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Could a Longshot Like Oregon Actually Beat Out Alabama, Clemson for National Title?

Oregon Ducks
Could the Oregon Ducks be worth a bet as a longshot to win the college football National Championship? Photo from @DistinctAthlete (Twitter).
  • In the Alabama-Clemson era, longshots have been particularly long, and 2019 likely won’t be different
  • As if it isn’t hard enough to topple giants in the College Football Playoff, many contenders have tough paths to make the playoff in the first place
  • Maybe the Pac 12 can make the field this year?

Since the advent of the College Football Playoff (CFP), this has been Alabama and Clemson’s world and the rest of the sport is living in it. Only two of the CFP’s 15 games to date has not included one of the two, and three of its five national championship games have featured the Tigers and the Crimson Tide against each other.

With Oklahoma’s well-timed excellence producing three playoff berths and Ohio State claiming two more, it’s been difficult for the rest of the nation to just crash the playoff party, much less be the one that survives it. Yet, six weeks from now, a small group of contenders will start their seasons determined to be the ones that change the course of the sport’s recent history.

2020 National Championship Odds

Team Odds
Clemson +180
Alabama +220
Georgia +900
Ohio State +900
Oklahoma +1400
Michigan +1600
Texas +2800
Florida +2800
Notre Dame +3300
LSU +3300
Washington +4000
Oregon +4000
Auburn +4000
Nebraska +4000

*Odds taken 07/19/19

Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma have proven their ability to go toe-to-toe with the best once they get a playoff bid. For the rest of the field, the 2020 National Championship odds— and the circumstances surrounding those odds — show the Herculean nature of the task ahead.

Contenders Get No Help

The sharp drop-off from +220 to +900 shows how little faith there is in the rest of the sport. Those teams on the outside looking in aren’t necessarily afforded the path of least resistance.

Michigan, for example, has to travel to Wisconsin and Penn State, plus host Notre Dame — all while finding new defensive stars and taking in a new offensive approach under Josh Gattis. LSU and Texas have had enough trouble getting past their in-division juggernauts (Alabama and Oklahoma), and this year one of them will put the other on life support with the Week 2 game in Austin.

LSU could also be the doom of Auburn — if Auburn isn’t already unraveled by a schedule that includes the SEC East’s best (Georgia and Florida), the usual SEC West gauntlet and Oregon to start.

All of that being the case, this may be the year the Pac 12 can make up for missing the previous two playoffs by posing a serious threat.

West Coast Contenders

There’s a reason Washington and Oregon are the only West Coast schools shorter than +10000 in the odds: they’re the only realistic shots.

Washington is the proven commodity, in that the Huskies have been the class of the Pac 12 for a few years and Chris Peterson teams are nothing if not consistent. The hope in Seattle is former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason can take the Huskies to new heights in Jake Browning’s wake, but there is an obvious barrier: recruiting.

Average Recruiting Ranking Last Three Seasons

Team 247 Sports Composite Rankings
Georgia 2
Alabama 2.3
Ohio State 6
Oklahoma 7.6
Clemson 11
Oregon 13
Washington 18

What the national champions of this decade (Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Ohio State) have in common is they all recruited at an elite level. Washington — by Peterson’s design — has not, and in a sport that is so often ruled by precedent, betting against it doesn’t seem like the right move, even when a longshot is the intended target.

Oregon, however, has recruited at that level in its brief time under Mario Cristobal. The most recent recruiting class, ranked seventh nationally in the 247 Sports Composite, got new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos highly-rated help on the defensive line and some new weapons for quarterback Justin Herbert.

While risky to place too much hope on those freshmen reinforcements at wide receiver and defensive line, the projected talent level is at least comparable to what Alabama, Clemson and select others have stacked their rosters with for years.

All told, college football has not been a longshot sport for close to five years now, and the last three have done nothing but reinforce that concept. But if inclined to take long odds and test your luck, Oregon may be the most realistic pick on the board — at least the most fun, with potential for explosive offensive weapons around a NFL quarterback.

But just like their longshot brethren, the schedule is the primary hurdle for the Ducks. Getting through the neutral-site game against Auburn to start the season may look like a significant test passed, but trips to Stanford and Washington before November should tell us what we need to know about Oregon.

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