Friend of the blog Bud Elliott from Tomahawk Nation was tweeting last night and this morning about the pecking order among potential national title contenders. It's not surprising given that his FSU team is in the top five. His main point is that Oregon needs the Pac-12 to stop falling apart, something it did a little more of last night with Washington upsetting Stanford:
Oregon's non-conference schedule is Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech and Fresno. They NEED Pac-12 teams to be highly thought of.— TomahawkNation.com (@TomahawkNation) September 28, 2012
The first thing I thought of when I saw that was 2004 Auburn. Those Tigers got left out of the national championship game for the most part because of their weak non-conference slate. They played ULM, the Citadel, and Louisiana Tech, while USC played Virginia Tech and Oklahoma played Oregon. The two teams that got to play for it all had signature non-conference wins and Auburn didn't.
Now, it's very early yet to be too overly worried about this stuff, but I did mention it when discussing Alabama earlier this week. To expand on it further, I went through and lined up the schedules of the top five teams in the AP Poll using the current Football Outsiders F/+ rankings. I wanted to see just how much jeopardy Oregon is in when it comes to being the next '04 Auburn.
This table lines up the opponents. Underneath them are the median and average ranks of the I-A opponents, and finally at the bottom is the projected conference title game opponent. These rankings are only through last Saturday's games.
|4 LSU||11 Stanford||1 Alabama||12 Florida||12 Florida|
|26 Texas A&M||16 USC||12 Florida||24 VT||17 S. Carolina|
|27 Michigan||21 Arizona St.||17 S. Carolina||29 Clemson||32 GT|
|35 Miss St.||36 Arizona||26 Texas A&M||45 Miami (FL)||41 Tennessee|
|41 Tennessee||39 Oregon St.||35 Miss St.||47 USF||56 Auburn|
|43 Arkansas||49 Fresno St.||43 Arkansas||50 NC State||61 Ole Miss|
|56 Auburn||62 Cal||56 Auburn||58 BC||63 Missouri|
|61 Ole Miss||66 Washington||61 Ole Miss||59 Maryland||82 Kentucky|
|63 Missouri||104 Ark. St.||66 Washington||80 Duke||83 Vanderbilt|
|64 WKU||105 WSU||95 UNT||86 Wake Forest||92 Buffalo|
|122 FAU||118 Colorado||107 Idaho||I-AA Murray St.||122 FAU|
|I-AA WCU||I-AA TTU||I-AA Towson||I-AA Sav. St.||I-AA GSU|
|9 Georgia||16 USC||9 Georgia||24 VT||1 Alabama|
If anyone is in danger of becoming the new Auburn, it's funnily enough their rival Georgia. The Bulldogs' median and average opponents are far below everyone else. They would stand to get the biggest conference championship game bump, however.
As for Oregon, its median opponent is right there with FSU but its average opponent is lower. I have a feeling that Stanford's fall is not going to be completely offset by Washington's rise, so as of right this second, FSU probably has a bit of a lead. One catch is that FSU played two I-AA teams while the Ducks only played one. That's not FSU's fault; the Savannah State game is a result of West Virginia canceling at the last minute to play an extra conference game in the Big 12. Whether voters will know that and take it into account, I don't know.
Of course, it's still September so everything is liable to change here. Three of these teams are scheduled to play Florida, for instance, so either they'll all send the Gators' rank plummeting by beating them or will potentially bow out of the race themselves by losing to them. The Pac-12 has been fairly unpredictable so far, at least relative to preseason expectations, and the ACC is nothing if not a chaos-y conference.
If the early trends do keep up, though, it wouldn't be difficult to see Oregon being on the outside looking in if the Ducks, an SEC team, and Florida State all go undefeated. Stanford and USC stand to be Oregon's signature wins, but the Cardinal would have at least two losses and USC would have at least three. After those two, the opponents start to get very uninspiring.
They'd have Tommy Tuberville's sympathies, but the Ducks would also have to look in the mirror. When you don't schedule anyone of note out of conference, you do so at your own risk. That's a lesson we've all known since at least 2004.