It’s seen as a foregone conclusion that an SEC team will get least one spot in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on January 7. It’s seen as a further foregone conclusion that if USC upsets Notre Dame on Saturday night in Los Angeles, the SEC controls its destiny to get two slots, with Florida getting first crack if they can beat Florida State on the road. The team that’s getting left out in all this is the Oregon Ducks. Sitting at #5 in the BCS standings, the Ducks seem dependent on a complete crackup (see Monday’s BCS bowl projections for examples) to get any shot at a national title.
Is this right? In 2011, Alabama was given a second chance after an overtime loss at home. Is there a reason Oregon doesn’t deserve the same chance? In this article we’ll examine the Oregon Ducks BCS chances by comparing their body of work to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. We’ll ask not only what will likely happen, but what should happen, with the overriding question being whether Chip Kelly’s team is getting a raw deal.
The first reality we have to focus on is the quality of the SEC, which drives the favorable rankings given the Tide, Dawgs & Gators, currently ranked 2-3-4 in the BCS. If you focus simply on this year, the SEC is not a very deep league. The bottom of the conference is awful, and the lower middle class softer than normal. The six power teams (add South Carolina, LSU & Texas A&M to the leading trio) are the best Gang of Six in the country. But a conference isn’t a Gang of Six. The result is that while SEC contenders have quality showcase wins, they lack depth in their resumes.
Furthermore, strength of schedule varies within a conference and Alabama is a prime example. Teams only play three of the seven teams in the opposite division. The SEC West-residing Tide were able to avoid Eastern foes Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. They avoided everyone of consequence in the other division! Even if you think the SEC is as good as in years past, ‘Bama’s been able to avoid it.
We’ll go through each the specifics on each team’s resume, but one fundamental divide separates Oregon from everyone else—the SEC teams have flashier-looking wins. Oregon has a higher number of good, solid wins. Ultimately, there won’t be a silver bullet answer to this question, because it will be about what voters value most. But at least at we can shed a little more light on the topic. Here’s each team’s body of work summarized…
OREGON: The Ducks have had four gimme games on their schedule—Washington State, Colorado, and Cal within the league, Tennessee Tech outside of it. Oregon has a solid run against good, bowl-bound teams, with their wins over Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and USC. The latter two wins were on the road. All were decisive. We can add to that non-conference games against Arkansas State and Fresno State, each of whom are tied for first in the Sun Belt and the Mountain West. For the record, any voters who don’t know anything about these teams shouldn’t be voting. Not every mid-major team is the same.
We can add to this a presumed win over Oregon State, which would be the best victory yet. The Beavers are #15 in the current rankings, have beaten UCLA within the league, and Wisconsin and BYU outside of it. Oregon will have to beat Oregon State on the road. In fact, the game is tough enough that we’re only presuming a win because for the sake of this article we’re doing so with all four teams under review.
ALABAMA: There are five cupcakes, including a presumed win on Saturday against Auburn. This also includes wins at Arkansas and at Tennessee, both of whom were terrible this season. Then add in Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. When you move up the ladder, there’s still issues. We don’t yet know if Ole Miss or Missouri will get bowl-eligible—each would have to win as an underdog this weekend—and that would be a further knock on the Tide schedule. And the non-conference opponents didn’t do Alabama any favors—Michigan proved to be less than people expected in the Big Ten, and the Big Ten itself proved to be a joke. At the mid-major level, Western Kentucky wasn’t the contender they were expected to be.
So Alabama’s got anywhere from 2-4 notable wins, two of which depend on teams scraping their way to 6-6 and two more that aren’t as good as they looked at first glance. What the Tide does have is a victory at LSU, and a presumed SEC Championship Game win over Georgia in Atlanta. Both wins would be better than Oregon’s best victory.
GEORGIA: Half of the Bulldog schedule is against teams bad enough to be dismissed from consideration—Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern, Buffalo, Florida Atlantic. Then they have the same Ole Miss/Missouri problem that Alabama does. We could be looking at a schedule where two-thirds of the teams don’t make bowl games and only Vanderbilt qualifies as a solid win against a bowl team.
At the top level, Georgia’s win over Florida and presumed win over Alabama in the SEC title game would both be in neutral sites. Add to that the Vanderbilt game was at home, and we have a schedule whose toughest road win was Missouri—even if they make a bowl game, and even if you give Georgia a little extra credit since this was Mizzou’s first SEC home game with its attendant emotion, how impressed are you by this slate?
FLORIDA: It’s too bad the Gators aren’t in position to win the conference championship, because this is an elite schedule at the top. Assuming a win at Florida State on Saturday and pair that with a victory at Texas A&M and you have two road wins. Then there’s the home wins over Florida and LSU, with the road trip to Vanderbilt mixed in—let’s note that against a schedule like this, those road trips to places like Vandy have a lot more trap potential than normal.
There are two above-average mid-major teams on the non-conference slate, Bowling Green and UL-Lafayette, although Florida did struggle with both of them. The Gators also beat Missouri, whose bowl fate is undecided. Only the games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Jacksonville State should be dismissed.
So where does Oregon fit against these three teams? I’ll start with what I think should be two easy decisions—Oregon’s body of work is better than Georgia’s. We can further add that Oregon’s loss came in overtime, while Georgia was blown out by South Carolina, 35-7. While the Dawgs were on the road, they’re the one team in this group of four that was genuinely humiliated. On the flip side, Florida’s schedule is tougher than Oregon’s and the Gators are rightfully ahead of Oregon on the pecking order.
Alabama is the closer call. If it were me, I’d vote Oregon, because as college football gets increasing parity with each passing year, it’s much harder to make your way through that slog of games against teams good enough to trip you up, but not good enough to catch voters’ attention. I can respect a vote for Alabama on the grounds that their two best wins (at LSU, Georgia) would be better than anything Oregon could offer, but I’d still prefer the broader, more consistent schedule that Chip Kelly’s team had to face.
One caveat—and a rather big one—to all this, is that I’d prefer never to vote a team that fails to win its conference into the national championship game, and on that basis, both Oregon and Florida would be gone from consideration. But in practice, this does happen, and it’s also very possible Oregon could still end up playing for the Pac-12 title (they just need to win and hope UCLA beats Stanford).
When we get to reality, the biggest reality is this—Alabama’s lead in the BCS for the #2 spot is huge and there is no way they can lose it without getting beat. Even if the Tide win the ugliest game imaginable against Georgia, while Oregon blows out Oregon State, then gets to the Pac-12 Championship Game and smokes UCLA, it would take huge tidal wave for Oregon to displace Alabama on style points alone.
Georgia is within striking distance for Oregon, but that’s right now—meaning that if Bulldogs beat the Tide, won’t they logically inherit all of Alabama’s political support? I would imagine so. If Oregon runs the two-game gauntlet I described above and does it in blowout fashion, maybe that could change, but right now you have to assume Georgia’s control of their own destiny is pretty solid.
Oregon is very close to Florida, and this is where the Pac-12 race could matter. It’s tough to see Oregon making any headway against a Gator team that just won at Florida State. But on December 1, Florida will be off and if the Ducks get some help, a blowout win over UCLA might push them over the top.
So in answer to the question of whether Oregon is getting a raw deal, I’d be inclined to say this—at least a little bit. And the bigger raw deal is that the question isn’t even being asked.