Thearon W. Henderson
If you like seeing two very good teams that are very different play with a whole lot on the line in a fired-up setting, you should watch Stanford vs. Oregon on Saturday. Follow @SBNationCFB
No. 2 Oregon has to beat No. 13 Stanford in order to stay on course for the national championship game. With a win, the Ducks would be 120 minutes from Miami and even have a chance to jump over Kansas State for No. 1 in the BCS rankings.
And the Cardinal have stakes of their own. With an upset in Eugene, they'd be two wins away from their second Rose Bowl in 41 years -- despite just losing one of the two or three best players in program history to the NFL Draft.
Even more than that, the on-field dynamics no matter who has the ball are fascinating. Take a look at some numbers from each team's last four games. Have you ever seen a strength-on-strength contrast this pronounced?
Granted, consider the opponents for each, but still. Oregon's got its best offense ever, which is saying a lot, while Stanford's front seven leads the country in tackles for loss, ringing up 40 yards worth of backwards offensive momentum per game and still looking like the team that ate USC's offense whole.
But if Marcus Mariota can dodge maybe the nation's most relentless pass rush (Stanford ranks No. 1 in sacks, with multiple in every game), he could have a 400-yard day through the air alone, which is an insane thing to say about a freshman, but here we go. The Cardinal rank No. 101 in passing yards surrendered already, and that's before Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas get a chance at them.
On the other side of the ball, Stepfan Taylor and that still-powerful Stanford rushing attack (it's not what it was, but Taylor still ranks No. 21 nationally in yardage) go against maybe the most injury-battered defense in the country right now. The concern is up front, since if sophomore Kevin Hogan has to start slingin' on the road against that feisty Ducks secondary (Oregon ranks second in interceptions) after turning it over three times in his second start, that's ball game. Oregon likely gets some reinforcements in the front seven before Saturday -- and has some of the most experienced backups in the country anyway, via their big leads -- but will they get enough?
It's too early to make a pick (in other words, Bill Connelly hasn't written about this game yet), but this feels like a game where Stanford has some clear advantages and it just doesn't f---ing matter. Cal had Oregon's defensive line on its heels last weekend, but couldn't slow down the Ducks offense enough to really take advantage.
Oregon's favored by 21.5. I'll take them to win, but Stanford and the points.
Look through SB Nation's many excellent college football blogs to find your team's community.