The Oregon Ducks have reached the College Football Playoff National Championship, despite losing a plethora of starters during the course of the season. However, Oregon’s latest loss, three days before the game, may end up being the most costly.

Wide receiver Darren Carrington, perhaps Oregon’s hottest offensive weapon, has been suspended after failing an NCAA-administered drug test and did not travel with the team to Texas, according to Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com.

Carrington, who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks’ 59-20 win over Florida State, had become 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota’s favorite target in their last two games.

Now, without Carrington, who has 37 catches for 704 yards and four touchdowns this season, Oregon’s wide receiver corps is very thin.

The Ducks have been fighting an uphill battle all season long in terms of depth across their receiving corps.

Oregon lost its most prolific returning receiver, Bralon Addison, in April to an ACL tear. In November, against Utah, the Ducks lost their best tight end, Pharaoh Brown, to a gruesome leg injury. Most recently, Oregon’s most reliable and fastest receiver, Devon Allen, was lost for the year after injuring his knee on the opening kick of the Rose Bowl.

With Carrington leading the charge, Oregon’s passing game didn’t slow down a bit against Florida State. The Ducks threw for 338 yards on 36 attempts against FSU, scoring two passing touchdowns along the way.

Without Carrington in the lineup, the Ducks now must depend on receivers who haven’t had much of an impact yet this season. Oregon’s top four receivers heading into spring practice—Addison, Carrington, Allen and Brown—won’t play in Oregon’s most important game of the season.

There’s no point in reworking the game plan at this point. That’s not what Oregon does. The coaching staff will have confidence in the younger receivers and will attempt to put them in a position to succeed.

There’s no doubt the loss of Carrington will be felt on Monday, as he was Oregon’s best downfield threat. Now, it’s likely that Ohio State will focus more on Oregon’s running game and will attempt to stack the box a bit against Royce Freeman and company. ESPN Stats & Info noted Oregon will be missing three of its top five receivers for the national championship matchup:

That’s not a good thing for the Ducks. The Buckeyes have one of the best defenses in the country, led by Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett. Ohio State’s defense ranks No. 17 in yards per game, No. 16 in pass defense, No. 34 in rushing defense and No. 18 in yards per play allowed.

Allowing the Buckeyes defense to focus more keenly on one element of Oregon’s offense rather than another isn’t ideal for the Ducks. However, if offensive coordinator Scott Frost is up for it, he could challenge the Buckeyes through the air early and make it clear that the Ducks are confident in the guys they have on the field.

The Ducks still have some weapons at wide receiver and, more importantly, have the services of the best quarterback in the country in Mariota.

There’s already a ton of pressure on Mariota to finish off his career with a national title. With a win, he’ll likely be considered as one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time.

One of Mariota’s best characteristics is his calm and cool demeanor. With Mariota leading the charge, it’s unlikely that the Ducks will fold just because their most productive receiver is out for the game.

In place of Carrington, the Ducks will now turn to Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson, Evan Baylis and senior Keanon Lowe.

Stanford, a sophomore, has 39 passes for 578 yards and six touchdowns this season. Lowe, who is one of the Oregon’s most vocal leaders, has 25 catches for 359 yards and four touchdowns this year. Baylis and Nelson—both were thrown into action after injuries this year—had big games for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.

However, as The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif pointed out, without Carrington, Oregon is missing its “best downfield receiving threat”:

Against Florida State, Baylis had six receptions and 73 yards, while Nelson, a 5’9” freshman, caught four passes for 40 yards. 

While both Baylis and Nelson will now see their roles expanded, the player the Ducks will depend on most now will be Byron Marshall.

Marshall, who led the Pac-12 in rushing in 2013, took over the hybrid role left vacant by De’Anthony Thomas. Not only has Marshall been effective in this role but he’s also been one of the best receivers in the entire conference.

On the season, Marshall led the Ducks with 66 receptions and 834 yards and scored five touchdowns through the air. He also served as Oregon’s third running back and had 383 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The Ducks are going to need Marshall and Mariota on the same page early and often. Marshall has the speed to outrun Ohio State’s front seven and turn four-yard passes into 50-yard gains. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how significantly Carrington’s on-field performance impacts Oregon’s overall game:

While it’s unlikely, there’s a small chance Addison, who caught 61 passes for 890 yards and seven touchowns in 2013, could return for this game.

According to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com, Addison participated in practice on Thursday and took reps with the scout-team offense. While Addison may indeed be healthy enough to go, any snap he takes in the national championship game would burn his redshirt. It’s a tough decision, but if he’s healthy enough to go you know he’s going to think about it.

While Carrington has been phenomenal over Oregon’s past two games, it’s not like he’s played like an All-American all season long.

The Ducks took care of business against Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford and Utahall but Stanford are currently rankedlargely without a contribution from Carrington. In fact, in those four games Carrington caught a grand total of six passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. Moreover, he didn’t catch a single pass against UCLA or Utah.

Yes, Ohio State is better than each of those teams. However, the Ducks can win without Carrington. They’ve shown that no one player, other than Mariota, is more important than the system or the program.

Carrington’s suspension is a big blow to the Ducks’ chances of winning a national title Monday.

However, Oregon’s motto of “next man up” has played a huge role in its success this season.

The Ducks have lost multiple wide receivers: All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Rose Bowl), All-Pac-12 left tackle Jake Fisher (two games), All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu (three games) and All-Pac-12 tight end Pharaoh Brown this season. The Ducks have yet to let those injuries slow them down over the past nine games.

The Ducks can still win it all on Monday night, but they’re going to need some big-time performances from their running backs, their young wide receivers and, most importantly, from the guy who has brought them this far: Mariota.

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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