Oregon is in. And it's going to be a tough out.
Mark Helfrich has led his program to the Pac-12 Championship, the inaugural College Football Playoff and likely the school's first Heisman Trophy. But his team has much left to accomplish as it begins a month-long preparation for what will be the first of two possible playoff games.
The Ducks are playing as well as any team in the nation, winners of eight straight games by an average of 26 points per game. Here is how Oregon will win the national championship:
5 Reasons Why Oregon Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Marcus Mariota stays healthy
It's not about Mariota protecting the football, being an efficient passer, making plays with his legs, handling the defensive pressure or any other traditional concern coaches have about quarterbacks heading into big games. Because no one can stop Marcus Mariota. The only concern fans should have with the likely Heisman Trophy winner is an injury. It might be the only thing that can keep Mariota from producing at a high level. That and maybe the Heisman buffet circuit.
2. Spread the wealth on offense
How can Helfrich keep Mariota upright and healthy? By spreading the ball around on offense to a developing collection of electric offensive weapons. Mariota isn't the only reason the Ducks offense is surging into the playoffs, and his supporting cast has gone from a question mark to coordinator's nightmare. In the win over Arizona, Oregon featured nine different ball carriers and four different players caught at least five passes. Helfrich has a power workhorse (Royce Freeman), a speedy deep threat (Devon Allen), a steady possession guy (Darren Carrington) and dynamic all-purpose threats (Byron Marshall, Charles Nelson). When all of these pieces are clicking, the Ducks can rip off huge chunks of yards and protect their star quarterback in the process.
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3. Waves of defensive linemen
The Ducks aren't a dominant defensive team by any means but have enough talent to cause plenty of problems in the playoff. Oregon is 21st nationally in both sacking the quarterback (34.0) and tackles for loss (85.0). Don Pellum's front seven tormented the Arizona offense in the Pac-12 championship game, holding RichRod's unit to just 25 yards at halftime. He had five different players register at least a portion of a sack (4.0 total) and finished with 7.0 tackles for loss as a team. This unit comes in waves as 14 different players have registered a sack this season. In order to win a national championship, this group has to play its best football of the season — or, at least, match what it accomplished against Arizona.
4. Avoid Alabama altogether
There is a chance Oregon won't have to face Alabama in order to win a national championship this season. The Tide is the most talented roster in the nation led by the best coach in the land and likely would be the Ducks toughest possible matchup. If Alabama loses in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State, the Oregon Ducks immediately become the favorite in the national championship game — if, of course, they can get past the defending national champions in Pasadena. Speaking of the Rose Bowl...
5. Play games west of the Mississippi
Oregon enters the first college football tournament the No. 2 seed and picked as the top challenger to Alabama. Part of the reason the Ducks have the best chance to knock off No. 1 and win a championship is that Oregon will play both games west of the Mississippi. As far as logistics and travel are concerned, the current path to a title is about as fortunate a draw an Oregon head coach could ever ask for. A semifinal in Pasadena is the best possible location for the Ducks to land in any round and a national final in Arlington keeps the Pacific Northwest program on one half of the country throughout the tourney.