There's a series of checkpoints that every team must hit during a season in which they hope to reach the highest level of competition — the College Football Playoff.
For the Oregon Ducks, they failed to meet the first checkpoint in Week 1 of the 2019 season, falling to Auburn on the national stage, but since then, they've remained unscathed, primed to make a run to the post-season. In the past two weeks, we've seen them hit two major mile markers, both of which can give fans confidence in their team going forward; against Washington, they came back from a 14-point deficit to win on the road in a brutal environment, and against Washington State, they led a game-winning drive with a minute left in the game to keep their season's hopes alive.
Whether or not it is concerning that the Ducks were ever in the position to need late-game heroics in order to succeed is a conversation for another time, but what matters is that they've done what's needed when called upon, and they still have a seat at the table for the time being.
On Monday, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal spoke with the media, and the topic of Oregon's pressure to win out and potentially earn a berth into the CFP came up. For the Ducks, the focus is on the here and now, and that's a tough road game against USC this weekend.
"I think that’s always going to be the monster that we’re faced with our generation," Cristobal said. "I think you quickly acknowledge the fact that it’s there but you also acknowledge the fact that, ‘ok we’re having success, we are climbing but we’re also climbing because other teams had some mishaps on Saturday’. That’s the bottom line, that’s the truth."
A monster, indeed, but a monster that can be tamed if the right steps are taken. For Cristobal and the Oregon coaching staff, as the postseason projections continue to rise, they need to make an emphasis on daily practice and keeping the team away from the public narrative. In the end, listening to outside analysis of where the Ducks can go is only a distraction.
"Immediately we jump back into the fact that our operation and our process is working because it’s as simple as, 'this is the most important game of the year because it’s the next game,'" Cristobal said. "We are not going to stray from that. We can’t stray from that. I don’t know if anyone is good enough to stay from that, maybe they are, but for us, it’s gonna be about being where our feet are and focusing on the task at hand."
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, we will see first-hand how well focused the Ducks stayed this week.