Five things to watch in Saturday's matchup between No. 5 Oregon and Stanford.

1. Oregon offense vs. Stanford defense: A supersonic matchup

The first three installments of this Stanford-Oregon rivalry focused on a battle between two high-powered offenses: The Cardinal featured Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, while the Ducks lit up the scoreboard under Chip Kelly. Starting in 2012, the Pac-12 North clash took on a decidedly different tone as Stanford's defense morphed into an elite unit. Suddenly, the headline attraction was Oregon's blur attack against the Cardinal's stifling defense. That's what we're going to get again here in 2014, and the matchup may be better than it's ever been. Stanford's defense has never performed so well statistically (they're leading the nation allowing only 3.7 yards per play), while Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is leading the nation with his 192.2 quarterback rating. Simply put, this is another round of a supersonic matchup, and it's the first time that both clashing entities have been ranked No. 1 in the nation. So don't let the Cardinal's three losses fool you: This particular battle is in its prime.

2. Can Oregon get the Stanford monkey off its back?

Mariota has never beaten the Cardinal as the Ducks' starting QB. And in all of those losses, the weapons around him were far more experienced than what he's working with now. However, players like running back Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford -- though inexperienced -- could be what Mariota and Oregon need to get past this Stanford roadblock. In the past two years, Oregon has lost to Stanford in two different ways, according to Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. In 2012, he said, the Ducks didn't play very well and they also didn't play very hard. In the 2013 matchup, he thought his team played hard but didn't finish well in the chances they had. Can they play hard and finish this season? So far the offense has done a pretty good job of that and the defense has done enough, too. But they haven't put it together like that against Stanford in a while. Could this be the year?

3. Stanford's decimated defensive line

In a piece earlier this week, we discussed the formula that Stanford's defense has successfully employed to stop Oregon the past two seasons. In 2012, that plan was rooted in dominant, block-swallowing play along the defensive line. In 2013, since the Cardinal's defensive line was decimated by injury, Stanford's linebackers took on greater responsibility. Well, the Cardinal is again battling serious health concerns along the defensive front here in 2014. Versatile lineman Aziz Shittu has just been ruled out for the rest of the season, while David Parry -- the critical rock in the middle -- is questionable for Saturday because of a leg injury.

If the 305-pound Parry does not play, the Cardinal will be forced to rely on 255-pound true freshman lineman Harrison Phillips, which can spell huge trouble against a suddenly-bruising Oregon rushing game (Royce Freeman doesn't run like a true freshman, and David Shaw admitted that was "disheartening"). If Stanford can't stop the Ducks' rushing attack, well, you know what's next ... his initials are 'MM.' Mark Helfrich is certainly hoping to see the domino effect. The Cardinal's defense is vulnerable if they can't stop the run, so their health up front is a key variable in this game.

4. The pressures on both sides of this game

If Oregon walks away with a win, there's a really good chance the Ducks move into No. 4 after this weekend, considering the Nos. 3-4 matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss on Saturday. But with a loss, the Ducks drop and a two-loss Pac-12 championship team making the College Football Playoff doesn't seem likely. If the committee had to choose between a two-loss SEC team (even if it's the second in the playoff) and a two-loss Pac-12 champion (even if the only team considered), the scales would probably tilt toward the SEC. On the other side, you've got Stanford who could salvage -- at least emotionally -- part of this season by a) ruining Oregon's and b) avoiding a fourth loss, which would be the worst since the 2009 season when Stanford lost five games and c) pushing themselves ahead of Oregon in the North with no losses to North teams (but each would have two conference losses overall). Which team is going to be able to handle those kinds of pressures better?

5. Which Stanford offense will show up?

Will we see the Cardinal attack that laid massive eggs against USC, Notre Dame and Arizona State? Or will we see the completely revamped unit that sliced like a hot knife through Oregon State's butter this past weekend, averaging 8.2 yards per play and also scoring from the red zone before garbage time? Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren orchestrated a major rehaul of Stanford's offense before last week's game, and the resulting focus on perimeter athleticism (combined with a healthy dose of tight end action over the middle) seemed to make an excellent use of the Cardinal's personnel. The Ducks' defense hasn't been great this year, so this will be an interesting litmus test for both teams. Stanford will either replicate last year's ball control success by moving the chains in new ways, or Oregon will capitalize on a Cardinal offense that hasn't found a consistent identity yet this season. That fork in the road may end up determining this game.

Stanford At Oregon Preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31


Marcus Mariota has never beaten Stanford. Antonietta Collins and Heather Dinich look at whether or not this is the year he and Ducks finally win.

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Florida State doesn’t look like the team that won a BCS national championship last season. It looks more like the Auburn team that lost to the Seminoles in the last BCS National Championship game.

To win a national title in the past, or now reach the four-team College Football Playoff, a team is going to need more than a few good breaks along the way. FSU seems to be getting them every week, just like Auburn did last season.

The Seminoles beat Clemson 23-17 in overtime on Sept. 20 because the Tigers fumbled the ball -- and a golden opportunity for an upset -- at FSU’s 14-yard line in the final two minutes of regulation.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State are getting the breaks needed to reach the College Football Playoff.
On Oct. 18, FSU defeated Notre Dame 31-27 because the Irish were penalized for offensive pass interference on a pick play, wiping out a go-ahead touchdown pass from Everett Golson to Corey Robinson in the final moments.

Then on Thursday night, the No. 2 Seminoles trailed No. 25 Louisville 21-0 in the final minutes of the first half on the road. FSU tailback Karlos Williams fumbled near the goal line, but tight end Nick O'Leary recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a manageable 21-7 deficit heading into the locker room.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Louisville safety Gerod Holliman intercepted Jameis Winston's pass. But Winston chased down Holliman, knocked the ball loose and FSU’s Travis Rudolph recovered the fumble.

The Seminoles scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 42-31 win, their 24th victory in a row.

"We’ve been there before," Winston said. "Being down is nothing when you’ve got heart and you persevere. Personally, we play better when we’re down, honestly."

2. Georgia fans have every right to be upset that the NCAA didn’t reduce star tailback Todd Gurley's four-game suspension, which will keep him sidelined for Saturday’s game against Florida in Jacksonville, Florida, and next week’s road trip to Kentucky.

But Georgia fans shouldn’t be upset at the NCAA or the UGA administration. Gurley knew he was breaking NCAA rules when he accepted $3,000 to autograph helmets, footballs and other memorabilia. And it wasn’t a momentary lapse of judgment. According to the NCAA, Gurley was paid to autograph memorabilia for multiple dealers over the past two years.

Sure, the NCAA rules that prohibit players from receiving money for their autographs and likeness are out of date and need to be repealed. But Gurley knew the rules, and Georgia officials constantly educate their players about what they can and can’t do.

I have sympathy for Gurley, who grew up in a mobile home park in Tarboro, North Carolina. His mother struggled to make ends meet while raising Gurley and his siblings, and his family still doesn’t have much when it comes to material possessions. It doesn’t make much sense that Georgia and the NCAA can profit from his name, image and likeness, while he will have to sit four games for profiting from his own name.

At the end of the day, Gurley’s biggest flaw might have been his honesty about breaking the NCAA rules.

3. Don’t think the timing of Oklahoma freshman tailback Joe Mixon's guilty plea to avoid going to trial on charges that he punched a woman in the face in a bar on July 25 was coincidental.

By entering an Alford plea, which allows Mixon to continue asserting his innocence, his attorneys avoided making the videotape that showed Mixon punching a woman available to the media and public through state open records laws.

On Saturday, a new Oklahoma law, Senate Bill 2676, takes effect that would have required police to release the surveillance video from the bar where the incident took place. But since Mixon reached a deal with prosecutors before the law goes into effect, police in Norman, Oklahoma, are refusing to release the video to media.

Police allowed members of the media to view the tape but wouldn’t let them make copies. The original tape was returned to the bar owners on Thursday night and was destroyed, according to media reports.

Attorneys for the city of Norman say they still have a copy, after they were threatened with a lawsuit, but contend that that copy is not subject to release under transparency laws.

Oklahoma senator David Holt, who wrote the new law, told KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City that his intent was to increase transparency.

"I don’t even know that we need to say that, I thought that the intention of that was clear. That if you can look at it, you can copy it, especially in the day and age where we all have iPhones, we’re just one click away from copying a document," Holt said.

4. Winston threw a career-high three interceptions in Florida State’s win at Louisville, and his chances of repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner seem all but dead.

According to a Heismanology poll conducted by ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, Winston received only 4.5 percent of the available points in this week’s balloting -- and that was before he tossed three interceptions against the Cardinals.

After nine weeks of the season, it seems to be a two-man race between Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. According to Tessitore, they received 95 percent of the first- and second-place votes.

But there is still a lot of football to be played, and Tessitore notes that the last time two players received such a high percentage of the first- and second-place votes was 2012, when Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein and Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner were leading the voting. Of course, Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel ended up becoming the first freshman to win.

5. And, finally, the stat of the week from ESPN Stats & Info: Mississippi State is averaging a Power 5-high 188.6 rush yards per game inside the tackles. Prescott and Josh Robinson are two of four Power 5 players who have run for at least 500 yards and seven touchdowns inside the tackles.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX

Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network

Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1

So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
ESPN 300 prospects are set to scatter all over the Pac-12 landscape this weekend, as several conference programs are hosting very important official visit weekends. We take a look around the Pac-12 at the three biggest recruiting weekends in the conference.

Stanford at Oregon

Thursday night's game provided several reminders about Florida State.

1. This team, unlike its predecessor, is at times more lucky than good.

2. The Seminoles are still pretty darn good, even with all their injuries.

3. Jameis Winston is an excellent crunch-time quarterback.

4. FSU likely has too many warts to repeat as national champion.

5. Jimbo Fisher is an unquestionably brilliant coach.

Let's focus on the last item. Fisher's coaching acumen often gets overlooked, often because of what Fisher says and does away from the sideline.

He out-coached Louisville's Bobby Petrino in the second half Thursday, pushing the right buttons, especially on a third-and-6 from Louisville's 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Winston found a wide-open Freddie Stevenson, who scooted in for an easy, euthanizing touchdown. It's another reminder that Fisher is at the top of his game.

Fisher's clout as a recruiter also showed up as three freshmen, led by running back Dalvin Cook, reached the end zone. And his Seminoles team, despite myriad mistakes and continuing controversy, won its 24th straight game.

So why is it so hard to celebrate Fisher? Because of the other stuff.

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Pac-12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Happy Friday! And Happy Halloween!

Leading off

Friday means picks! Big picks, small picks, upset picks and more. The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning with a little debate among the higher-profile games. And as we do each Friday, here are some picks from national writers and those who cover the conference.

The FOX pair of Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are in sync with their Pac-12 picks. Both like Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona to beat Stanford, Utah and UCLA, respectively. Here is Feldman's take on the ASU-Utah matchup:
As good as the Utes D is playing, I think ASU QB Taylor Kelly can handle the heat. The Sun Devils have had fits dealing with the run, and Utah's Devontae Booker has been outstanding, but look for ASU to be able to give more focus to containing him since the Utes’ passing game is hampered further without leading receiver Dres Anderson (out for the season with a knee injury).
Big Board update

ESPN's Mel Kiper has released his latest Big Board projections, and as of right now, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft will be from the Pac-12. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is No. 1 overall, followed by USC's Leonard Williams. Here's Kiper's take on the Oregon quarterback:
He combines above-average accuracy and anticipation with an ability to get through his progressions and elite athleticism. How well he can take apart a defense with tools other than his legs matters in terms of how he is viewed as a prospect, but his ability to throw on the run or simply take off and pick up chunk yardage is a major plus.

It's an insider piece, so I can't give away the farm. (Hint: my password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Safe to say these two aren't the only Pac-12 players who appear in his top 25. There are five more (Washington fans, you'll be pleased).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Lisa Horne, proprietor of, offers up some awards and highlights thus far this season. She's a Heisman voter, so for what it's worth, she taps Mariota for having the top Heisman moment so far.

Speaking of Mariota ...

College Football Minute

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30


Discussing Thursday night's effect on the playoff, whether Utah should be worried about not having Dres Anderson, and three things to watch for this weekend. It's all ahead in the College Football Minute.
Welcome to your weekly 6-Pac for the Pac-12. This week, Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings tackle these toughies.

Does UCLA’s season come down to Saturday against Arizona?

Miller: Yes, in terms of living up to preseason expectations, though we are not as quick to write off the Bruins as many seem ready to do. UCLA should be 7-1 right now, losing only to Oregon, so they are only an upset home loss to Utah behind schedule. A 10-2 regular-season finish, even if that doesn’t include a South Division title, wouldn’t rate a major disappointment, as it likely would include a top-10 ranking. But a third loss crosses the over-under threshold in a negative way. So, absolutely, the Bruins need to beat Arizona at home and stay alive in the South Division race.

Jennings: I don’t know. I agree with Ted that this team should be 7-1 right now, but the difference between a two-loss and a three-loss season isn’t that huge. If they lose to Arizona and then run the table with huge wins over Washington, USC and Stanford (going 3-0 against California teams this season), that could still be considered a small success in a disappointing year.

Might Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly have a quick hook if he struggles early against Utah? And is the same true for Utah QB Travis Wilson?

[+] EnlargeArizona State
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTaylor Kelly (10) could have a relatively short leash if Arizona State struggles. Backup Mike Bercovici (2) led the Sun Devils to wins over USC and Stanford earlier this season.
Miller: Maybe to both, because both coaches know their prime directive is to scratch and claw and scheme for every inch in order to win this critical South Division game. Kelly is a highly competitive guy, but he’s also team-first. If he struggled in the first half Saturday and the Sun Devils offense was ineffective, he probably wouldn’t have any problem with coach Todd Graham calling in Mike Bercovici from the bullpen. Same with Wilson and Kendal Thompson, who came in against UCLA and picked up a victory in relief. Bottom line: Whatever is needed to win.

Jennings: Best-case scenario, neither struggles. But if we’re playing the negative-Nancy card here, I would say that if both struggle, I’d have my money on Kyle Whittingham standing by Wilson longer than Graham would stand by Kelly. Graham has stood by the fact that Bercovici is the backup, no matter what. Whittingham, on the other hand, has this open battle in which neither has really taken the reins. Wilson took a step forward last weekend and I think he’s going to try to keep that process moving forward this weekend, even if that means letting him have a bit longer of a leash.

Does Marcus Mariota need to beat Stanford to win the Heisman Trophy and establish his longterm Oregon legacy?

Miller: Probably, but not necessarily. Probably in that if he goes 0-3 against Stanford in his career, that will diminish his national standing significantly. But what if Oregon loses 42-40 and Mariota throws four TD passes and runs for another? If the Ducks lose this game because their inconsistent defense gets trenched, that shouldn’t be on Mariota. But if Mariota puts up the middling-to-poor numbers he did in the previous two games against Stanford, he will have a lot of ground to make up to get invited to New York.

Jennings: I don’t see how Mariota doesn’t make it to New York this year. Statistically, he’s the best quarterback in the nation. He has 24 touchdown passes and one interception. His touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is twice as good as the No. 2 guy on the list. But there are always going to be reasons why he’s not going to get some people's votes, whether it’s because they didn’t see his late games or the national perception of the Pac-12 vs. SEC. I don’t know if beating or losing to Stanford will change any of that (though the people who wouldn’t vote for him certainly will use that in some of their reasoning). And as far as his career stuff, on Tuesday, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Mariota needs to do nothing else to cement his spot in Oregon history. I’d agree with that. He could’ve left after last season and I think he’d still be a player everyone would be talking about for the next decade. Win or lose against Stanford, that doesn’t change.

Which struggling team finishes strongest: Cal, Colorado, Oregon State or Washington State?

Miller: I think Washington State is the best 2-6 team in the nation, so you get that, Cougs. And if Oregon State were healthy, the Beavers would be a seven-win or eight-win team. Colorado is much better than last year, even if it isn’t translating to wins. But I think Cal’s got a good shot to win two of its final four games and earn bowl eligibility after going 1-11 last year. That is huge. And even of the Bears only go 5-7, that would rate them as one of the nation’s most improved teams in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes.

Jennings: Darn it, Ted. We’re too agreeable today. WE NEED SOME DRAMA. But, I’m going with Cal, too. I think the Bears are the most improved team in the league and Jared Goff is the most improved player. The more this team plays together and jells, the more it will win. I see them winning two more games this season and bowling by year’s end.

Who is going to be this weekend’s biggest impact player?

Miller: Mariota vs. the Stanford defense is the obvious lead item, but I’m going with UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Touted as a Heisman candidate in the preseason, the campaign hasn’t gone the way he imagined it. Yet if he produces a tour de force performance in a win over Arizona, Hundley and the Bruins can quickly right their season. And UCLA won't win without him playing well.

Jennings: Whatever Utah receiver steps up in Dres Anderson’s absence. The Utah defense and special teams will show up -- that I’m almost sure of -- however, if the Utes want the win, they have to have someone because a deep field threat for Wilson to target. Running back Devontae Booker is going to do his thing, but if the Utes can only rely on a run game, their offense is going to be one-dimensional and Arizona State is going to get them every time. Whether it’s Kenneth Scott, Tim Patrick or Kenric Young, one of those guys needs to be the impact player of the weekend if the Utes want the W.

How many Pac-12 teams end up bowl-eligible?

Ted Miller: Nine. Eight is pretty much a certainty. The ninth will either be Cal or Oregon State.

Jennings: Ditto, Miller.

I don’t know if anyone has ever agreed with Ted so much in 1,000 words.

Tale of the tape: Stanford vs. Oregon 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
While Stanford's trip to Oregon this weekend has lost some of its preseason luster, it's still a matchup of two Pac-12 North and recruiting powers.

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EUGENE, Ore. -- Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 -- that date was circled on so many of the Oregon Ducks' calendars last year.

It was the date they'd have a chance to hit the field again against the team that derailed their 2012 season. But the 2013 date would have the same result -- that circle would make no difference in the end -- it'd be another loss to Stanford, another New Year's Day spent not playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We can't make it a bigger game than it is," Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said. "That's what I feel like we did last year. We were just focusing on that game way too much."

So perhaps in this game, one of the biggest benefits for Oregon will be one of its biggest questions marks -- its youth.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesOregon has lost two straight to Stanford, but several key Ducks have never played in the rivalry.
Running back Royce Freeman, who took over the starting running back job five games into the season and has accounted for 55 percent of the Ducks' rushing yards in October, has never played in this rivalry. Wide receiver Devon Allen, who has been one of Marcus Mariota's most consistent targets this season, has never played in this rivalry. Wide receiver Darren Carrington, who has come on strong as of late, has never played in this rivalry. Charles Nelson, special teams phenom, has never played in this rivalry.

Though Allen and Carrington saw the effects of this game last year during their redshirt seasons, they weren't in that game seeing exactly how everything went down.

Now, their ignorance could be Oregon's bliss.

In any other game that type of inexperience might be considered a deterrent. But here, in a game in which the history has messed with the present players more and more, perhaps inexperience will be one of the Ducks' greatest strength.

"I feel like it's a little bit easier for those guys to be able to play this game," Grasu said. "Because all we can tell those young guys is treat it like you perform in practice. They do an unbelievable job at practice and it has been showing on the field every Saturday. They just have to keep doing that -- don't get too hyped up just for this game."

"Maybe that is a good thing," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said about his young playmakers. "Those guys are a little bit fresher in their perspective."

The youth certainly has been fresh for Helfrich this season, especially of late as the learning curves have really picked up.

But to him, he really doesn't think of his players in terms of grades. He looks at each of them as a player going into Week 9 of the season, and so far, all of these 18- and 19-year olds have looked like very talented Week 9 players.

"We have so many [young] guys playing prominent roles on both sides of the ball and on special teams," Helfrich said. "If they're in the game, they're our best guy doesn't matter what grade they're in."

It might not matter to Helfrich, but it could, in fact, be a help to the coach come Saturday.
Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country, likes to play his recruitment close to the vest. He doesn’t share too much when it comes to what he’s thinking, but Beckner is ready to release the schools where he will make official visits.

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When contemplating the career arcs of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan over the last two years, there has been a “Yeah, but…” element for each.

Mariota is again a Heisman frontrunner and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks ever to grace the green. Yeah, but those Stanford games …

Hogan has led the Cardinal to a couple of Rose Bowls, but has had his struggles with consistency. Yeah, but those Oregon games …

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMarcus Mariota has one final chance to beat Stanford, Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
When the teams meet Saturday at Oregon in a critical Pac-12 North showdown, Hogan will not be in the secondary when Mariota is on the field. Nor will Mariota be playing linebacker when Hogan is reading the defense. Yet quarterback play has helped define this game over the last couple of years as much as any defensive stand or overtime field goal.

Hogan’s legend was born on Nov. 17, 2012, at Autzen Stadium. Still in a post Andrew Luck haze and unsatisfied with the results of Josh Nunes, Stanford turned to Hogan to make his first career start at home against Oregon State. A week later, he made his first road start in Eugene and helped engineer an unlikely 17-14 overtime win over the No. 1 Ducks. It was not a game the Cardinal were expected to win.

A year later at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal knocked off the No. 2 Ducks 26-20. Again, Oregon was the favorite.

“Kevin has played probably two of the best games of his career against us,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

Against Oregon, Hogan is completing 65 percent of his throws with one touchdown, one interception and a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Conversely, Mariota has completed 57 percent of his throws against the Cardinal with three touchdowns, one interception and zero rushing touchdowns. Stanford -- the only Pac-12 team Mariota hasn’t beaten in his decorated career -- has been his Great White Buffalo (said in a whisper).

“Last year Marcus certainly didn’t play his best game, nor did everybody around him contribute to his best game,” Helfrich said.

Fair to assume, too, that his knee injury had something to do with it.

The quarterbacks once against take center stage this weekend as the No. 5 Ducks look to move up in the College Football Rankings. Stanford, the two-time defending league champs, is looking just to stay in the North Division race.

“It goes without saying our game plans are completely geared around Marcus,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We have that much respect/fear of him. It is respect. He is the focal point of what we do and the focal point of what they do. At times we’ve been able to contain him. We’ve been able to harass him.

“But in every game, there’s a streak where you can’t do anything about it. He gets out of the pocket and takes off. He makes a couple of great throws. He moves the team down the field in three plays and scores a touchdown. It’s understanding that that’s going to happen at some point during the game. And when it does happen, we give respect to a great player and we come back and try to get after him again.”

Stanford’s best weapon against Mariota the last couple of years has been its offense’s ability to sustain drives and the defense’s ability to get off the field. In the two previous meetings, Stanford converted 52 percent on third down, while the Ducks converted just 25 percent.

It’s that same consistency Hogan has shown the previous two years that Shaw is hoping for out of him on Saturday.

“I think the biggest thing is being opportunistic,” Shaw said. “If something was there he was getting the ball out of his hands and throwing it. If nothing is there pulling it down and running it. Being very decisive. Converting on third-downs. Controlling the ball and controlling the clock. It’s hard to separate Kevin from the entire offense. But that’s pretty much what’s been good about what we’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Mariota has gracefully answered all Heisman questions before and during the season, though he has made it quite clear that the stiff-arm is the furthest thing from his mind. Still, many voters -- both of the Heisman and Selection Committee variety -- will look to this game to see if he and the Ducks can cure their recent Stanford woes.

And when we look back on this era of Pac-12 football in a couple of decades, Mariota’s accomplishments won’t be whisked away. Nor will Hogan’s Rose Bowl appearances be redacted. Question is, will we still be saying, “Yeah, but ..."

Pac-12 Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
Why Stanford will win: Over the past two seasons, I've picked Oregon to win this game with a strong degree of confidence. And I've been wrong. So, with not much confidence -- the Cardinal already have lost three games and NT David Parry is hurt -- I am picking Stanford. Mostly because if I'm going to be wrong, I want to be wrong in a new way. And I want Ducks fans to troll me for it. -- Ted Miller

Why Oregon will win: The Ducks' offense has looked confident, explosive and efficient since it started to get healthy across the offensive line. The new-look Stanford offense, while maybe better suited for the current personnel, might not be able to sustain those long drives that have worn down Oregon in the past. Stanford's defensive injuries are a concern as well. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Arizona will win: Scooby Wright III and his gang of Wildcats are going to be too much for the UCLA offensive line. Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson and Austin Hill will all have big games for Arizona. Time to start making some sense out of the South. -- Chantel Jennings

Why UCLA will win: This feels a lot like 2012 -- a surging Arizona team coming to the Rose Bowl vs. a UCLA team that had had a couple of bad games. And we all remember what happened there (UCLA won 66-10). Different year, different players. I get all that. But last week was a wake-up call for the Bruins. This game is put-up or shut-up for them. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Utah will win: With matching three-game win streaks, there's plenty to like about both teams, but Utah's Devontae Booker could be the difference. In his first year in the Pac-12, the juco transfer has averaged a conference-best 166.3 rushing yards per conference game. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils have a chance to solve what's been a major weakness at home, and I think their upward trajectory indicates that they'll do just that. ASU's defense had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight entering the Stanford game Oct. 18, and even Washington ran the ball with success against the Sun Devils last week. So on paper, it's a bad matchup since Devontae Booker has made Utah a successful rushing team, but I have a feeling ASU will capitalize on this big (late) stage to make a statement. Plus, Taylor Kelly will have shaken off last week's rust. -- David Lombardi

Unanimous picks

Why USC will win: Washington State's defense just doesn't have it. That's particularly bad news this week, since Cody Kessler delivered a notable performance in the face of Utah's ferocious pass rush during USC's loss last week. Kessler has a bevy of weapons in the passing game, and the Trojans also own balance thanks to running back Buck Allen. They will score plenty of points in Pullman, Washington, and there'll again be too much pressure on Connor Halliday's shoulders. -- David Lombardi

Why Cal will win: Both teams are limping into this game, but I think the Bears' limp is more figurative -- they've lost their past three games after a 4-1 start -- while the Beavers are limping because of injuries physical and mental. Cal also just strikes me as hungrier, though the Bears must contend with a strong Oregon State pass defense. The loser here seems unlikely to become bowl eligible, while the winner will need just one more victory over the homestretch. -- Ted Miller

Why Washington will win: The Huskies snap their two-game losing streak with a 17-point win over Colorado on the road. Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson are going to have a huge game for the UW front seven defensively and the offense will take a step forward with more consistent play through four quarters (plus, it'll help that there won't be 95 mph winds, as there were in Seattle last week). -- Chantel Jennings


Stanford At Oregon Preview
Marcus Mariota has never beaten Stanford. Antonietta Collins and Heather Dinich look at whether or not this is the year he and Ducks finally win.


Saturday, 11/1