There are hundreds of questions bouncing around my head in anticipation of Saturday’s matchup against Oregon. But these are the ones that keep fighting their way to the front.
Are the Cardinal ready for the big time? Put up or shut up. Saturday’s game against Oregon will determine whether Stanford is legitimately ready to make the jump from college football’s nice little story to bona fide national championship contender. This is unfamiliar territory for Stanford -- but Oregon is used to the spotlight. Fans and media alike can’t wait to see if the Cardinal rise to the occasion or crumble under the weight of their success.
Does Stanford have the speed to keep up? Stanford has speed, but is it enough? Is it enough to contain Oregon’s multi-headed offensive attack? Is it enough to make defensive plays on the outside, or break runs beyond the first level of the defense? If they don’t, will they have the schemes in place to negate Oregon’s speed advantage? We know this about Stanford’s coaching staff -- they can game plan as well as any in the country.
What are the lessons learned from last year? The last team to serve the Cardinal a loss was Oregon, which overcame an early 21-3 deficit before smoking Stanford 52-31 in October 2010. Back in Week 3, a reporter made a passing comment to Andrew Luck about the defense and how it didn’t hold up in the second half against Oregon. Luck quickly objected and said it was the offense that was blanked in the second half and they were to blame. If you don’t think Luck is motivated to avenge last year’s poor second-half showing, you don’t know Luck.
Is this the week it all clicks? When the offense is hot, the defense is not. When the defense is stout, the offense is trickling. We’ve yet to see Stanford put together a full 60 minutes when both sides of the ball are cranking. And this week, it’s going to take a complete effort. With two of the top-scoring teams in the nation converging on Palo Alto, most are expecting a shootout. The offense is going to have to be able to match Oregon drive-for-drive and the defense is going to have to come up with stops and/or turnovers for the Cardinal to have a chance. That’s a lot to ask. But that’s what big-time teams do.
What is the unknown? If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking. But in games like this, there is always something, or someone, that no one talks about despite hours of analysis and tens of thousands of words that end up in print. Is it a defensive touchdown? A special teams touchdown? Is it a 99-yard Geoff Meinken run, complete with three stiff-arms and two lost helmets? Is it a gadget play that turns the tide? We’ve seen lots of those out of the Cardinal this year. There is always something…