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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Pat Forde

SI’s Top 10: Oregon Crashes Out of Playoff Race

Oregon was putting Washington away, one relentless running play at a time, chewing up clock in the fourth quarter, driving for what seemed like an inevitable clinching touchdown. The Ducks already led by four points and were at the Huskies’ 10-yard line with 4:26 to play.

And that’s when absolutely everything fell apart for Oregon (8–2). A succession of incremental mishaps built into an overarching disaster that killed its College Football Playoff dreams. After eight straight wins moved the Ducks into the margins of Playoff position, the whole thing dissolved into a 37–34 defeat. The sport can be cruel that way.

Here’s how it happened: On third-and-5 from the Washington 10, quarterback Bo Nix ran a keeper and was stopped after two yards. That was unfortunate, but Nix coming up hobbling after the play was worse. Oregon settled for a field goal and a seven-point lead, keeping the Huskies alive.

The mishaps mounted. The Ducks kicked off out of bounds, giving Washington good field position. Then quarterback Michael Penix Jr. made a long, cross-field throw that the Oregon secondary misplayed, resulting in a tying 62-yard touchdown.

Still, time remained to salvage the game. That’s when rookie head coach Dan Lanning made a decision that boggles the mind.

On fourth-and-1 from his own 34 in a tie game with less than 90 seconds left and with his backup QB in the game, Lanning opted to go for it. He did not punt. He did not call timeout to think about it. He did not reinsert Nix into the game, although Nix was jumping up and down on the sideline, an accomplished short-yardage running quarterback ready to go back in. He went with a handoff to Noah Whittington, who slipped and fell for a loss and gifted Washington field position for the winning field goal.

Oregon mounted a final desperation drive that actually had a chance, but it ended on a batted-down pass into the end zone. The damage already had been done in a sudden series of unfortunate events: stalled drive, injured QB, bad kickoff, bad coverage, very bad fourth-down decision—poof, there goes the Playoff. “This game 100% falls on me,” Lanning said afterward. In the Oregon pantheon of national championship pain, this may rank up there with Dennis Dixon’s injury in 2007 and Michael Dyer’s run in 2010.

While Oregon was the big loser of the day, TCU was the big winner. Made a disrespectful seven-point underdog at Texas, the Horned Frogs instead secured a win that solidifies their place in the top four of the next College Football Playoff rankings. But there still is some work to be done.

Let’s get to SI’s Top 10:

1. Georgia

Last game: Beat Mississippi State 45–19
Next game: At Kentucky

It took a while for the Bulldogs of the SEC East to put the Bulldogs of the SEC West away, but this was never seriously in doubt. Georgia never trailed, and in fact has trailed for a total of 93 seconds (early against Tennessee) since that close scrape at Missouri. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken continues to find creative ways to multitask with his skill personnel, this time getting a 70-yard run from receiver Ladd McConkey on a reverse. This remains the best team in the country, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone remaining on the regular-season schedule capable of challenging that status. Maybe not the postseason schedule, either.

2. Ohio State

Last game: Beat Indiana 56–14
Next game: at Maryland

An emphatic Buckeyes victory still didn’t go off without a hitch. Running backs Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson now both have injury issues—Williams left this game on a cart, and Henderson already was out of action. Williams’s leg injury did not appear to be “long term,” according to coach Ryan Day. Still, there are always options at Ohio State: third stringer Dallan Hayden made the most of his chance, rushing for a career-high 102 yards, and receiver Xavier Johnson had a 71-yard run. And, of course, there was quarterback C.J. Stroud throwing for five touchdowns. The improved Buckeyes defense, meanwhile, held its seventh opponent to fewer than 15 points.

3. Michigan

Last game: Beat Nebraska 34–3
Next game: Illinois at home

The Wolverines (10–0) churned out another workmanlike victory, putting the defensive clamps on the Cornhuskers. Nebraska had just one play longer than 13 yards, and ran only 48 offensive plays in the game. Nine out of 10 Michigan opponents have been held to 17 or fewer points and nobody but Maryland has managed to gain 300 yards on the maize and blue. Blake Corum continued his low-key Heisman Trophy candidacy with a seventh straight 100-yard rushing game despite having no rushes longer than 12 yards. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter. “It’s a joyful, happy ride we’re on,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. The season-long march toward Nov. 26 in the Horseshoe is a step further along.

