- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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STANFORD, Calif. -- The track carrying the Pac-12’s resident crazy trains -- Stanford and Oregon -- remains unaltered. Both continue to steam ahead at a furious pace with a nationally televised collision scheduled for Nov. 7.
The Cardinal strengthened their position with a hard-earned 31-28 win over No. 15 Washington Saturday night. And if there is any dignity left in the voting process, the Huskies should remain in the top 20 when the new polls come out Sunday for pushing the No. 5 team in the country at home for 59 minutes, 30 seconds and one close replay.
No. 2 Oregon, meanwhile, continued its blistering pace with a 57-16 win over Colorado. It’s the fifth straight game the Ducks have broken the half-century mark, and just the second time ever that a school has scored 50-plus in its first five. The last? That offensive juggernaut that was the 1885 Princeton Tigers.
All along we figured it was going to be Oregon and Stanford, but we’ve been wrong before. Recall last year that USC and Oregon was supposed to be the Game of the Century. By the time it rolled around, it was barely the Game of the Week.
But so far Stanford has fended off two of the league’s rising challengers in Arizona State and Washington, not to mention a vastly improved Washington State squad that is two games away from bowl eligibility after the "Air" out-raided the "Bear." But before we can see the highly anticipated Oregon-Stanford showdown, the Cardinal still have to go to Salt Lake City next week and Corvallis with a home date against UCLA sandwiched in between.
Rest assured, this was not the last close call.
“This is the way it’s going to be from here on out,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “There’s going to be a one-score lead in the fourth quarter, maybe a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Either we’re going to be up or we’re going to be down, and that is just the way it’s going to be. I don’t know if there’s anything we haven’t seen. But I do know with the older guys on this team, we’ve been through this. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a football game. You walk out of it with either a win or a loss, and our guys understand it. So no matter how imperfect the whole game is, when we get to the fourth quarter we’ve got to finish. And our guys finished well today.”
There’s no question the middle of the Pac-12 has gotten stronger. Utah continues to be a thorn in the side of teams, though it has yet to tally a signature win having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State a couple of weeks ago and then falling short at home against the Bruins on Thursday night.
ASU had a chance to strengthen its national standing with a neutral field game against Notre Dame, but faltered in the fourth-quarter and, for the second time in three weeks, will be bounced from the top 25.
Oregon, meanwhile, looks unstoppable -- and its blowout win over Tennessee last month looks even better after the Vols pushed Georgia to overtime Saturday. Marcus Mariota looks every bit the Heisman frontrunner after setting a career high with seven touchdowns (five in the air, two on the ground) against an improved, but still lower-tier Buffs team. The Ducks poured on 755 yards of total offense -- the second highest total in school history (the record is 772, which they got this year in the season opener against Nicholls State).
Much like the Cardinal, Oregon has a few potential pitfalls on its way to Nov. 7, including showdowns with Washington State, Washington and UCLA.
“Absolutely the rest of the league is closing the gap,” Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “Our conference has gotten really, really good. It feels like an NFL schedule right now. There are no easy outs.”
The question is, have they closed the gap enough to threaten the potential thrill-ride that is an undefeated Oregon versus an undefeated Stanford on Nov. 7? They haven't yet.