Mario Cristobal isn’t going to enter the debate over which one-loss team should be ranked highest by the College Football Playoff committee.
The Oregon coach used a bye week to spend some time with his family at the UO men’s basketball game Tuesday night when the initial rankings put the Ducks at No. 7, one spot behind Georgia among teams with one loss. Next week, the conversation may turn to whether or not the Ducks should move ahead of the loser of the Alabama-LSU game.
“I’ve been asked about that a few times and maybe I should have been paying closer attention to everything that was going on,” Cristobal said. “It’s always an honor to be talked about in that conversation, but quite frankly our focus is on us and taking care of our own business. ... That absolutely plays zero role and has no affect on the way we prepare and our mindset as it relates to every game this year. Our entire focus is on us. Our entire organization feels if we get off that mindset, that track or path, it is not real good. Stay the course and do our best week in and week out and everything will take care of itself. That is our belief.”
Oregon (8-1) is in the national-title conversation heading down the stretch for the first time since 2014 when it reached the inaugural CFP and lost to Ohio State in the title game. That’s also the last year the Ducks had won eight straight games before their current streak.
The Ducks practiced on Tuesday and were in pads Wednesday and will be again on Thursday before spending Friday in the weight room. Sunday begins preparation for the next game on Nov. 16 against Arizona at 7:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.
“We are doing to stay sharp at the things we are doing and tweak some things we can improve upon,” Cristobal said. “We are grinding on fundamentals and technique, tackling and blocking and securing the football. When we win the turnover battle and control the line of scrimmage, we have success. We are also developing guys on special teams to win football games.”
Oregon coaches have made some campus visits to evaluate recruits this week during a quiet period when they can’t speak to those players.
“I think our body of work and the trajectory of the program, those things speak loudly,” Cristobal said after winning 56-24 Saturday at USC, which sits in one of UO’s top recruiting grounds. “A lot of people realize it is just the beginning. We are a young team in a lot of areas and we continue to work on development and the enhancement of our roster through recruiting. That area is a huge part of it along with the rest of the West Coast. We never stray from our message, we do what we do and let our body of work speak for itself. At the same time, we feel our best football is ahead of us.”
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Cristobal expects running backs CJ Verdell and Cyrus Habibi-Likio to play against the Wildcats along with guard Dallas Warmack.
Warmack suffered a hip flexor while blocking on Camden Lewis’ game-winning field goal against Washington State on Oct. 26 and did not play against the Trojans. Verdell had only six carries for 12 yards against USC due to a groin strain while Habibi-Likio had one carry and played on special teams when a quad injury flared up.
Deeper down the depth chart, redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Chris Randazzo and Dawson Jaramillo continue to rehab injuries. Randazzo could return in a few weeks while Jaramillo is out for the season. True freshmen wide receivers Lance Wilhoite and JR Waters could be ready to debut later in the year.
Oregon will be without safety Nick Pickett for the first half against Arizona game after he was ejected for targeting against USC. Brady Breeze, who was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week after returning an interception for a touchdown and recovering a fumble against USC in a reserve role, will take Pickett’s spot.
“Brady played a great game, big-time plays that changed the momentum of the game,” Cristobal said. “I don’t know if everyone realized the amount of hustle behind that fumble recovery. ... He outworked the offensive player for the football. He certainly earned the right to be on the field more and we will make sure that happens.”
Junior defensive tackle Austin Faoliu was ejected from the game after being penalized for two personal fouls.
“We handle that in-house,” Cristobal said. “That’s not a part of football and we addressed it bluntly and directly with an edge to it. That’s not us and it won’t be tolerated. The message was loud and clear that doesn’t help anyone win and it doesn’t make you tough. He understands how upset I am about it. That has been clearly addressed.”