How Oregons win over Ohio State boosts Pac-12s College Football Playoff hopes

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the clock expired Saturday afternoon and the Oregon Ducks erupted in celebration, freshman standout linebacker Justin Flowe, who was sidelined with a boot on his right foot one week after being named Pac-12 freshman of the week, threw his towel on the ground and turned to the Ohio State fans behind him.

“It’s over,” he yelled. “Go home!”

Actually, it might just be the beginning for Oregon.

With Flowe and starting defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux — two of the team’s top defensive players — both out with injuries, No. 12 Oregon still found a way to hand the No. 3 Buckeyes their first loss at home in 23 games before a crowd of 100,482 mainly stunned Ohio State fans.

It was the first time Oregon has defeated Ohio State in nine tries, and the Ducks did it with a physical running game that gashed Ohio State’s defense inside and out, thanks in part to watching the blueprint Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim scripted in the season opener. They did it with masterful playcalling by Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, whose ability to mix it up kept Ohio State off balance in the 35-28 decision.

And they did it with new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff watching from his suite in the press box, alongside Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and NCAA president Mark Emmert. (Kliavkoff and Warren also shared a box at the Washington-Michigan game in Ann Arbor later in the evening.) To win at The Shoe — one of the loudest, most unforgiving venues in college football that opened its doors to a full-capacity crowd for the first time since 2019 — with a depleted roster spoke volumes about how far Oregon has come under fourth-year head coach Mario Cristobal.

“This is one of the hardest places to play in all of college football,” Oregon offensive lineman Alex Forsyth said. “Let’s not sugarcoat it.”

Time will tell if it truly is the kind of pivotal, program-defining victory it appeared to be on Saturday afternoon, but it elevated the beleaguered Pac-12 just two weeks into the season and gave the conference some legitimate hope for its first playoff contender since Washington in 2016.

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