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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Most important game: Oregon

By Kevin Gemmell

Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Oregon

Most important game: Nov. 7 at Stanford

Why it's important: I applaud Ted's effort for trying to avoid redundancy by naming Notre Dame Stanford's most important game of 2013. And for the record, I wasn't smirking when he pitched me the idea over the phone. I was doing the "coo coo" twirl motion with my hand while my 2-year-old laughed and mirrored me. Then he said "Unk Te sili." He sure is, pal. He sure is.

With that said, Ted did make some pretty good points. But we all know that the eyes of a college football nation will be turned on Palo Alto when the Ducks and Cardinal -- presumably a pair of top 5 teams -- meet on Nov. 7. As my grandpa used to say, you can't put the Irish cart before the quacking horse. He drank a lot.

Stanford vs. Oregon has evolved into so much more than just a meeting of A-list football teams. It's become a clash of football doctrines -- the up-tempo offense vs. the stalwart defense. The old-school, pro-style approach vs. the new-school, spread approach. One team has get-up. The other has grind down.

We know what Chip Kelly brought to the strategic table. And we know what David Shaw brings. We're assuming Mark Helfrich shares his predecessor's core beliefs -- which is why Oregon was so quick to name him Kelly's replacement.

Last year's game was epically entertaining if you're a football fan (though, probably not so much for Oregon fans). Stanford presented a solid game plan that was well-executed by the defense. In their 12 other games last year, Oregon averaged 548.4 total yards, 325 on the ground and 52.5 points. Against Stanford? 405 total yards, 198 on the ground and 14 points. Say what you want about the controversial Zach Ertz catch -- and both sides still say plenty -- it was a heck of a football game.

But let's not have too short of a memory. It was just a couple of years ago that Oregon thumped Stanford at home, 53-30, while forcing five turnovers. And the year before that it erased a 21-3 first-quarter deficit en route to a 52-31 win. In 2009, it was Stanford winning at home 51-42 behind 223 yards and three touchdowns from Toby Gerhart.

What made the 2012 edition so exciting was the very nature of the game. In the previous three meetings, the winner scored at least 50 points and the loser scored at least 30. But last year's overtime contest was a slow burn. It was Oregon's lowest point total since losing to Boise State 19-8 in the 2009 season opener.

The duo sits atop the Pac-12 power rankings in the North Division -- arguably the toughest division in all of college football -- which could produce four top 25 teams. The winner likely takes control of the division (assuming there are no surprises, which can never really be assumed) and advances to the Pac-12 championship game. Perhaps even the BCS championship.

Only three schools are currently enjoying a streak of three straight BCS bowl games. Wisconsin is one -- Oregon and Stanford are the other two.

The Ducks have plenty of other important games on their schedule. And when you're a team expected to be in national title contention, every game is obviously important. After Virginia and Tennessee, the league schedule starts slowly with Cal and Colorado before they travel to Seattle. Recent history suggests this won't be a problem. But rivalry games can never be taken for granted.

They also welcome UCLA for the first time in the Jim Mora era. That might prove to be a physical game, but because the Stanford game is Thursday night, both teams will have an extra week to prepare -- and hopefully (knock on wood) both teams are healthy and at full strength.

Some will say the Civil War is always the most important. And this article won't change their mind. Historical, regional rivalries usually are. But Oregon has easily cast aside its two regional rivals of late -- with nine straight wins over the Huskies (by an average of 26 points) and five in a row over the Beavers (by an average of 20 points).

The Cardinal, however, have sparked a new rivalry within the division and the past two years it's played out on a national stage. It will again in 2013.