College Football Playoff: Assessing the chief threats to No. 3 Oregon as Utah joins the rankings



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

Oregon moved up one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday evening and, for the first time, the No. 3 Ducks weren't the Pac-12's only representative.

Utah joined the CFP Top-25 party after walloping Stanford for its fifth victory in the past six games.

The 24th-ranked Utes could add heft to Oregon's resume after Fresno State dropped out, but the Ducks face a complicated path to the semifinals.

In order to finish in the top four, the Ducks would need to beat Utah twice — a double-whammy that could knock the Utes out of the Top 25 and leave Oregon with only one victory over a ranked opponent.

That opponent, of course, is Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were slotted one rung below Oregon this week followed by No. 5 Cincinnati, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State, which dropped four spots after losing to Purdue.

Georgia and Alabama were the top-two teams once again.

"Last week, the difference-maker for the committee was the Oregon win at Ohio State," selection committee chair Gary Barta said.

"And I would just suggest that since nothing really changed in the committee's eyes since last week, both teams won, both teams were on the road, Oregon maybe shined a little bit more, but at the end of the day Oregon ahead of Ohio State this week."

Oregon's lofty ranking is more fragile than it looks because of the upcoming schedule.

The SEC and Big Ten powers have matchups against top-10 teams down the stretch, lending potential rocket fuel to their resumes. The Ducks have only Utah, which could drop out if Oregon wins the head-to-head duel in two weeks.

Put another way: There are threats circling, ready to knock the Ducks out of the top four even if they were to finish as a one-loss Pac-12 champion.

Threat No. 1: Alabama. If the second-ranked Crimson Tide runs the table and beats Georgia in the SEC title game, the conference will assuredly gobble up two of the four playoff berths. (Georgia's a lock, so long as it doesn't have more than one loss.)

Threat No. 2. The Big Ten champion. Whether it's Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, a one-loss Big Ten winner could use its November schedule to overtake the Ducks. That includes Ohio State, despite the head-to-head result from September. Of note: The committee ranked Michigan ahead of Michigan State this week even though MSU won the recent head-to-head.

Threat No. 3: The Big 12 champion. Undefeated Oklahoma is five spots below the Ducks but has at least two and possibly three games remaining against teams currently ranked in the top 15 (Oklahoma State and Baylor). If the Sooners finish 13-0, they will pass 12-1 Oregon. And if Oklahoma State finishes 12-1, it might pass Oregon.

Threat No. 4: A second Big Ten team. If No. 7 Michigan State wins out, it would finish as a one-loss champion with a victory over Ohio State. And if No. 6 Michigan wins out, it would finish as a one-loss division runner up with … a victory over Ohio State. At that point, the difference in number of victories over ranked teams (i.e., conference strength) could propel both Michigan schools past the Ducks.

Threat No. 5: Cincinnati. The Bearcats are No. 5 this week and beat Notre Dame in South Bend, but they don't have games remaining against teams currently ranked. That said, the public and media pressure on the committee to include an undefeated team from the Group of Five would be significant — to the point that Cincinnati potentially could jump the Ducks.

Threat No. 6: Texas A&M. Don't laugh, because the two-loss Aggies have a path to the SEC West title and, as a result, a path to the SEC championship. And if they somehow run the table and submit a resume that features wins over Georgia and Alabama, a playoff berth would assuredly follow.


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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