4. TCU

Last game: Beat Texas 17–10
Next game: at Baylor

When the first CFP rankings were revealed on Nov. 1, selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan questioned whether the Horned Frogs were a “complete team,” alluding to the perceived weakness of their defense. Saturday night in Austin, TCU’s defense showed up in a huge way to keep an undefeated season going. The Frogs kept Texas without an offensive touchdown and limited the Longhorns to just 199 yards, their lowest one-game total since the 2015 season opener. Offensively, TCU got enough big plays from running back Kendre Miller and receiver Quentin Johnston. Sonny Dykes remains on course to be the National Coach of the Year.

5. Tennessee

Last game: Beat Missouri 66–24
Next game: at South Carolina

The Volunteers (9–1) were chucking until the end against the Tigers, hitting two long passes that led to touchdowns in the final five minutes to run up the score. Whether that ultimately matters in the Playoff race, who knows. But a week after being held to 13 points by Georgia, Tennessee wanted to get back to exploding the scoreboard. The Vols piled up 724 yards, averaging 9.7 yards per play, and got quarterback Hendon Hooker’s Heisman campaign back on track (405 yards total offense, three touchdown passes, one TD run). Tennessee’s chances of skating into the clubhouse at 11–1 and making the Playoff remain viable.

6. USC

Last game: Beat Colorado 55–17
Next game: at UCLA

The Trojans (9–1) had a glorified walkover Friday night against the very bad Buffaloes, but it came with a steep price. Leading rusher Travis Dye was carted off the field in the first half and came back later on crutches—and while the details of the injury weren’t revealed, coach Lincoln Riley said Dye’s season is over. That’s a heavy blow heading into games against the Bruins and Notre Dame the next two Saturdays. Leading receiver Jordan Addison returned from injury after missing two games, but only had one catch for two yards against Colorado. USC did have its first back-to-back games of the season with a turnover, but its total on the year is just three—an incredibly low number in 694 offensive snaps.

7. LSU

Last game: Beat Arkansas 13–10
Next game: UAB at home

Say hello to your surprise SEC West champions. Powered by a dominant performance from freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr., the Tigers avoided the trap in Fayetteville. Coming off the emotional upset of Alabama and facing an early kickoff in early temperatures, the game turned into the slog many expected. While the LSU offense never really got untracked, Perkins destroyed the Arkansas attack with four sacks and two forced fumbles—the last of which ended the game. Perkins now has six sacks in the last three games.

8. Clemson

Last game: Beat Louisville 31–16
Next game: Miami at home

The warts really become visible on everyone after the top seven. Clemson (9–1) has seen its wins over Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Syracuse lose value, although on the flip side beating Florida State looks better by the week. This was a good win for the Tigers over a Louisville team that had won four in a row, although it came with what has become customary offensive sloppiness (three turnovers, bringing their total to nine over the last three games). Clemson got some nice running from Will Shipley (who had an epic hurdle on a touchdown) and sophomore backup Phil Mafah (his first 100-yard game).

9. Alabama

Last game: Beat Mississippi 30–24
Next game: Austin Peay at home

For much of the day Saturday, the Crimson Tide (8–2) appeared headed to their first regular-season losing streak under Nick Saban since 2007. But a fourth-quarter gut check resulted in a comeback victory in a game where the intangibles all lined up against Alabama—Ole Miss was coming off an open date, the Tide were coming off an overtime battle, and Bama’s Playoff hopes were all but extinguished. So from that standpoint, winning the game by dialing up a fourth-quarter shutout and scoring the last 13 points were nice developments. But this Alabama team is what it is—good, but tangibly below Saban Era standards.

10. Oregon

Last game: Lost to Washington 37–34
Next game: Utah at home

See above for full, gory details of how the Ducks turned a great win into a gut-busting defeat.

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