SEC teams get good news: Arizona shocks No. 2 Ducks
If you’re reading this before you’ve had your coffee Friday morning, you don’t have to slap yourself. This is real.
The college football world got its first big shakeup late Thursday night, cracking open the playoff door for a second SEC team.
With a little help from the Pac-12 officiating crew, Arizona knocked off No. 2 Oregon for the second consecutive season, handing the Ducks (4-1) their first loss of the season.
— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 3, 2014
Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass to tie the game with 8:21 left.
Tony Washington then sacked Anu Solomon on the ensuing drive, forcing what should’ve been a 34-yard field goal attempt. But Washington got a celebration penalty for running to midfield and bowing with his hands pressed together. After a pass interference penalty on the next play, Arizona eventually punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to take a 31-24 lead.
Mariota took the field again needing a touchdown to tie, but Scooby Wright III got a strip sack, ripping the ball from the quarterback after approaching behind his back.
The Wildcats ran out the clock at about 1:50 a.m. ET with most of the country sleeping.
What does the loss mean for Oregon?
The top seven teams have remained the same for three consecutive polls. That won’t last for a fourth.
We can’t declare Oregon dead for 2014 — the Ducks still could win out, capture the Pac-12 title and make the College Football Playoff with wins against Michigan State, UCLA (twice?) and Stanford.
But that doesn’t seem likely. The Ducks were exposed whether or not they won, as injuries at offensive tackle and the perpetual thorn in the team’s side, bad run defense, made the team look beatable.
It’s easy to imagine Oregon losing at least one more game. If the Ducks somehow flip some switch that doesn’t appear to exist, there’s an outside chance they can navigate their way into the CFP, but for now it appears the best Oregon can hope for is propelling Mariota back to the front of the Heisman race.
What does it mean for the Pac-12?
UCLA and Arizona are the only two unbeaten teams, and both must feel extremely fortunate. Arizona’s 49-45 comeback win against Cal was nearly unbelievable, in case you missed it. The Bruins pulled out three one-possession wins in the first three games, edging Virginia, Memphis and Texas.
Arizona travels to UCLA on Nov. 1, so there’s a maximum of one Pac-12 unbeaten this season. It shouldn’t come to that, though. The Bruins host Oregon next Saturday, assuming they get past Utah this weekend. And Arizona must host USC next weekend.
The Bruins benefit most in the Pac-12, but in addition to the Ducks, still must face Washington, USC and Stanford.
In other words, the Pac-12 already is cannibalizing itself and its best hope is for a one-loss Oregon to win out or one of the Pac-12 South teams to emerge as dominant, either UCLA or USC.
What does it mean for the SEC?
Suddenly two SEC teams in the CFP doesn’t look like such a preposterous idea. Oklahoma and Florida State remain the SEC’s biggest challengers. Assuming both of those teams win out — which is just as likely as unlikely — the Iron Bowl loser may have a good chance to nab a second SEC playoff bid.
If Alabama or Auburn navigates the rest of the SEC West, with the winner knocking off a weak East champion, a one-loss team from the state is a viable candidate, perhaps vying against a one-loss Pac-12 champion and a one-loss Big Ten champion for the final playoff spot.
There’s a ton of football left. The five unbeaten SEC West teams will get reduced to two or three this weekend (depending on if Auburn beats LSU) and then one by default. Yes, it’s only possible for one SEC West team to go undefeated. Someone has to lose those matchups.
Recent history tells us several of the other national contenders will lose before the end of October as well. Will we have chaos in the first season of the College Football Playoff? Will the SEC send two teams to the national semifinals? We’re weeks from knowing, but Oregon’s loss as a three-score favorite helps.
Also, Kenny Hill, Dak Prescott, Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper are more viable as Heisman Trophy candidates in part due to Oregon’s loss but also because Oregon’s offensive line can’t protect Mariota. That won’t change overnight.
Who has the most to gain from Thursday’s upset?
In order: UCLA, the Stanford-Notre Dame winner, the Michigan State-Nebraska winner and the second-ranked SEC team (Auburn for now).