Stanford fans have been looking forward to November 7th since the day the schedule was announced last spring, and the long-awaited showdown is finally here. Yes, the game would've been more attractive if the Cardinal hadn't stubbed their toes against Utah, but when Oregon and Stanford square off tonight in a match up of the two best programs in the Pac-12, two seasons will be defined.
If the Ducks win, they will no doubt skate through the rest of their regular season before slaughtering the lamb from the South in the Pac-12 Championship game (but really, tonight is the de facto Pac-12 Championship game -- don't tell anyone) and quacking off to the National Championship game.
If Stanford wins, the Cardinal will sit at #4 in the BCS standings, perched like a vulture as they wait for two of the teams ahead of them to falter and open up a spot in the final game.
This Oregon team is so scary that I can't bring myself to write much of preview. Instead, I'll let Matt Takimoto have all the fun. Matt writes for an excellent Oregon blog, Addicted To Quack, and he obviously knows his stuff. Check him out...
Go Mighty Card:
When David Shaw replaced Jim Harbaugh two years ago most analysts expected a decline for the Cardinal, and they usually cited the attitude that Harbaugh brought to the team. Were there concerns about Oregon's switch from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich? Aside from the record, how has the transition played out over these first eight games? Are there any philosophical or strategic differences between this team and what we saw from the Ducks under Kelly?
Addicted to Quack:
The Mark Helfrich hire provided the continuity Oregon needed to continue their BCS-caliber success, and we've seen that this season, as Oregon has dominated its way through the first two months of the season. The practice plan, the in-game aggressiveness, and the tempo have all stayed relatively the same. One thing that has changed is the offensive gameplanning, which is fairly close to 50/50 run/pass, as opposed to running the ball almost 60% of the time under Chip Kelly.
How do Oregon fans respond to the suggestion that hurry-up offense might not be good for the game on the grounds that it bends the rules, creates legitimate injuries, and forces some teams (not Stanford, obviously) to bend the rules by faking injuries?
If coaches never tried to innovate the game, the forward pass wouldn't exist. As far as injuries are concerned, Oregon runs an uptempo offense every day in practice and in games, and are relatively injury-free. So I'd say the voices against the uptempo offense are made up of equal parts jealousy, get with the times, and haters gonna hate.
Tell me about Marcus Mariota. He was great in 2012, but he seems to be even better this year. How has he done it? Also, what's the secret to stopping him?
Aside from Mariota, who should we watch out for when Oregon has the ball? Do you expect D'Anthony Thomas to be one hundred percent?
As usual, all the focus is on the offense, but the Oregon defense is playing exceptionally well, even after losing key players to graduation. Who are the stars on defense, and how do you expect the Ducks to attack the Stanford offense?
The secondary is, for my money, the best in the country. Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are both gonna play in the NFL someday, and they've been able to neutralize an opponents's passing game without sacrificing any run protection. This will come in handy vs. Stanford, who plays a style of run Oregon hasn't seen yet this year. In the front seven, drop-end Tony Washington seems the heir apparent to Dion Jordan, and Ricky Havili-Heimuli has been a force in the middle of the defensive line. I expect Oregon to trust Ifo and Terrance to control Stanford's receivers, and commit the rest of the team to stopping the run, forcing some 3rd and longs, and forcing Kevin Hogan to win the game with his arm.
How big is this game for Oregon? How does the fanbase feel about playing Stanford? Chip Kelly used to emphasize the idea that no single game is any bigger than any of the others, but is this really just another game on the schedule?
From the outside looking in, Oregon looks like a perfect team. Do Oregon fans worry about anything about the Ducks, or do they just assume that they'll waltz to the championship?
What, if anything, concerns you about Stanford?
Stanford can run the ball, and they can stop the run. That kind of team is always concerning. And Kevin Hogan is undefeated against Oregon, so clearly we're screwed.
Finally, what's your prediction? How do you expect the game to play out, and what's your final score?
I think Oregon is just a little better than Stanford on both sides of the ball. This isn't a game that gets out of hand, but it won't be close late, much like the last time these teams played in Palo Alto. I'll say 43-24 Oregon, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were closer.