EUGENE — Oregon still has a chance, however slight, to be in the mix for college football’s national championship game. The Ducks are just going to need some help.
OK, a lot of help.
First, the fifth-ranked Ducks have to beat rival Oregon State in the Civil War this Saturday. That presents a challenge, because the game is in Corvallis, where the Beavers are known for big upsets. And Oregon State (8-2) is no slouch this season.
Then, Oregon would be helped if UCLA beat Stanford next week in Los Angeles. The Cardinal knocked the Ducks off the top of the AP rankings with a 17-14 overtime victory Saturday night, but UCLA, like Oregon State, has made a significant turnaround this season and on Saturday claimed the Pac-12 South title with a 38-28 victory over Los Angeles rival USC.
Most of all, the Ducks need Notre Dame to lose to USC this weekend. But the Fighting Irish are undefeated, and Trojans star quarterback Matt Barkley is out with a sprained right shoulder, coach Lane Kiffin said Sunday night.
About the only thing certain is that Oregon’s quest for a second national championship bid in the past three years has veered off course.
And even a shot at the Rose Bowl is in serious jeopardy.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we understand that we have a couple of more games and whatever plays out plays out," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “We just have to control what we can control."
As a result of the loss to Stanford, Oregon (10-1, 7-1) fell from No. 1 to No. 5 in the AP Top 25. Notre Dame jumped from No. 3 to No. 1. Kansas State — which was also undefeated until a stunning 52-24 loss to unranked Baylor on Saturday — dove from No. 2 to No. 7.
Meanwhile, Stanford (9-2, 7-1) jumped three spots to No. 11, and UCLA hopped two places to No. 15. Oddly, Oregon State, which soundly beat California 62-14 on Saturday night, fell a spot to No. 16.
While the Pac-12 South has already been clinched by the Bruins, the race for the North’s representative will not finish until next week. Both Oregon and Stanford have one conference loss, and if both teams win this Saturday, Stanford would claim the league’s northern spot in the Pac-12 championship game on Nov. 30.
And that means, interestingly, that Stanford would play UCLA (9-2, 6-2) two weeks in a row. If Stanford loses this week and Oregon beats the Beavers, the Ducks would win the Pac-12 North outright. The Ducks have won three straight Pac-12 championships.
At least theoretically, Oregon could go to the national title game without playing in the conference championship. And it could also receive an at-large bid for a BCS Bowl.
Last season, Oregon was ranked No. 4 when then No. 18 USC visited Autzen Stadium and left with a 38-35 upset win. Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal in the final seconds that would have tied it with the Trojans.
Against Stanford on Saturday night, Maldonado missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime. Stanford came back with Jordan Williamson’s 37-yard field goal to win it.
The loss snapped Oregon’s 13-game winning streak, which was the longest in the nation going into the game. It also snapped the Ducks’ NCAA-record streak of 23 games with at least 30 points.
“We want to bounce back and get back on the right track on Monday," said UO running back Kenjon Barner, who was held to just 66 yards rushing after going into the Stanford game with an average of 136 yards per contest. “We’ve been here before, against USC last year, and we have today and tomorrow to feel this loss and then we have to get back to work on Monday."
The 116th Civil War game lies ahead.
While Oregon State (8-2, 6-2) has already been eliminated from Rose Bowl contention, the team is still bowl eligible after a remarkable rebound from a 3-9 finish last season.
“I didn’t see the score up on the board, just heard the crowd cheering," said Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, who was still on the field at Reser Stadium in Corvallis on Saturday night when the Ducks lost to Stanford.
“I asked one of our players what happened and I found out it was 17-14 in overtime, but I didn’t know it was over yet," Poyer added. “I didn’t find out until later on in the game that they had lost, but I try to not pay too much attention to that stuff. We will see the tape and figure out where they are vulnerable."
Oregon State’s last victory in the Civil War came in 2007, when the Beavers snapped a 10-game winning streak for the home team with a 38-31 overtime victory at Autzen Stadium.
The next season, Oregon State needed a Civil War win for its first Rose Bowl bid in 44 years, but the Beavers fell to Oregon 65-38. In 2009, the winner of the game was guaranteed a Rose Bowl berth in the so-called “War of the Roses" and the Ducks won 37-33.
An upset would cap a charmed season for the Beavers, who were picked at the start of the season to finish last in the Pac-12 North by reporters who cover the league.
“I can’t explain how much it will mean to me," Oregon State receiver Markus Wheaton said after the win over California. “We will get back out there tomorrow and prepare for next week. Next week, it is unexplainable how much it means to me."