Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - The two predominant powers in the Pac-12 North square off this weekend, as the fifth-ranked Oregon Ducks seek revenge against the visiting Stanford Cardinal.
The last five Pac-12 titles have gone to one of these two teams, with Oregon claiming the throne from 2009-11, and Stanford jumping to the top of the heap the last two seasons. The Cardinal spoiled Oregon's national title hopes in each of the last two seasons as well, earning a 17-14 win in overtime in Eugene in 2012, and following that up with a 26-20 home triumph last season.
Stanford leads the all-time series, 46-30-1.
At 5-3, Stanford is not exactly storming into this bout, which has normally been a matchup of ranked teams, at least recently. The Cardinal did roll to a 38-14 victory over Oregon State last weekend, but they had lost two of their previous three contests. Still, at 3-2 in league play, they are just a game back of the Ducks in the North Division. A win on Saturday would obviously go a long way toward possibly winning their third straight conference crown.
Constantly being near the top of the Pac-12 and national rankings has put a giant target on Oregon's back. The Ducks have fended off most challengers this season, although a 31-24 loss to Arizona certainly hurt. Since that setback however, the Ducks have gotten back on track by posting three straight victories, pushing them to 7-1 overall and right back into the College Football Playoff mix.
The most impressive and promising part of Stanford's 38-14 win over Oregon State was the performance of the offense. The Cardinal could very well be 8-0 if the offense made a few more plays this season. They rank 10th in the league in total offense (382.6 ypg) and next-to-last in scoring (25.8 ppg). They took a step in the right direction against the Beavers, posting 38 points and 438 total yards.
"For the first time offensively, it felt like us," Stanford coach David Shaw told GoStanford.com. "It felt like what we wanted to have."
Ty Montgomery is the most dynamic weapon on offense, and the wideout finished with 73 yards on six receptions against OSU, both team-highs. Montgomery (49 receptions, 514 yards, three TDs) has more than twice as many receptions as anyone else on the team. He is also the only player with more than 300 receiving yards. Austin Hooper (22 receptions, 246 yards, TD) and Devon Cajuste (20 receptions, 293 yards, three TDs) are the next-best options.
Of course, Montgomery could be doing even better if Stanford's offensive attack was predicated on the pass a bit more. However, Shaw prefers a balance on that end, despite the lack of a standout feature back. Remound Wright (326 yards, two TDs), Barry Sanders (290 yards) and Kelsey Young (212 yards) all get work out of the backfield. The trio combined for 93 of the team's 151 rushing yards against the Beavers.
Kevin Hogan actually leads the team in rushing scores (four). He showed off his wheels against the Beavers in scampering for a 37-yard touchdown. Hogan's primary work as a passer has been acceptable, but not overly impressive. He has completed 62.6 percent of his attempts, with more than twice as many touchdowns (13) as interceptions (six). He is averaging 226.8 ypg through the air.
If Stanford's offensive showing against Oregon State is a sign of things to come, the Ducks and the rest of the Pac-12 are in trouble. The Cardinal have been incredible on defense this season, ranking second in the country in average yards (250.6 ypg) and points (12.5 ppg) allowed.
As always, the stout Stanford defense faces a stiff challenge from an Oregon squad that is always dangerous on offense. That trend hasn't changed this season, although the Ducks are currently ranked third in the Pac-12 in total offense (534.9 ypg). That is just a testament to how many strong offenses there are in the league, with UO one of three teams in the top-10 nationally in total offense.
Marcus Mariota finally threw his first interception of the season in last week's 59-41 win over California. Despite the error, he still managed to record his highest passer efficiency rating since the Washington State game (199.61) by throwing for 326 yards and tying a season-high with five touchdowns.
"He had a couple of mistakes, which is almost funny because you expect him to be perfect," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "Marcus is such a stud and it's great that he has another year and a half left."
With 2,283 yards, 24 touchdowns and a national-leading passer efficiency rating of 192.18 in addition to his work on the ground (325 yards, five TDs), the Heisman Trophy is looking more and more like it is Mariota's to lose.
Stanford can't just be wary of Mariota, however, as they need to be on alert against running backs Royce Freeman (748 yards, 13 TDs) and Byron Marshall, who leads the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (521), and also has 306 yards and a score on the ground. Tight end Pharaoh Brown (20 receptions, 344 yards, five TDs), Devon Allen (27 receptions, 487 yards, six TDs) and Dwayne Stanford 23 receptions, 367 yards, four TDs) can't be ignored either.