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Debate: Which team has better shot at playoff, Oregon or MSU?


With Michigan State and Oregon set to square off on Saturday in one of the most anticipated games of the college football season, which team has the best chance to end up in CFB Playoff, the Spartans or the Ducks?

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  • Gil Brandt
  • Ducks have the edge

It's hard to say this about a game in the second week of the season, but I look at the MSU-Oregon matchup as an elimination contest. The loser will likely have too much ground to make up to receive an invite to the College Football Playoff. If the Spartans lose, will their remaining schedule be enough to convince the playoff committee that they have the requisite wins to get in? If the Ducks lose, can they survive a tough Pac-12 schedule and run the table? These are very different teams but they're evenly matched. The strength of one is the other's weakness. MSU was 13-1 last season and returned seven starters on offense and five on defense. Oregon was 12-2 in 2013 and return the same number of starters on both sides of the ball. The Spartans are 0-2 lifetime in Eugene and haven't played a regular-season game on the West Coast since 2008 (lost to Cal), although they did beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl last January. I think Oregon's offense will prevail, 30-24.

I think it's Oregon, and I'm not sure Michigan State comes all that close. First off, Saturday's matchup has huge playoff implications, but if the Ducks lose, they would be in a far better position to climb back into the conversation than the Spartans will be if they lose. Much of that is based on their respective conferences. Oregon will not only play a top-10 team in MSU but also has possible top-15 teams UCLA and Stanford on the docket in a season where there's a clear path to the Pac-12 Championship Game for them. The Spartans, meanwhile, have to combat the perception that the Big Ten is not all that strong in 2014 and will likely face just two or three more ranked teams after their trip to Eugene. Add in the flashy Oregon offense and the answer is clearly Mark Helfrich's squad.

Michigan State's schedule is a bit easier than Oregon's, and the fact that Ohio State won't have star quarterback Braxton Miller this year makes the Spartans' challenge even more manageable. For that reason, the Spartans have the better chance to reach college football's inaugural four-team playoff. If the Spartans' stout defense manages to lead the team to a road win over the Ducks this weekend, the schedule sets up well for a potential unbeaten run. Michigan State's toughest remaining games after Oregon are all at home: Nebraska, Michigan and the Buckeyes. The loser of the Oregon-Michigan State game isn't necessarily out of the playoff picture, but running the table for a conference title and a 12-1 record would be a must.

Michigan State has the far easier road to the playoff; if the Spartans win on Saturday in Eugene, they will have won their toughest game on the schedule. Oregon, meanwhile, still has games left against the likes of Arizona, UCLA, Washington and Stanford. That said, I think Oregon wins, but the Ducks still would have a lot of work to do. Michigan State is the only truly viable playoff contender from the Big Ten. But if the Spartans lose on Saturday, that effectively removes the Big Ten from playoff consideration: If Michigan State were to go 12-1, I think that would be met with a collective shrug and a "Well, who did they beat?" comment. All that said, while Michigan State has the easier road, I think Oregon has the better chance to reach the destination.

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