Ready or not, the 12-team Playoff is here.

The start of the 12-team Playoff era means that the entire conversation about being in contention will shift. A more inclusive field doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we’re about to see more variety with national champs. For this discussion, we’re not focused on who’ll win a national championship; we’re just focused on who’ll play for one.

The goal for this series is to predict the first 12-team Playoff with 100% accuracy. It’s never been done before. I’d like to think I can become the first person in human history to do that.

Every day of this series, I’ll unveil 1 of my 12-team Playoff picks, starting with the No. 12 seed and working all the way down to the No. 1 seed. Remember these parameters with the seeding of the 12-team Playoff:

  • ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC champs get an automatic bid
  • The top-ranked Group of 5 conference champ also gets an automatic bid
  • The 7 remaining teams are selected and receive at-large bids
  • The 4 highest-ranked conference champs are seeded 1-4 with a first-round bye

Need any other clarifications? I think we’re good.

So far, here are the teams I have in the field:

Let’s continue with the No. 6 seed … Oregon.

Why the Playoff path exists

If I just left it at “because Dan Lanning is clearly a remarkable coach who knows what he’s doing,” would I get any pushback? I shouldn’t. Lanning already is a top-10 coach as he heads into Year 3. That’s probably a huge piece of this.

But the path, which now goes through the Big Ten instead of the Pac-12, exists because of Lanning’s defensive foundation and the portal moves on offense. Lanning’s defensive foundation took shape in Year 2 with a group that ranked in the top 20 in FBS in yards per play allowed, scoring defense, rushing yards per game allowed and yards per pass allowed. Just like when he was the defensive play-caller at Georgia, Lanning’s units are about efficiency and avoiding those chunk plays.

So even though the Ducks lost 4 defensive players in the first 4 rounds of the NFL Draft and have a lot of transfer portal reliance on that side of the ball — that’s especially true in the secondary — I’m banking on Lanning’s identity being evident in his Year 3 defense.

Related: Looking to place a bet on the 2024 Heisman Trophy? SDS has you covered with all the latest odds!

Speaking of transfers, I suppose I buried the lede here. Oregon replaced the guy who started more games than anyone in college football history (Bo Nix) with the guy who has a clear path to becoming the FBS all-time leader in touchdown passes (Dillon Gabriel). Gabriel has thrown 125 TD passes; Case Keenum holds the record with 155. Gabriel will work with another elite offensive mind in Will Stein, who stepped into the OC role and immediately elevated Nix’s game in 2023.

Also working in Gabriel’s favor is the fact that he might have the best group of receivers in America. Tez Johnson and Texas A&M transfer Evan Stewart might not be the most physically imposing duo in America — they’re both sub-6 feet — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic pairing to help Gabriel chase history.

Even if Oregon had a gauntlet schedule, the Playoff path would be there. But I don’t believe the Ducks have that. Their first 4 matchups vs. FBS competition are against new coaches. After that, Oregon can probably split these 4 games — 2 of which are against new coaches — and get to 10 regular-season wins:

  • Oct. 12 vs. Ohio State
  • Nov. 2 at Michigan
  • Nov. 16 at Wisconsin
  • Nov. 30 vs. Washington

I have the Ducks going 3-1 in those matchups with the lone loss coming to Ohio State. If that happens, an 11-1 Oregon team will likely get a rematch with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship, where a first-round bye will be at stake. (DraftKings has set the Ducks’ over/under win total at 10.5, by the way.)

But yeah, a 12-win team from 2023 that’s No. 25 in FBS in percentage of returning production has a clear Playoff path.

The potential roadblock

Oregon’s roadblock isn’t easy to find. That’s a credit to Lanning. If Gabriel goes down, he has a highly touted former 5-star quarterback in Dante Moore, who played significant reps as a true freshman at UCLA. The portal additions on the outside (both in the secondary and at receiver) turned potential weaknesses into strengths.

So I don’t have a traditional roadblock. I have a question that won’t be answered as a potential roadblock — are we sure that Gabriel can handle Big Ten weather?

I believe that’s more of an unknown than an absolute for the well-traveled southpaw. For all the things that the Hawaii native has done well in his career, that’s a relatively unproven area. Going into Wisconsin’s Camp Randall in November, when the threat of snow is always possible, is different from the November conditions in Stillwater or Lubbock. Gabriel is staring at that question, which wasn’t really answered during his time at UCF or Oklahoma.

Related: Who will win it all in 2024? SDS has the latest betting odds for who’ll win the next national championship!

At the same time, Bo Nix once faced a similar question, albeit in the Pac-12. Gabriel navigating some of those late-season games and not forcing Oregon into a 1-dimensional offense could be more of a hurdle than a roadblock.

Odds that they win a Playoff game

Let’s go with 73%.

I’m high on the Ducks. Real high. Even though I believe that Ohio State will become to Lanning what Kalen DeBoer’s Washington squad was, I still see the Ducks getting one of the top at-large bids into the Playoff. In my projection, that means losing the Ohio State rematch in the Big Ten Championship.

If Oregon is hosting a home Playoff game, that’s a long trip up to the Pacific Northwest for most of the country. Go figure that I have former Pac-12 rival Utah as the team Oregon would match up against in the 6 vs. 11 showdown. As tricky as a potential Utah matchup is, Lanning’s squad isn’t USC. It’s built in the trenches and on defense. That would still make Oregon a possible double-digit favorite to advance to the round of 8.

I have faith in Oregon because when you recruit at a high level (high school and portal) and win games convincingly in a quality league — that’s what the Pac-12 was in 2023 — you should have everyone’s respect. Lanning has done just that. That’s why Oregon is ready for this transition to the Big Ten.

It’s why for the first time in a decade, Oregon won’t be left on the outside looking in at the Playoff.

Predicting the Playoff will continue on Friday with No. 5 … Texas.