No. 18 Oregon has an open date this Saturday.
But Mario Cristobal and the Ducks aren’t going to “take our foot off the gas” as the weekly practice regimen rolls on ahead of the Oct. 13 showdown with No. 10 Washington at Autzen Stadium (12:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN/ESPN2).
While Cristobal and his staff fine-tune the team’s strengths and works on its flaws, the Huskies are preparing for Saturday’s game against Chip Kelly’s winless UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl.
Cristobal wouldn’t really say if the extra preparation time was a a significant advantage for his team or not, but the first-year head coach won’t use any extra breath getting his players revved up.
“I think rivalry games hype up themselves,” Cristobal said during his weekly press conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. “That’s a part that I think that most coaches are alleviated of. The motivation is there and it’s deep and it’s strong. I know that part is in good hands.”
The upperclassmen are determined to end the two-year purple reign after losing to Washington 70-21 in 2016 and 38-3 in 2017.
A victory would keep the Ducks (4-1, 1-1) in contention in the North Division with Washington (4-1, 2-0), Stanford (4-1, 2-0) and Washington State (4-1, 1-1).
The only unbeaten team in the Pac-12 is Colorado (4-0, 1-0). South Division favorite USC (3-2, 2-1) already lost to Stanford. Utah (2-2, 0-2), another disappointing South contender, has already lost to Washington and Washington State.
“I think because we have nine conference games, every single week is a playoff game for us out here,” Cristobal said. “If anyone looks at it any differently than that, or if anybody looks past that, you’re going to step in a pothole and you’re going to trip and fall.
“The Pac-12 is too competitive, there’s too much parity in the Pac-12 to look on down the road.”
The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings Oct. 30.
But will Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, the committee chair, even be asked about the Pac-12 during his live interview on ESPN?
That might depend on whether or not the Ducks beat the Huskies.
Washington is the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in this week’s Associated Press poll, four spots ahead of No. 14 Stanford.
In the two most consequential nonconference games of the season for the Pac-12 to date, the Huskies lost to Auburn and the Cardinal lost to Notre Dame.
Commissioner Larry Scott was asked about the Pac-12’s perceived playoff problem during halftime of the Colorado-UCLA game as Kelly, who had a 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon, fell to 0-4 with the Bruins.
“When the historically strong football programs, the big-market teams are doing well, that’s got some cache nationally,” Scott said. “But we’re a conference that’s got depth and competitiveness and many of our programs have histories.”
The Pac-12 will need a lot of chaos among the blue-blood programs in the other Power Five conferences over the next two months to avoid being excluded from the playoff for the second consecutive season.
There are eight unbeaten teams — No. 1 Alabama (SEC), No. 2 Georgia (SEC), No. 3 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 4 Clemson (ACC), No. 5 LSU (SEC), No. 6 Notre Dame (independent) and No. 9 West Virginia (Big 12) — ranked ahead of Washington.
No. 8 Auburn is the top one-loss team, thanks to its win over the Huskies.
“Is it important to get in there? Absolutely,” Cristobal, who won a national championship as an Alabama assistant before coming to Oregon, said of the College Football Playoff. “It’s a big goal for all of us and it should be. I don’t think you temper expectations. I think the playoffs are a great thing. I was lucky enough to be a part of it for a few years, and that’s one of our big goals as well.
“Heck, it’s there for a reason. There’s a lot of research behind it. Let’s do our best so we can get there.”
Even if Oregon wins the Pac-12, its path to the playoff would be tricky given the weak nonconference schedule.
But a win over Washington would at least keep the dream alive for the Ducks while also destroying it for a rival.