Our look at the remaining unbeatens continues with the second ranked Oregon Ducks. The Ducks undoubtedly have had the easiest schedule thus far, but will also have the toughest road ahead of all the top teams. So far this season, Oregon has faced just three ranked teams—Arizona, Washington, and USC. Arizona dropped out of the rankings after UCLA handed them their fourth loss of the year in the form of a 66-10 domination two Saturdays ago. Washington is still hanging on to the final spot in the rankings, but with four losses, cannot be counted as a very tough opponent on the Ducks’ schedule. Southern Cal, a preseason favorite to reach the BCS title game, has underperformed all year, suffering losses to Oregon, thirteenth ranked Stanford and unranked Arizona. These Trojans have as much talent as any roster in the nation, including first round NFL draft picks at quarterback and wide receiver, but the team has not played up to their potential. If they could put it all together, they could beat any team on any given Saturday, but they have yet to prove their worth against any quality opponent. Therefore, it is difficult to consider USC anything more than just a blip on the schedule.
To finish out the year, Oregon plays thirteenth ranked Stanford and fifteenth ranked Oregon State, before the Pac-12 championship game against either USC or UCLA. All three opponents are middle-of-the-road Pac-12 teams who the Ducks, on paper, should have no trouble with. All three have incurred multiple losses, and are nowhere near the top-tier upon which Oregon sits. Nevertheless, the game is not played on paper, and all three teams have a realistic shot at taking down the unbeaten Ducks.
[Related: Week 12 Heisman rankings]
Stanford relies on an excellent running game, lead by senior stud Stephan Taylor, and a defense which has allowed more than 23 points only once this year. The Cardinal defense will have to play well above expectations if they’re going to pull off the upset this Saturday, and slowing down the quack attack is no simple task.
Oregon State will get their chance to play spoiler in the annual regular season finale against their in-state rival known as the Civil War. The Beavers have been a victim of inconsistent play under center all season, as two different quarterbacks have started at least four games. Starting quarterback Sean Mannion was lost for the season due to injury, however, Cody Vaz has stepped in and played well enough, completing 57% of his passes with eight touchdowns and only one pick. The Beavers are a bit of a young, immature team, but crazy things happen every year when rivalry week rolls around. Oregon State is reeling for a win, as they haven’t beaten their in-state rival since 2007, and who doesn’t want to spoil their biggest rival’s championship aspirations.
Oregon has a bit of a disadvantage as compared to other unbeatens Kansas State and Notre Dame. While the Big 12’s offseason downsizing has eliminated the conference championship game, and Notre Dame’s status as an independent saves them from a championship game, Oregon will play either USC or UCLA to close out their year. Despite all the talk of the lack of strength in the Ducks’ schedule, they will finish the season with four games in five weeks against ranked opponents. While none of these are top-tier opponents, this stretch run will undoubtedly push Oregon into the BCS title game if they are able to win out. Sitting pretty at number two after Alabama was dropped from the unbeatens, Notre Dame will not likely be able to pass the Ducks unless they trip up and lose a game.
Oregon, just like Kansas State, has a high-powered offense that puts up video game-esque numbers. The difference between the number one and two teams in the nation is the defense. Oregon is 30th in the nation, allowing an average of 22.3 points per game. However, the only elite offense that they squared up against was USC—a game in which the Ducks scored 62 points, but gave up 51. As the old adage says, defense wins championships, and Oregon is severely lacking in that area of the game.
For all the talk that running backs Kenjon Barner and D’Anthony Thomas get, there is one vital piece to this puzzle that is the Oregon offense that nobody is talking about. That’s redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota has completed 71% of his passes for 2,164 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions. He has also racked up 516 yards rushing to go along with three more touchdowns. At this point in the season, he should be on the brink of the Heisman conversation, but somehow, half of the country has never even heard of him. Maybe it’s because Oregon only plays in the ten o’clock ESPN time slot and nobody gets to see him play, but Mariota deserves some more national attention.
By the Numbers: The Perfect Season