The knee-jerk reaction to Oregon's loss to Stanford was that the Pac-12's College Football Playoff hopes are gone.
The conference still has a shot to get a team into the playoff for the first time since 2017, but the road definitely got a lot tougher with Stanford's 31-24 overtime win over the Ducks on Saturday.
“Our team has to make sure that times like this, when the noise surrounds your program, you got to make sure that you stick together and have each other’s back,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “And go attack the processes that are going to put you back on track to be 1-0, to continue playing in a conference that has a lot of good football teams, a lot of good football players.”
The Pac-12 has been mostly an afterthought for the playoff in recent years due to perception, lack of performance on the field and its teams knocking each other off.
The conference hasn't had a team reach the playoff since Washington in 2017 and hasn't won a playoff game since Oregon reached the title game in 2014. The Pac-12's last national championship in football was by Southern California in 2004, a title that was later vacated by the BCS due to NCAA sanctions.
The conference has lacked consistently dominant teams like in the SEC, Big 12 and, until this season, Clemson in the ACC.
Oregon has won the past two Pac-12 championships, but missed out on a chance at the playoff in 2019 thanks in part to a late-season loss to Arizona State. The Ducks finished 4-3 during the pandemic-ravaged 2020 season, so were never in consideration.
Oregon started the season as the Pac-12's best bet to end the four-year CFP drought, opening at No. 11 in the preseason AP Top 25. The Ducks picked up a massive resume-building win by beating No. 3 Ohio State in Week 2 and worked their way up the poll to No. 3.
Then came the Stanford stumble, dropping Oregon to No. 8 in this week's poll.
The good news is the loss came early in the season.
If the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) can run the table the rest of the way and inch up the CFP rankings — the first one is Nov. 2 — an early-season road loss to a conference opponent isn't going to look as bad as one late in the season. That early win at Ohio State also could be enough to erase the negativity of the Stanford loss if the Ducks can win out.
And one loss doesn't automatically count a team out. In the seven years of the playoff, just 11 of the 28 qualifying teams have been undefeated.
Oregon still has road games against solid teams, UCLA and Utah, and closes out the season against surprising Oregon State (4-1, 2-0). The Ducks have been battling injuries but have a bye week before playing California on Oct. 15.
“In terms of anything regarding anything outside of our next practice and our next game, it’s never been relevant to the process," Cristobal said. “Do they know that big picture implications are always out there? They always will be out there. I don’t think you try to overhype anything.”
UCLA appeared to be the Pac-12's only other hope of reaching the playoff, but lost to Arizona State last week to drop to 3-2.
And don't count out the 22nd-ranked Sun Devils.
They have the road win over then-No. 20 UCLA on their resume and the only loss so far has been to BYU, which moved up to No. 10 in this week's poll.
Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) has two tough games coming up, at home against Stanford and at Utah, but get by those and run the table, it could be in contention for a playoff spot.
Maybe it's a longshot, but don't discount their chances in what's been an unpredictable season — outside of Alabama and Georgia — so far.
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