miami last week, No. 1 Alabama mauled Mercer 48-14 on Saturday. As seemingly customary during the week against an outmatched opponent, head coach Nick Saban goes on his yack-fest calling the media and other outside influences “rat poison.” 

The schtick is getting old, especially coming off a season in which the Crimson Tide won the national championship playing an all-conference schedule. With Mercer, Southern Miss and New Mexico State slated this season, maybe the schedule is the rat poison. Why waste money scheduling those teams when there are fourth other conferences littered with worthy opponents (in name only)?

As usual, there seems to be no stopping Alabama this season. At least the upcoming games against No. 11 Florida, No. 17 Ole Miss and No. 7 Texas A&M will make for interesting potential roadblocks. 

Closing the gap

There has been a growing trend this season of Power 5 teams having trouble against lower level counterparts. 

The first week of the season saw FCS beat six FBS opponents including Montana upsetting Washington, who were ranked No. 20 at the time. The opening week also saw Washington State, Duke, Cal, Illinois and Georgia Tech fall to FBS opponents. 

There weren’t as many upsets this week but there were a lot of close calls. No. 22 Miami almost followed up an embarrassing loss to Alabama with an even more embarrassing loss to Appalachian State. It took a game winning field goal to save the Hurricanes’ hide. 

No. 12 Notre Dame also needed some fourth quarter magic to topple Toledo 32-29. South Carolina needed a game winning field goal just to beat East Carolina. Same goes for Vanderbilt against Colorado State. Oklahoma State and Minnesota both won by only five points against Tulsa and Miami OH. Kansas State had a harder time with Southern Illinois than it did against Stanford the week before. 

There was one upset and if involved Florida State. Jacksonville State shocked the Seminoles  20-13 by scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Florida native Damond Philyaw-Johnson’s only catch in the game was a 59-yard touchdown reception on the final play of the game. 

Just goes to show in 2021, you can’t take a victory over a G5 or FCS team for granted. 

Welcome to the SEC

The season started with the shocking news of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, making the already power packed conference even more powerful. 

While the move won’t happen until 2025, Texas got an early look at what its new life will be like with a Week 2 matchup against Arkansas. It wasn’t pretty as the Razorbacks stampeded over the Longhorns 40-21. 

Arkansas ran for 333 yards against Texas. The last time the Razorbacks had a run game that prolific was in 2016, which was also their last winning season. 

Texas started the Steve Sarkisian era with a win over then ranked No. 23 Louisiana but a blowout loss to one of the SEC’s weaker teams brought the Longhorns back down to Earth.

“This was not a performance I was anticipating,” first-year coach Steve Sarkisian said.

“Welcome to the SEC, I guess,” Arkansas linebacker Hayden Henry said. 

Despite the loss, the Big 12 may still be a race between Texas and Oklahoma. 

Potential party crashers

No. 23 BYU hast started the season with wins over Arizona and No. 21 Utah and could crash the playoff party this season before entering the Big 12. 

The Cougars already snapped their long losing streak against their arch rivals with a 26-17 win over the Utes. A win over Arizona State would position them nicely for a potential perfect season ending with a trip to USC.

BYU is certainly taking advantage of its independence this season with seven Power 5 opponents on the schedule. Running the table this time around could give the Cougars their best chance at the playoff since leaving the Mountain West Conference a decade ago.

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