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Could Oregon Become the New 2004 Auburn?

Oregon's awful non-conference slate could mean trouble for them if there's a three-team logjam for the national championship game.

Jonathan Ferrey - Getty Images

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:

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.

Alabama Oregon LSU FSU Georgia
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
43.0 49.0 43.0 48.5 61.0
49.3 57.0 47.2 49.0 60.1
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.