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Ducks dismiss playoff rankings

EUGENE — Mark Helfrich said his team isn’t going to worry about which four teams the College Football Playoff selection committee has at the top of their first rankings, which will be released today.

“We won’t,” he said. “Solely focused on Stanford.”

Oregon has obviously learned a painful lesson the past two Novembers: The program can’t win a national championship, or even the Pac-12, without first capturing the North Division title.

Even though the Cardinal (5-3, 3-2) is unranked entering Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium, David Shaw’s team is still the biggest roadblock for the Ducks (7-1, 4-1) en route to the Dec. 5 conference championship game at Levi’s Stadium.

Oregon was No. 1 and 10-0 before losing 17-14 in overtime to Stanford on Nov. 17, 2012, at Autzen Stadium. The defeat prevented Chip Kelly and Co. from getting back into the BCS national championship game for the second time in three years.

The Ducks were No. 2 and 8-0 before losing 26-20 to the Cardinal on Nov. 7, 2013, at Stanford Stadium. Oregon was also upset at Arizona 16 days later to end the program’s four-year streak of BCS bowl appearances.

It’s a new era with the four-team playoff, but the same old questions for Helfrich this week.

“It’s like I said in the offseason, we lose to Stanford and we have to blow up our program. They lose to somebody else, and it’s just an anomaly,” Helfrich said of the outside criticism. “Expectations or where we’ve been, that’s the talk. ... But our guys have to be wholly focused on having great preparation for who’s next. I’m certain the competitors among them, which are all of them, are excited to talk about those things or excited to have been in those situations.

“Stanford is a great program, we respect them a ton and we’re going to prepare like heck.”

POLL POSITION: The College Football Playoff rankings are the only ones that really matter.

However, based on the Associated Press poll, the Ducks might be in the mix to finish the season in the selection committee’s top four.

Thanks to Mississippi’s loss at LSU, Oregon moved up one spot to No. 5 in the AP poll behind Mississippi State (7-0), Florida State (7-0), Alabama (7-1) and Auburn (6-1).

“The San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals would be in my top four because they’re still playing,” Helfrich said when asked for his early final four bracket. “It’s too early. It’s awesome for college football. It’s great for (the media) that need to kill air time or column inches. Do they still talk in column inches or is it just characters?

“It’s just say your top four and argue, there’s four hours of talk radio. From that standpoint, it’s great. We’re in a position where this game means a lot and we’re going to trust our process and trust our culture and make sure we prepare like heck for a great team.”

Other Pac-12 teams in the AP poll this week are No. 14 Arizona, No. 15 Arizona State, No. 18 Utah and No. 25 UCLA.

The Ducks moved up one spot to No. 6 in the coaches poll but remain behind No. 5 Michigan State, despite beating the Spartans 46-27 on Sept. 6 at Autzen Stadium.

THE FULL NELSON: Charles Nelson, who had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown during Oregon’s 59-41 victory over California, was given the team award for special teams player of the week. The true freshman also had three carries for 35 yards to help the offense, which was without sophomore running back Thomas Tyner.

“That kid, that was an unbelievable, just a rare football performance he put on Friday night of what he did on special teams, he basically played fullback, tailback and receiver on offense, in essence,” Helfrich said. “Goes down and forces a fumble on the punt, has a couple other tackles, gets tackled a couple times on kickoff coverage and then has the punt return for a touchdown, which was phenomenal.”

Dwayne Stanford (103 receiving yards, two touchdowns) was the offensive player of the week. Defensive end DeForest Buckner (six tackles, two pass breakups) and cornerback Troy Hill (nine tackles, four pass breakups) were co-defensive players of the week.

QUOTABLE: “We’re very excited to have practice and meet tomorrow. Other than that, no,” Helfrich said when asked for an update on the health status of Tyner, defensive end Arik Armstead and placekicker Matt Wogan, who all missed the Cal game.

Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44), shown here chasing quarterback Luke Rubenzer, was named the Ducks' defensive player of the game against California. AP PHOTO