National implications for Oregon, Stanford

EUGENE, Ore. -- It's a beautiful day here for a top-10 matchup.

The last time that happened with Stanford-Oregon? Never. In 74 previous meetings, both teams have never been ranked at game time.

How big is the No. 9 Cardinal's visit to No. 4 Oregon? The winner not only becomes the Pac-10 front-runner, it also enters the national title discussion.

Last year, Oregon went to Stanford as the nation's hottest team but left a 51-42 loser. That ended a seven-game Ducks winning streak against Stanford. In fact, the Ducks, winners of 12 in a row at home, have won four consecutive meetings in Autzen Stadium by a combined count of 159-52.

But this is a much different Stanford team.

The Cardinal are physical on both sides of the ball. The question is are they physical enough overcome the Ducks' speed advantage?

Stanford, which hasn't posted a 5-0 start since 1951, is healthy. Both safety Michael Thomas (ankle) and receiver Ryan Whalen (elbow) are expected to play. Early in the week, it didn't seem that would be the case.

Not only are there national stakes for the teams, there also are for individual players.

If Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck puts up big numbers in a marquee road game, it's likely he immediately becomes a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. On the other sideline, Ducks running back LaMichael James, the nation's second-leading rusher, also could put his name in the mix. He's the nation's best home run threat: Will he be a slugger tonight?

The Ducks have been in this position before. In fact, the previous three top-10 Pac-10 matchups involved the Ducks, who triumphed each time: Oct. 27, 2007 -- No. 5 Oregon defeated No. 9 USC, 24-17; Nov. 3, 2007 -- No. 4 Oregon defeated No. 6 Arizona State, 35-23; Oct. 31, 2009 -- No. 10 Oregon defeated No. 4 USC, 47-20.

All were in Autzen Stadium, which is the best home-field advantage in the Pac-10.