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Why a No. 3 Ranking is Both Good and Bad For Oregon

Despite the No. 3 ranking, there's reason to worry for Oregon.

On Tuesday, the latest College Football Playoff rankings were revealed with the Oregon Ducks ranked as the nation's No. 3 team, meaning Oregon likely controls its destiny to make the Playoff for the first time since 2015.

That's all great, and to add to the positive news, the Ducks weren't the lone Pac-12 representative within the Top-25 either. Utah was given the No. 24 spot less than two weeks before it hosts the Ducks on Nov. 20. 

The positives end there for Oregon, however.

Ranked right behind the Ducks is Ohio State, a team Oregon defeated on the road in Week 2 of the season. Unfortunately, the Playoff Committee made a call during its latest rankings indicating head-to-head will not matter as much as it should.

Michigan found itself ranked one spot higher than Michigan State just nine days after the Wolverines lost to the Spartans 37-33. If the Committee could rank Michigan ahead of its in-state rival with an identical record less than two weeks after losing to the Spartans, why can't Ohio State jump Oregon?

The Buckeyes have three consecutive games against ranked Big Ten opponents prior to a likely Big Ten Championship game: No. 19 Purdue, No. 7 Michigan State and at No. 6 Michigan. 

Meanwhile, Oregon will host unranked Washington State, play at No. 24 Utah, and host unranked Oregon State to close out the regular season. If the Ducks win all three games, their Pac-12 Championship opponent would likely be an unranked Utah team again. Given the national disrespect given to the Pac-12, any of these games that don't result in a blowout win for Oregon open up the Ducks to be scoffed at.

I can hear it now: "Ohio State handily beat No. 19 Purdue while Oregon survived vs. Washington State despite being 14.5-point favorites. Which team's better today?" 

Washington State, Utah and Oregon State are all good, capable football teams, but the nation doesn't view it that way. Winning close to a Big Ten team means the conference is deep. Winning close to a Pac-12 team means you're bad. 

That's not fair to Oregon but it's the world we live in.

There's precedent for head-to-head not mattering in previous seasons too.

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During the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff, the committee ranked TCU over Baylor every week but one despite the two teams having played with Baylor defeating TCU 61-58. Baylor lost at West Virginia the next week, prompting the slide but the teams had identical records the rest of the season. Even so, the Horned Frogs stayed higher ranked until the final rankings.

When deciding the four teams to make the College Football Playoff, the committee ranked 11-1 Baylor (No. 5) over 11-1 TCU (No. 6) but both teams were passed over in favor of a 12-1 Ohio State team. 

There's lot of parallels between 2021 Oregon and 2014 Baylor: both teams won the head-to-head matchup but dropped another game to an unranked foe, while competing with the team it beat to make the top-four of the Playoff rankings. 

While I believe if Oregon wins out it will make the College Football Playoff, the foundation's being laid for Ohio State to jump them, fair or not.

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