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 He doesn't wear a watch, and his outdated cellphone doesn't even show the day of the week.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.''
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