No shortage of experts wrote off Oregon's BCS championship hopes after the Ducks lost at Stanford in Week 11, 26-20. Nevertheless, head coach Mark Helfrich's squad isn't completely out of the picture.
Oregon is ranked sixth in the BCS, behind four undefeated teams and the one-loss Stanford bunch that knocked the Ducks from their No. 2 perch. Reaching Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS National Championship Game means getting some help.
Scratch that—Oregon needs a lot of help. The good news for the Ducks is that the scenarios most likely to get them to the title round are not far-fetched.
Not each of the following scenarios are musts for Oregon's BCS aspirations. One that is, however, is winning the Pac-12 championship to reach that all-important 12-win milestone. The Ducks also need at least three of the remaining undefeated teams to succumb to November chaos.
Any path to the BCS championship game goes through the SEC, whether directly or indirectly. The gatekeeper is two-time defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have looked virtually unbeatable this season, and completely so since outlasting Texas A&M in a Week 3 shootout. However, Alabama has only gone wire-to-wire once under head coach Nick Saban.
Enter rival Auburn. The Tigers are well ahead of schedule under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, ascending to No. 7 in the BCS rankings. While the youthful Tigers had their struggles early, they're finding their stride now.
Auburn is cruising since a 45-41 win at Texas A&M that was remarkably similar to Alabama's a month earlier. With the Crimson Tide coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium for this year's Iron Bowl, nothing would be sweeter for the Tigers—and for Oregon—than if Auburn could spoil Alabama's perfect slate.
However, an Auburn win presumably vaults the Tigers ahead of Oregon, so the Ducks would then still need further help from the SEC.
A situation that leaves Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game—ergo, Auburn beating the Tide and Georgia to claim the SEC West—benefits Oregon. However, if the Tigers simply replace Alabama at the front of the BCS line, it does the Ducks no good.
The representative from the SEC East winning the conference's title game does, though, particularly if that team is South Carolina.
The Gamecocks can reach Atlanta with a win this week over Florida, and Missouri losing one of its final two. With the Tigers traveling to Ole Miss and hosting Texas A&M, that's a distinct possibility.
A South Carolina win in this scenario ensures no SEC team finishes with 12 wins.
A subtly big win for those teams hoping to leapfrog Florida State into the BCS championship game was Virginia Tech's victory over Miami last week.
While the Hokies are not world-beaters—far from it—their defense is far more capable of staging an ACC title game coup than the young Miami Hurricanes. With superb freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and a fully stocked backfield supplementing the run game, no one in the ACC is going to outgun the Seminoles in a shootout.
The most likely scenario for dethroning Florida State is grinding it to a halt. Virginia Tech is the only team with any hope of doing so.
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer has held the key to the ACC in the decade since Florida State was last a national power. He may not be ready to turn over ownership to Jimbo Fisher just yet—or at least, BCS hopefuls including Oregon certainly hope not.
Fifth-ranked Baylor is ascending up the BCS rankings as quickly as its prolific offense puts points on the scoreboard. The Bears are just one spot ahead of Oregon and one behind Stanford but are on course to move into the top four with the meat of their schedule forthcoming.
Baylor has the most difficult road of the undefeated teams, since it cannot go 13-0 due to the Big 12's lack of a championship game. That's also one fewer opportunity to lose, though.
Any defeat in Baylor's final stretch of Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas effectively eliminates it from title contention. Just one of those games—the season finale against Texas—is in Waco, Texas.
No. 3 Ohio State needs some help of its own to play in Pasadena on Jan. 7 rather than New Year's Day. The Buckeyes are a distant third behind Alabama and Florida State, the result of the overall unfavorable perception of the Big Ten and a pedestrian non-conference schedule.
Still, a loss for either Florida State or Alabama vaults the Buckeyes into title territory. Oregon needs someone—anyone—from the Big Ten to rise up against Ohio State.
Legends-leading Michigan State poses the most serious threat to Ohio State. The Spartans defense is one of the nation's best, capable of grinding down an offense. Oregon could also avoid Michigan State bypassing it, as the Spartans' loss to Notre Dame works against them more than Oregon's defeat at Stanford. Should the Cardinal beat the Fighting Irish in the regular-season finale, that only helps the Ducks' cause.
Stanford's win over Oregon positioned the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 North and host the conference's championship game. Now ranked No. 4, Stanford is a major roadblock to Oregon's BCS mobility.
Oregon needs that Pac-12 Championship Game appearance to give itself a shot at the BCS title. That means the Cardinal suffering a conference loss in this final stretch—losing to Notre Dame does nothing to help Oregon, and actually hurts the Ducks.
Rather, Oregon fans should adopt the USC Trojans in Week 12. The surging Trojans are Oregon's best hope of breaking the tie atop the Pac-12 North, for which Stanford holds the tiebreaker.
Then, a home showdown with the South's champion awaits. Best-case scenario for Oregon is a 10-2 UCLA team. Because the Bruins' losses are to Oregon and Stanford, they have a higher upside than current division leader Arizona State.