In both 2012 and 2013, Oregon faced off against Stanford in November with an unblemished record and with a real chance at competing for a national title. Both times the Cardinal stomped upon Oregon’s dreams.
Now, as the Cardinal (8-1, 7-0) sit as the Pac-12’s best team and the conferences best shot at a playoff spot, the Ducks find themselves in the position to play spoiler.
The Ducks (6-3, 4-2) are coming off of three straight victories and look rejuvenated with a healthy Vernon Adams Jr. at quarterback. The Ducks put up 777 yards of offense against Cal on Saturday in Eugene, a school record, including 477 rushing yards.
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Stanford’s defense, which has been one of the best units in the nation for the better part of a decade, has been solid this year, but not spectacular. The Cardinal rank No. 29 in the country in total defense, No. 26 in rushing defense and No. 55 in passing defense.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s offense has been fantastic since its season opening loss and Kevin Hogan and Christian McCaffrey are leading the way.
The Ducks still have an outside shot at winning the Pac-12 North—they would need to win and have Stanford lose to Cal—but this matchup is more about the most competitive rivalry in the Pac-12 rather than the North division title.
“It doesn’t matter what the records say," said Stanford head coach Davis Shaw, per ESPN. "It’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight.”
It will be up to Oregon’s defense to slow Stanford down, make tackles in open space and, perhaps most importantly, force turnovers. Stanford has been incredibly stingy with the ball, having only turned it over nine times all season.
In order to beat Stanford, the Oregon defense is going to have to play its best game this season. Oregon ranks No. 118 in the nation in total defense and have generally looked lost for most of the season, especially when defending against the pass.
The Oregon players know what is at stake against Stanford and seem to be ready to ruin some of Stanford’s postseason aspirations.
“I think we are hyped for every game,” said Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington, per ESPN. “…but being that they are ranked and this is pretty much the decider of who goes to the Pac-12 championship, I think we are going to have maybe a little more drive to go down there and play with confidence and try to win.”
If the Ducks can knock off Stanford, it will not ease the pain of those losses in 2012 and ‘13. However, it will return the favor. That is the type of agony the Ducks would like to inflict on Stanford this Saturday.
Luke Falk, WSU can make a national statement vs. UCLA
Washington State has been the Pac-12’s most surprising team this season and have knocked off preseason favorites Oregon and Arizona State along the way.
The Cougars (6-3, 4-2) can make a national statement about the state of the program on Saturday in Los Angeles against UCLA (7-2, 4-2).
WSU quarterback Luke Falk is quickly becoming one of the best passers in the entire country. Falk has rattled off three Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors this season and has the most passing yards in the country this year (3,736). Falk has thrown for 33 touchdowns—the second most in the country—and is completing 70.2 percent of his passes.
The Cougars have already earned bowl eligibility this season, which is a huge step. A bowl game would only be the programs second since 2003. However, it doesn’t seem like the players are satisfied just yet.
"I don’t think it’s very significant," said wide receiver Gabe Mark, per the Associated Press. "We’ve played good enough to get to this point. But we don’t want to be satisfied with just being bowl-eligible."
With a win against UCLA, the Cougars can signify to the conference and the nation that they could be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
Quick hits: Mike Leach took a parting shot at ASU’s sign stealing after WSU’s win, saying the Cougars didn’t change anything schematically after the first quarter “except for all the calls we stole from Arizona State” … McCaffrey continues to lead the nation in all-purpose yards with 2,174 yards this season. Oregon RB Royce Freeman ranks seventh in the nation in all-purpose yards … Cal tight end Raymond Hudson was named the Pac-12’s special teams player of the week for his performance against Oregon.
Jason Gold covers the Pac-12 for FOX Sports. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.