Wilner Hotline: Pac-12 North coming down to Battle of Oregon

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Story by Jon Wilner 

With the offensive offense in Seattle, the coaching chaos in Pullman and the sputtering play in the Bay Area, it’s increasingly clear that Oregon will produce the Pac-12 North champion in 2021.

Not as clear: Which Oregon team will collect the hardware.

The Ducks are exactly where everyone expected at this point in the season: Atop the division with control of their fate, five wins from a spot in the conference championship and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff.

The Beavers are nowhere near their expected position: Picked fifth in the division and forced to change quarterbacks after a season-opening dud, they also are atop the division with control of their fate, five wins from a spot in the conference championship and a potential berth in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks (6-1/3-1) won at Ohio State in what was arguably the Pac-12’s most significant non-conference victory in a quarter-century.

The Beavers (5-2/3-1) won at USC for the first time in 61 years, then beat Washington for the first time in a decade.

Oregon’s roster is stocked with four- and five-star recruits who view rings and trophies as their Goddess-of-Victory-given right.

Oregon State’s depth chart is lined with overlooked prospects and transfers who mesh perfectly with the system and form a whole greater than its parts.

The teams are 45 miles apart but worlds away in resources and philosophy.

And yet here they are:

On course for a collision for the division.

One month from a historic duel in a rivalry game with no name.

The Nov. 27 matchup in Eugene is the last regular-season game for both teams, which means they need not be deadlocked in order for the duel to carry winner-takes-all stakes.

So long as the Ducks and Beavers are separated by no more than one game — and not tied with anyone else — the victor will capture the division based on the Pac-12 tiebreaker process, which prioritizes the head-to-head outcome.

Which means that either of them could lose at some point in the next month and still be in position for the division.

In fact, both teams could take a loss — and maybe even two.

The North isn’t exactly loaded with teams that can hang with the Oregon duo down the stretch:

— Cal and Stanford will assuredly lose again, giving them four conference defeats.

— Does Washington look capable of winning four of its last five? (The Huskies are more likely to lose four.)

— Washington State, which beat Oregon State head-to-head, might have factored into our calculations, but the gutting of the offensive coaching staff has placed the Cougars in a difficult situation.

From here, the most likely scenario to play out over the next month calls for Oregon State losing twice, Oregon losing once and everything on the line in the finale.

Let’s dig in with dates and predictions …


Oct. 30: vs. Colorado.
Comment: Name your score. Seriously, name it … Nope, it’ll be worse than that.
Projected outcome: Win

Nov. 6: at Washington
Comment: The Ducks play their best when they’re on the big stage or feel threatened. Husky Stadium qualifies as a big stage.
Projected outcome: Win

Nov. 13: vs. Washington State
Comment: Dangerous game, because Oregon will be a prohibitive favorite while the Cougars will be coming off a bye.
Projected outcome: Win

Nov. 20: at Utah
Comment: This one can’t get here soon enough and could be the game of the year in the Pac-12, at least until Nov. 27 rolls around.
Projected outcome: Loss


Oct. 30: at Cal
Comment: Each of the last two games was decided by four points, with OSU on top in both. That sounds about right.
Projected outcome: Win

Nov. 6: at Colorado
Comment: Only competitive if the Beavers don’t show up. Even then, they should win by double digits.
Projected outcome: Win

Nov. 13: vs. Stanford
Comment: OSU has even more trouble with Stanford than it does with Washington State: The Cardinal has won 11 in a row, the past two by three points each. We need to see an OSU victory before we beav-lieve it.
Projected outcome: Loss

Nov. 20: vs. Arizona State
Comment: The Beavers are better equipped to hang with ASU than they were last season, but the Sun Devils are stout enough on defense to slow OSU’s ground-and-pound attack.
Projected outcome: Loss

Under our scenarios, the Ducks would be 6-2 in conference play entering the season finale, with Oregon State one game back at 5-3.

And that’s plenty good enough.

For the winner, call it Victory in the Valley.

For the loser, it’s the Whammy along the Willamette.

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