For the past several years now, each week in college football has started with matchups on Thursday night. This week, it simply doesn’t get any better as two top five teams go head to head.
The University of Oregon, now 8-0 and in first place in the PAC-12 North division, travel south to take on the Stanford Cardinal, who sit just a half-game back of the Ducks in the PAC-12 North standings.
At 7-1, the Cardinal are ranked No. 5 in the latest BCS poll with Oregon two spots above them. For the Ducks, it’s a game of vital importance as they look to leapfrog Florida State in the BCS rankings for the right to play in the BCS title game.
Many casual college football fans may not be aware of the history between Stanford and Oregon, and it is indeed long and storied.
The rivalry dates back 113 years when Stanford overpowered the Ducks by a 34-0 margin. Stanford dominated their foes to the north for the early part of the rivalry, winning the first 11 matchups before Oregon managed to tie the Cardinal 7-7 in 1936. The Ducks finally broke through the following year, nipping Stanford by a 7-6 score.
Overall, Stanford holds a 45-30-1 edge, but in recent times it’s been almost all Oregon—Stanford has won only three times since 1997.
Last year may have been one of the toughest losses for either team in the storied history of the rivalry.
In 2012, Oregon was rolling and steamrolling its way through their schedule, dominating on both sides of the ball each week. By the time they faced Stanford, they were ranked No. 2 in the country and seemed destined to be playing in the BCS title game. Stanford was no slouch either, however, coming into the game ranked No. 14.
Oregon’s high-powered offense was completely shut down by the Stanford defense, who harassed Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariotta throughout the entire game. Stanford pulled off the 17-14 upset, ending Oregon’s national title hopes.
Now, Oregon comes into the game once again featuring one of the most potent offenses in the country. Mariotta is back as well and is one of the Heisman Trophy candidates. He’s passed for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns, and has yet to throw an interception all season.
The Ducks also feature an outstanding ground game featuring sophomore running back Byron Marhall, who has already gained 871 yards with 12 touchdowns. Mariotta has found much success on the ground as well, running for 511 yards and nine touchdowns.
Oregon’s up-tempo attack is hard to stop, ranked second in the nation with 55.6 points scored per game. They’re also ranked second with 632.1 overall yards per game as well.
Stanford brings a defense that could once again give Oregon fits, but Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason will have his hands full in devising a defensive scheme that can shut down all facets of the Ducks’ powerful offensive attack.
A win over the Cardinal would likely be enough to catapult the Ducks over Florida State in the BCS standings. Beating a top five team obviously speaks to strength of schedule, a major factor in what decides the rankings. It could also be the last big challenge Oregon faces this season leading up to the BCS title game, while FSU has a decidedly weak schedule remaining.
So, the storied rivalry between the two PAC-12 teams continues, and while Stanford would need a lot of help to reach the national title game if they were to beat Oregon, the Ducks could seal their fate with a win on Thursday night.