Have you ever seen a team ranked too high in the BCS poll, and thought to yourself, “Give me a break”? Of course you have. More than likely that has happened this season, this month, maybe even this week.
There are a lot of quality and highly ranked teams in the mix this year, and yet some of them, most notably #5 Notre Dame and #10 USC, and more importantly #2 Florida, seem directly positioned as a potential road block to the #3 Oregon Ducks, should the Ducks try to go undefeated and earn a berth in their second BCS National Championship Game in three years. It is difficult to ignore, and perhaps there is a certain level of “eye of the beholder” here, however it just appears that the BCS has it in for the Ducks. As though, they want them to lose.
The “Old-Guard” is a tough statue to move, and Oregon has been scrambling to be the unstoppable force to finally unhinge the immovable object that is the BCS and its supporters. The year may have finally arrived that allows the Ducks to win it all, and to do so without question or doubt, two traits that have long eluded the champions of BCS past.
Perhaps those on the outside will view the Ducks and their fans as paranoid, and that they will get the ranking that they deserve regardless of what the other teams are doing. If that is in fact the case, then the numbers will not lie. Let's examine.
#5 Notre Dame (6-0)
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have not played in a BCS bowl game since the 2007 Sugar Bowl, and has not won a meaningful bowl game since the 1994 Cotton Bowl. That is not stopping the nation from showering the Golden-Domes with praise, deservedly so as it may be. While they have played well and have faced decent to above average teams, Notre Dame has played three ranked teams this year (#10 Michigan State, #18 Michigan, #17 Stanford), and defeated only one (Michigan State) by more than a single score. As a member of the Independents, they are not shackled by a conference schedule the will ultimately determine their true strength of schedule, and have slated #9 Oklahoma and #10 USC as their other two ranked opponents, rounding out the schedule with Navy, Purdue, Miami (FL), BYU, Pitt, BC, and Wake Forest.
If not for their ranked opponents, Notre Dame would have a hard time trying to push their schedule as even difficult, let alone top-five worthy. While winning still matters, the margin of victory should be examined, as the Irish have yet to truly run over a worthy opponent. In fact, the Irish's only two lopsided victories have come against the 3-3 Midshipmen, and the 4-3 Hurricanes. Murderer's row, indeed.
With four of their six games being so close at the finish, including an OT victory to knock off the Cardinal, the Irish seem destined for a classic let-down game, albeit a close one, and if not, the schedule seems to be their saving grace, as their level of perceived difficulty could be enough to catapult them over the Ducks, even though the Irish do not play in a conference, and therefore cannot play in a conference championship game, or win a conference outright. This should hurt their ability to move forward in the rankings, and yet, it won't. If the Irish lose even one game, it should keep them out of the top five, as their one defeat will come at the hands of either an unranked foe, or worse, an opponent ranked in the top ten, thus negating their place at or near the top. Ducks fans can only hope to see such justice for a team that has received praise since the early 2000’s; even though the Irish have not been serious title contenders since before Y2K was a common concern.
#10 USC (5-1)
The University of Southern California Trojans will get three cracks to thwart Oregon's chances for a national title this year, and will even partner with #5 ND for the second of three.
Despite a loss to then #21 Stanford and no meaningful wins over quality opponents, the Trojans continue to defy BCS logic, and climb in the rankings. Victories over unranked Hawaii, Syracuse, Cal, Utah, and Washington, are hardly a case for the 10th best team in the nation. They are not even the third best team in the PAC-12, yet here they are, #10 in the nation. If that is not bias, we need to redefine the word.
Senior Matt Barkley decided against going pro and returned for his fourth and final season at USC, the first of which he has a shot and now the right to play for a BCS bowl game, with the school's post-season ban being lifted this year. He has not lived up to the preseason hype, and it not yet on pace to even meet or exceed last year's results. His team has just two remaining ranked opponents this year in #3 Oregon and #5 Notre Dame, and the rest of the schedule should prove to mostly a formality, save for perhaps UCLA. Should the Trojans finish with just one loss this season, defeating the numbers three and five teams in the nation en route, it will be very difficult to keep them out of the championship game, let alone a BCS bowl game. They should have to beat the Ducks twice to get there, and as unlikely as that sounds, it would be enough to in essence catapult them in to the national championship discussion, if not simply place them there.
That puts the November 3rd game in LA against the Ducks as must win for both teams, and should USC lose the matchup, they will at the very least have a home game against the #5 Irish to close out their season, a second shot at beating Oregon should they both make the PAC-12 Championship game, and that should be sufficient enough to climb back inside of the top ten and a BCS berth. None of those options sound great for the Ducks, and whichever team of USC and ND wins their Nov. 24th game of destiny, the winner will likely be a road block to the Ducks, unless ND happens to be awaiting Oregon in the National Title game, and then lookout.
#2 Florida (6-0)
The Florida Gators have the easiest path to keep Oregon out of the BCS title game, and that is simple: do not lose. By leapfrogging the then #2 Ducks following a 14-6 victory over then #4 LSU, the Gators in essence have already clamped down on the title game, so long as they retain their winning ways. Oregon and Florida do not share a common opponent, and since in years past the BCS has seen the SEC as a stronger division than the PAC-12, the Ducks will assuredly face an uphill climb.
Florida, like the Irish, has failed to truly demolish a quality opponent, and has only netted meaningful wins against #23 Tennessee, and the previously mentioned then #4(now #6) LSU Tigers. Their remaining wins have come against unranked foes Bowling Green, Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. Florida does have three more games against ranked teams in #7 South Carolina, #11 Georgia, and #14 Florida State. Late season games against Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Jacksonville State should keep their ranking honest come late December, although as they were #10 prior to being moved up eight spots to #2 after beating #4 LSU by one score, all bets are off as to how the BCS is calculating the quality of victories from one team to the next. An SEC Championship showdown with #1 Alabama seems likely, and that should ideally pit #1 vs #2 if today's rankings hold (no promises), which would ideally open up one of those slots to the Ducks, assuming they are #3 and undefeated by season’s end.
Three teams stand in the way, and all three appear to have chinks in the armor that will ultimately keep them from completely blocking the path. Florida and Alabama should be pitted against each other in the battle for the SEC, USC appears ready to be run over by Oregon (twice), as along as Oregon does not suffer a setback, #5 Notre Dame should not be able to move ahead of them in the standings.
The Oregon Ducks have quality and lopsided wins over #22 Arizona (49-0), #23 Washington (52-21) as well as remaining games against #10 USC, #20 Stanford, and #8 Oregon State. The level of competition in the conference is as high or higher than ever before, and should only aid the cause of the Ducks as the end of the season nears.
Arizona, #8 Oregon State, #20 Stanford, UCLA, #10 USC, and Washington are all quality teams who are or have at one point this season been ranked in the top 25, and all have defeated at least one top-25 opponent. Oregon will have played all but UCLA by season's end, and will likely continue to roll up two to three score victories.
While their out of conference schedule is not even worth mentioning (yet I will [Arkansas State, Fresno State, Tennessee Tech, all goliaths...]) however with the parity in the conference this year and the amount of points and yards the Ducks are churning out, with the dawn of a new future and the end of the BCS on the horizon, the Ducks may finally get to put to rest the demons that were awakened in the winter of 2001.
When (not if, keep this note handy) the Ducks win the BCS National Championship this season, despite the efforts of their conference opponents and the BCS to keep them out, all will at long last be right with the world. Eleven years after they were robbed of a chance to unseat Ken Dorsey and the mighty Miami Hurricanes, the Ducks will at long last have the peace they have earned and deserved.