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With a weak non-conference schedule, and a potentially soft Pac-12, every game--win or lose--has national championship implications for Oregon, even Washington State.
Washington State does not strike fear into the hearts of its opponents the way Mike Leach strikes fear into the hearts of Craig James' children. And that should come as no surprise. After all, when you're coming off a loss to lowly Colorado, and your two wins come against an FCS school and an FBS team that lost to an FCS school you're not in the fear striking business. However, whether or not you're in the fear striking business has little impact on the outcome of a game. Unfortunately for WSU, when you're not in the fear striking business it's usually because you're not that good; and that has a very real impact on the game.
The bottom line here is that Oregon should win this game easily, handily, convincingly, and with little trouble. Therein lies the rub: anything short of a beat down might spell trouble for Oregon.
Oregon has national championship aspirations. They are seemingly in good position to fulfill those aspirations too. They are ranked second in both major polls, and seemingly, the only major obstacles between the Ducks and an undefeated season is a match-up with suddenly beatable USC and a home date with Stanford. However, that may be more of a curse than a blessing.
It does not take much to recall an undefeated Auburn team being left out of the BCS Championship game in 2004. How about a year earlier when USC--ranked number 1 in both major media polls--was passed over by the computers due to their weak strength of schedule? Maybe Duck fans recall the 2001-2002 season when Mike Bellotti likened the BCS to a "bad disease, like cancer" after number two Oregon was passed over for Nebraska.
Any one of those memories is a sobering reminder for Duck fans that national championship aspirations are still mercilessly beyond the total control of the team on the field. They also bring into clear focus the tiny margin of error Oregon has if it hopes find itself playing in South Florida on January 7th--especially against teams like Washington State.
On Saturday, Oregon is playing a game that is made for TV. The game is in Seattle as part of WSU's plan to create an annual "Seattle Game" against one of the Oregon schools. The game is on ESPN 2, in prime time on the west coast, and being played in the Seahawks stadium (Century Link). Anyone who plans to watch the game expects this game to be little more than an elaborate showcase for space-age-Nike-unis and Oregon's high-flyin' offense.
If Oregon fails to meet those expectations it only raises questions in voters' minds. Those are questions Oregon can't afford to be raised, because no matter what voters think, the computers will always tell you the SEC's SOS is stronger than the New England Patriots'.
So Oregon should take note. Obviously a loss to WSU puts anyone's national championship homes to bed without any supper. But for an Oregon team with a weak non-conference schedule and a strength of schedule that will only get weaker as Pac-12 teams beat each other up (see Washington over Stanford), a close game against an inferior opponent might be all the voters need to engineer another all SEC national title game.