When the 2014 season started, Oregon was supposed to be in this situation. The Ducks, with a Heisman Trophy front-runner at quarterback (Marcus Mariota), were expected to be playing for the Pac-12 championship and securing a spot in the first College Football Playoff. This is how the bar has been raised for the program over the years. Two years removed from Chip Kelly as head coach, Oregon remains as dominant as ever, and this may be their best team in a while.
As good as Oregon has been over the years, there always seemed to be one hurdle the team just could not get over. The kryptonite to Oregon’s superhero offense was a good defense. This year has been a different story though. The idea Oregon would crumble against a solid defense was put to rest multiple times this season, with victories against Stanford, Michigan State and even Utah. Despite putting those concerns to rest, there is still one hurdle that stands in the way of Oregon and a Pac-12 championship complete with a spot in the first College Football Playoff; Arizona.
Arizona is the only team to hand Oregon a loss this season. They did so with a 31-24 victory in Eugene back on October 2. Oregon’s signature offense was held to just seven points in the first half by Arizona and a somewhat controversial penalty for taking a bow prevented Oregon from a possible victory.
With the game tied at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oregon’s Tony Washington sacked Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon on third down, but this celebration — mind you, a textbook violation of an NCAA rule — led to a penalty and an automatic first down for Arizona. The Wildcats later scored on the drive when Terris Jones pushed one in across the goal line with just under three minutes to play. Arizona’s defense held on to the 31-24 lead, handing Oregon its only loss of the season. It was the second straight win for Arizona against the Ducks in as many seasons. Last year, Arizona essentially knocked Oregon out of BCS contention with a 42-16 dismantling of the No. 5 Ducks in late November. The loss locked Oregon out of the Pac-12 championship as well. To say Arizona knows how to play Oregon would be an understatement, and this is why Oregon cannot be taking anything for granted this week in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Arizona’s Scooby Wright will look to bring plenty of pressure on Mariota, just as he did earlier this season. Rich Rodriguez, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year (awarded the same day Michigan fired Brady Hoke, naturally), will look to win his first conference championship since 2007 at West Virginia and his first outright conference championship since winning the Big East in 2005 with the Mountaineers.
Kyle Kensing, Bleacher Report’s lead Pac-12 writer, joined the podcast to take a look at Oregon and Arizona and this Pac-12 Championship Game match-up. We also discussed whether or not Arizona has a shot to play in the College Football Playoff if the Wildcats can beat Oregon one more time. No other two-loss team would have as strong an argument to be heard if that is the case. Kensing is also the founder and editor-in-chief of CFB Huddle, and you can follow him on Twitter @kensing45.