Stanford, Oregon meet in Pac-12’s game of the year

Andrew Luck insists his dorm room doesn’t have a calendar. He

doesn’t wear a watch, and his outdated cellphone doesn’t even show

the day of the week.

Luck needs no reminder about Nov. 12.

Since he announced in a one-sentence news release in January

that he would return to school, Luck instantly put Stanford and

Oregon on a collision course for that date. Everything for both

sides has been building toward the moment.

Finally, it’s here.

Luck leads No. 3 Stanford against lightning-quick LaMichael

James and sixth-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12’s showdown of the

season Saturday night, shifting attention to the West Coast for a

game that could decide the eventual league champion and keep the

winner in the national title mix.

”When you’re thinking about the upcoming football season,

you’re thinking about Oregon,” Luck said. ”If you want to do

something on the West Coast, you’ve got to beat Oregon. They’ve

been the best team the last couple of years.”

Luck should know.

Stanford is riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 17

games, with the last loss coming at Eugene more than a year ago.

Oregon stifled Stanford’s offense in the second half in that

contest, rallying from an early 18-point deficit for a 52-31

victory that helped carry the Ducks to the BCS championship game,

where they lost to Auburn.

The implications this year loom large again.

Stanford can clinch the North Division crown and the opportunity

to host the inaugural league championship game with a victory,

while Oregon (8-1, 6-0) also would need to win one of its final two

league games. The Cardinal (9-0, 7-0) have a chance to remain

undefeated and stay in the top of the chase for a national title

behind top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Oklahoma State.

”They love the challenge,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of his

players. ”Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the country, but

I don’t think they ever think they’re in over their heads against

anybody.”

The attention is almost unprecedented on The Farm.

The game is the first matchup of Top-10 teams at Stanford

Stadium and the first in the Bay Area since No. 3 Washington beat

No. 7 California in Berkeley in 1991. About 400 media credentials

have been granted – more than twice the usual, with the vast

majority for extra television and production crews – and a red-wine

sipping, tree-loving Cardinal crowd is expected to swarm the

Silicon Valley campus.

The attention on college football is at a fever pitch in the

pro-saturated Bay Area market.

Jim Plunkett, who in 1970 became Stanford’s only Heisman Trophy

winner, couldn’t even hit golf balls on the San Francisco peninsula

this week without buddies at his club asking about his Cardinal’s

chances.

”It’s on everybody’s mind, it’s on everybody’s lips,” Plunkett

said. ”Most people think this is the biggest game Stanford has

played in a long time.”

Fans should get quite a show.

The contrasting offenses promise points – unlike top-ranked

LSU’s 9-6 victory over previously No. 2 Alabama last week. Stanford

averages 48 points and Oregon 46 points per game.

While Luck anchors a prolific passing game, the Cardinal count

on a powerful pro-style offense and a bull-dozing line to push

opponents around. The Ducks’ spread-option, no-huddle headlined by

James and quarterback Darron Thomas relies on speed and

misdirection.

”Kind of amped up, but really just focused,” Thomas said.

”I’ll be amped up on Saturday.”

Keeping composure could be the biggest challenge for both

teams.

The winner in this matchup has scored at least 50 points the

last two years with wild, wacky swings in scores normally reserved

for video games. Both seemingly blowout contests flipped in a

hurry.

Two years ago at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal jumped out to a

17-point first-half lead and held on for a 51-42 victory. But they

blew an early 21-3 cushion last season in Eugene and lost 52-31,

the only blemish during an otherwise perfect two years.

First-year Stanford coach David Shaw insists he isn’t worried

about nerves and excitement rattling him or his players.

Shaw credits the low-key atmosphere on the grounds of the

rigorous academics university for keeping players focused. In a

place filled with former and future world diplomats, Internet

innovators and other great minds, football is often secondary.

”This campus does a great job of keeping your perspective,”

Shaw said. ”There are spots on campus where businesses are being

created. I talked to a doctor who’s working on campus, and they’re

working on the steps toward curing cancer. Stanford vs. Oregon is

not high on his list this week.

”Now,” Shaw added, ”he’s going to be at the game. But he’s

got a lot of stuff to do between now and then.”

Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP