The Oregon Ducks have been enjoying a lot of success on the field this season as Chip Kelly coaches one of his most talented teams ever. Their play has elevated them to No. 2 in the AP and Coaches polls, and they’ve given themselves the inside track to a fourth Pac 12 championship. But the Ducks have higher goals than that, looking for a return trip the BCS National Championship game. Their only problem? They can’t stop falling in the polls.
Last week, the first BCS poll came out and Oregon was surprised to see themselves at No. 3 behing the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators who jumped Oregon despite being ranked behine them in both human polls. The Gators used the momentum of their 14-6 victory over the then No. 4 LSU Tigers in the Swamp to earn a No. 1 ranking in the computer polls, elevating them to second in the BCS despite Oregon’s blowout win over the Washington Huskies, 52-21.
This week, Oregon looked to make up ground on Florida. However, the Kansas Wildcats got a huge road win in Morgantown over the No. 13 West Virginia Mountaineers, K-State has joined the Gators in leap-frogging Oregon, who dominated the Arizona State Sun Devils 43-21, dropping the Ducks to No. 4 in this week’s BCS standings.
The biggest culprit for Oregon’s continued descent? Their strength of schedule (or lack thereof). Looking at the games Oregon has played, there no current teams in the Top 25. The Arizona Wildcats were ranked No. 22 in the AP poll when they traveled to Eugene, but have fallen off, losing two of their next three games after the 49-0 drubbing they received in Autzen Stadium.
The Washinton Huskies have had a simlar fate, rising to No. 23 at the time they played Oregon off the strength of their upset win over the Stanford Cardinal, but have lost three straight since, including getting run out of Eugene 52-21. Arizona State was ranked No. 24 in the Coaches Poll, but they had 43 points dropped on them in just over a quarter of play. In short, none of Oregon’s conference wins have been against “impressive” opponents.
The non-conference schedule was even worse. Oregon is notorious for playing a soft non-conference schedule to help Kelly work out the timing that his offense requires, fine-tuning the blur to get it humming for conference play. That’s all well and good, but wins against the Arkansas State Red Wolves (of the Sun Belt Conference), the Fresno State Bulldogs (WAC), and the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (FCS) aren’t going to help a team’s strength of schedule.
Meanwhile, the Florida Gators have already gotten a pair of wins over top ten teams (LSU and South Carolina Gamecocks) in convincing fashion and K-State went into Norman and beat the Oklahoma Sooners (ranked No. 6 at the time), which never happens and then blew out the Mountaineers in their own stadium. Those are signature wins that the program can hang their hat on and bolster their strength of schedule, making it easy for them to leap Oregon in the BCS rankings.
There’s no reason to panic just yet, though, Oregon fans. The Ducks’ schedule is back-loaded with big games that will give Oregon the “impressive” wins they need (provided they win the games) to get right back into the thick of the BCS race.
November 3, Oregon travels to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans (No. 9 in the BCS) in a matchup that most people had circled in August as THE game in the Pac 12 this season. Two weeks later, Oregon hosts the Stanford Cardinal (No. 17) followed by their annual rivalry game against the Oregon State Beavers (No. 7) in the Civil War.
If Oregon wins out, that would give them a pair of wins over Top 10 opponents (one more than Kansas State) and another over a top 20 BCS team. They would also have the potential of playing a fourth game against a top 15 BCS team if USC wins the Pac 12 South and stays high in the rankings. By many simulations, a 13-0 Oregon squad jumps a 12-0 K-State team. Alabama and Florida will have at least one loss between them before the season’s out, even if that’s in the SEC title game, which would give Oregon an opening to make it to the BCS Championship game.
Oregon has been very impressive, but their opponents haven’t been which has caused their fall in the rankings. That will change down the stretch, so the road to the BCS becomes simple for the Ducks: Win and you’re in.