There is no question that the biggest non-conference game heading into the 2020-2021 collegiate football season was the Oregon Ducks hosting the Ohio State Buckeyes at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.
The Ducks were coming off an epic win in the 2020 Rose Bowl and the program was back on top with Mario Cristobal at the helm. One of the nation’s best quarterbacks - Justin Fields - was set to headline another successful season for the Buckeyes.
It was THE game to watch in week two of non-conference play.
And then everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The game -- along with the rest of non-conference play-- was canceled. The anticipation for this game dated all the way back to 2012 when the two schools agreed to this home-and-home series with first the game in Eugene, Oregon (2020) and the second in Colobus, Ohio (2021).
There’s no telling if this game will be played on it’s originally schedule date (September 11, 2021) with the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic, but let’s just pretend for a moment that the game will indeed kickoff.
The importance of this game cannot go overstated.
Oregon will have a chance to put the Pac-12 conference back in College Football Playoff contention because let’s be honest here, the Pac-12 hasn’t come close to sniffing a spot in the CFP for some time now. With Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State continuing to show its dominance year after year.
Only two teams outside those three schools mentioned have won a National Championship since 2011: Florida State (2013) and LSU (2019). Oregon (2014) and Washington (2016) are the only Pac-12 conference schools to qualify for a College Football Playoff since the berth of this four-team playoff in 2014.
This game at Ohio State presents a huge opportunity to change the narrative of Pac-12 teams in CFP talks.
“What does Oregon have the opportunity to do? Alter the narrative when they go to Columbus,” explained Yogi Roth on the latest Talkin’ Ducks. “If we’re just going to be straight up about it, that’s what they have the opportunity to do. If they can go to Ohio State - it’s not Auburn - even if you lose tight to Ohio State, it’s a different dialogue than losing tight or even beating an Auburn team in my opinion. So we’ll see.
One thing Duck fans have noticed with Cristobal, is he isn’t afraid to schedule the “bigger” games and tries to avoid the “cupcake non-conference schedule” conversations. Since Cristobal has taken over, the Ducks have faced Auburn and have scheduled non-conference opponents Georgia (2022), Texas Tech (2023, 2024), Oklahoma State (2025, 2026), Baylor (2027, 2028), and Michigan State (2029, 2030) in the future.
Scheduling is just part of the CFP committee’s decision. It will likely come down to how the Ducks play against the Buckeyes.
“I think Oregon - when you look back - the last three years, these classes have been NFL-caliber classes at multiple positions,” continued Roth. “And this year, they needed experience because they lacked that dramatically. So they’ll put themselves in position. If they can go win that game on the road or keep it tight, they’ll put this conference in position to change the narrative.
“And then, you just don’t want to get to the playoff, you got to figure out a way to win. Right now, how is a team from this conference going to go out and beat Alabama? Right now, I’m not confident saying one of our team’s this past year would have beaten Alabama. I wasn’t confident in any team doing it and nobody did. I think they can all play with Notre Dame….”
Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State aren’t going anywhere for a long time. Meaning there is really one spot open each collegiate football season in the CFP. If Oregon is to be one of them, then the road to get their goes through Ohio State.
Can it be September already?!