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Playing Down to Their Opponents Could Cost Oregon a College Football Playoff Appearance

While the Ducks are undefeated, only one win has come in impressive fashion.

The No. 3 Oregon Ducks remained undefeated on the season thanks to a 41-19 win over Arizona, but the play on the field was far from impressive.

For the third time this season, the Ducks played down to their opponent. While Oregon players said you never apologize for winning, Oregon cannot afford to let bad teams linger around. The Pac-12 has criminally low credibility, giving the Ducks minimal room for error to make the College Football Playoff. 

Can the Ducks withstand a close loss and make the playoff at 12-1? Perhaps, but performances like tonight will not help Oregon get a spot over the loser of the SEC Championship (Georgia or Alabama), Oklahoma, Notre Dame and/or even an undefeated Cincinnati team. 

Heading into Saturday, the Wildcats had lost 15 consecutive games dating back to the 2019 season and ranked near the bottom of the FBS at converting third downs. Against Oregon, Arizona converted 7-of-15 third downs and then all four fourth-down attempts. 

In fact, the Wildcats scored a season-high 19 points against Oregon despite throwing five interceptions. If the quarterback play was just poor and not historically awful, the Wildcats may have won the game. Even with all the errors, the 28.5-point underdogs only trailed 24-19 heading into the fourth quarter. 

On the ground, Arizona pushed around the Ducks defensive front en route to 202 yards rushing (3.8 yards per carry). Heading into the game, the Wildcats had failed to rush for more than 106 yards in a game. 

After the game, Head Coach Mario Cristobal said the Ducks had no one to blame for the performance but themselves.

"It was ourselves. There is no excuse for it," he said. "We typically get what we emphasize, and we have been emphasizing starting fast and we have been starting faster. We have been emphasizing the fourth quarter - and we have gotten better there."

He's right.

The Ducks will have the talent advantage in every game remaining on its schedule. If Oregon executes well, there is no excuse to miss the College Football Playoff, especially after Clemson picked up a second loss in just Week 4. 

Cristobal mentioned the staff has been emphasizing starting and finishing games well, and the Ducks did just that on Saturday. During the first and fourth quarters, Oregon outscored Arizona 34-7. In between those dominant performances was just one scoring drive, Arizona scoring a touchdown, a field goal and safety to make it a game heading into the final quarter. 

This is the same Arizona team which paid FCS-team Northern Arizona $500,000 to beat them in Tucson the prior weekend.  

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For large chunks of Saturday's game, Arizona appeared to have control of the game. If Oregon plays like this with nearly any other opponent left on its schedule, the Ducks can easily be walking off the field with a loss.

"What we're really trying to work on is sustaining intensity and our juice throughout the game," said Alex Forsyth after the win. 

The Ducks starting center later said he felt the team may be playing with too much emotion, rather than following the advice of Oregon alumni to play with passion.

"Sustaining that [passion] throughout the highs and lows of the game," he added. 

It's highly possible the Ducks can turn it around during the teeth of their conference schedule and still earn the program's first playoff appearance since 2015. But if the pattern of playing down to the competition continues for Oregon, it's only a matter of time before the Ducks playing with fire results in getting burned. 

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