And then there were none.
No more Pac-12 unbeatens. No more opportunity for Oregon to control its destiny for the College Football Playoff.
Though it was an upset, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it shouldn’t have ended like this as the No. 3 Ducks mostly lost their game 31-24 in overtime on Saturday at Stanford by themselves. They had control late after a slow start. Leading by seven, they drove into Cardinal territory and were in position to run out the clock with two minutes left.
Instead, a pair of false-start penalties allowed Stanford to get the ball back with an opportunity to tie. Two more penalties – both personal fouls – aided the Cardinal as they drove into scoring territory. The a holding penalty on a fourth-down incompletion extended the game by one play, and Stanford scored to force overtime. The rest in overtime was history.
Gone is all the positive momentum for Oregon after its 4-0 start that included a memorable win at Ohio State and a narrow victory against Fresno State. September’s success gave hope to the Pac-12 that this could be the year to finally get back in the playoff for the first time since 2017.
However, there were obvious holes that became apparent in the victories. Oregon’s defense allowed 612 yards in that defeat of the Buckeyes. Anthony Brown played well at quarterback, but the offense still lacked consistency and big plays in the passing game.
In a home game last week against winless Arizona, a team a national title contender should handle easily, the Ducks only led by five in the fourth quarter before some late scores led to a flattering final score.
Some of those issues again appeared against Stanford as the defense couldn’t get that needed stop late in regulation or in overtime. Forced to pass on the team’s final possession, Brown was unable to get a needed first down.
Oregon is off next week and the bye might come at the appropriate time. Players need to get healthy and there’s some soul searching to be done about where the team heads next.
The win against Ohio State gives the Ducks’ résumé a boost and provides some margin for error. That margin is razor thin with the way things are shaping up.
Alabama and Georgia seem like locks for the field unless one loses before the SEC title game. Cincinnati could be in the mix if the Bearcats can continue winning after their impressive defeat of Notre Dame. There’s also several unbeatens in the Big Ten and Big 12.
Perhaps realizing its own mortality will provide more of the urgency that was there in Columbus in Week 2 but has been lacking since. But it’s also important to recognize the fanfare from that game overshadowed this team’s limitations.
For as well as Mario Cristobal has recruited, there’s not enough talent across the board to show up without full focus and enthusiasm. The running game has to dominate or the offense is going to stall. The defense at less than full strength isn’t good enough to stop even average offenses.
A manageable schedule in the rest of the regular season awaits. The biggest test comes Oct. 23 when UCLA heads to Eugene in a game that could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game. Two wins against the Bruins would certainly change the outlook for Oregon come December given how unpredictable this season has been.
That’s a long way off, however. The first step is being prepared for California in the next game. The Ducks paying attention to anything else at this point is wasted energy.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith