The 13th-ranked Oregon State Beavers and the 16th-ranked Stanford Cardinal meet in California on Saturday afternoon in a must-win game if either squad hopes to play for the Pac-12 Conference title.
Oregon State has exceeded preseason expectations by winning seven of its first eight games for the first time since 2000. The team's only loss coming on the road against Washington on Oct. 27 in a 20-17 final. The Beavers bounced back from that defeat nicely last weekend with a 36-26 win over Arizona State to move to 5-1 in Pac-12 play, one game behind rival Oregon with a date against the Ducks still remaining on the schedule (Nov. 27).
Stanford has had a similar season as Oregon State, as it also lost on the road to Washington (17-13) and it is currently in a deadlock with the Beavers in the Pac-12 North standings. Since losing to Notre Dame in overtime on Oct. 13, the Cardinal has ripped off three wins in a row and has improved to a perfect 5-0 at home in the process.
Stanford has doubled up on Oregon State in the all-time series, 50-25-3. During their modest two-game win streak in the series, the Cardinal have outscored the Beavers, 76-13.
The Beavers have been able to keep up a quality offense (26.2 ppg, 420.6 ypg) despite having a lack of continuity under center.
Sean Mannion started the season at quarterback and came out of the gates on fire, tossing six touchdowns to just one interception in the first three games. Since then however he has been battling a knee injury, and in the action he has seen he has played poorly, throwing three interceptions against Washington State and four against Washington. Cody Vaz has grabbed the starting role in recent weeks, and even though he had a horrific completion percentage against ASU (14-of-33), he still threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven TD passes to just one pick on the season.
Storm Woods (540 yards, six TDs) was unable to play last week due to a sprained knee, but Terron Ward filled in spectacularly with 19 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown. Woods' status for this game remains unclear, but head coach Mike Riley has confidence in Ward.
"We are proud of all of our guys and we have good depth at running back," Riley said. "That is what this team has done so far. If someone is hurt, then somebody steps in and makes the big plays like Terron did. I am not really surprised because they have all done good stuff and when they get their opportunity, they take advantage of it."
Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton are both coming off 100-yard receiving days, marking the third time this season the duo has accomplished that feat. Cooks (906 yards, four TDs) and Wheaton (787 yards, eight TDs) rank third and fifth in the conference in receiving yards, respectively.
The Oregon State defense has held opponents in check by allowing just 18.1 ppg and 339 ypg, although it hasn't played as well away from Corvallis (23.3 ppg).
With five interceptions (one for a TD) and nine passes defended, Jordan Poyer is one of the nation's best defensive backs. He missed his first-career game last week with a knee sprain, but he is expected to return for this crucial matchup. Much of Poyer's success is thanks to the pressure Scott Crichton puts on the quarterback, as he sits with 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Stanford's offense (29.3 ppg, 373.8 ypg) has found success this season by riding its workhorse back, Stepfan Taylor. Taylor has proven in recent years that his is one of the best running backs in the country, and the 2012 campaign has been no different as he has 206 carries for 947 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 26 receptions. Although Taylor has five 100-yard rushing games this season, he has just 101 rushing yards combined in the last two games.
Josh Nunes has started all nine games for the Cardinal and has thrown 10 touchdowns, but he has completed fewer than 53 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions. He made five pass attempts against Colorado before being spelled by Kevin Hogan, who was fantastic with 184 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing while adding another 48 yards rushing.
The starter under center has yet to be announced, but it's clear head coach David Shaw is happy with what he saw out of Hogan.
"We knew we were going to give Josh the first two series and give Kevin the next two series and see where we went from there, and Kevin took the ball and ran with it," Shaw said. "He's fast, he can run, he's athletic, he can throw on the move ... I can't find a lot of negatives to what he did. I'm very, very impressed. There's a chance you might see more than one quarterback (against Oregon State), but you'll see a whole lot of Kevin Hogan."
Zach Ertz caught six balls for 41 yards and a touchdown last week, and he's been Stanford's unquestioned No. 1 receiver with 38 receptions, 566 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
The Stanford defense has been the best in the conference, allowing just 16.6 ypg, and a big reason for that is its rushing defense, which is the nation's best in allowing just 55.6 yards per game. The unit held Colorado to negative-21 yards rushing a week ago.
It is also a big play defense with 83 tackles for loss, 40 sacks, 11 interceptions, and 10 fumble recoveries. Chase Thomas (49 tackles, 9.5 TFL, INT), Trent Murphy (12.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks) and Ed Reynolds (five INTs) are all having all-conference type seasons.