Stanford mailbag

Marc in Dixon, Ill., writes: Injuries obviously are going to be critical to Stanford's chances against UO this weekend. Which players do you think are most critical (say you could pick 2-3 of those to return and no more) to victory and how do you think David Shaw and company might change the game plan against a speedy UO squad to compensate best for the team's injuries? Also, I see the weather report says there is a chance for rain. To me, that is a huge advantage for UO, since their passing game isn't as dangerous.

Kevin Gemmell: Marc, if I had my pick, I'd go with tight end Zach Ertz. That's not to say that the other players in question -- kicker Jordan Williamson, tackle Cameron Fleming and wide receiver Chris Owusu -- aren't important to the team. They really are. But Stanford doesn't have to change its offensive approach if those guys are out. Without Ertz, Stanford loses a lot of its three-tight-end formations. I think Ryan Hewitt has done a fantastic job being a jack of all trades for Stanford. But when you have the three tight ends, plus Hewitt at fullback, quarterback Andrew Luck has a lot more options. I don't see the weather having an impact one way or the other. Luck was 9-of-11 for 130 yards with two touchdowns in the second half last week against Oregon State when the rain was really coming down. In all of my years covering football, it's always the teams whose pass game is considered "not as dangerous" that usually end up getting one or two game-changing plays. Discipline is the word of the day for Stanford.

Robert in Denver writes: I notice all of the so-called experts are saying that Stanford has no chance against the Oregon on Sunday, despite the fact that the Cardinal have the home field advantage. I think Luck will have another signature moment in this game against the Ducks and take the Cardinal to the BCS championship game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Kevin, what is your take on this great game coming up?

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought is who is going to beat LSU to allow Stanford to get into the title game with Oklahoma State? If both Oklahoma State and LSU win out, Stanford is on the outside looking in. As for my take -- after much internal debate, I picked Stanford in my prediction yesterday. To me, it comes down to which offense flinches first. I'm expecting a lot of points, but the first defense to stand up and make a stop -- or the first offense to falter -- will likely determine the outcome.

Jamey in Burlingame, Calif. writes: Kevin, as I've checked into this blog just about every day since September, everything has been building up toward this ultimate showdown tomorrow! Reading previews that several others have written about this game, I keep hearing one thing -- that Stanford has to play their best game of the year to win. I look at what the two teams have done, and Stanford has been no less dominant than Oregon. I'm also hearing Stanford is dinged up (which they are), but Oregon's two biggest playmakers have played well below their full potential the last two weeks. Plus as you pointed out earlier in the week, Stanford posted more impressive wins against all of our common opponents. So shouldn't people be saying that Oregon needs to play their best game of the year to upset Stanford?

Kevin Gemmell: Oregon has proved it, Stanford hasn't. That simple. Until Stanford takes the crown from the two-time defending champs, Oregon is still the team to beat. With that said, Stanford probably will have to play its best game of the year. And the same goes for Oregon. The Ducks haven't faced a quarterback like Luck this season -- but they have played in a game of similar magnitude against LSU. I wouldn't expect either team to be in awe of each other. And if both are at their best -- lookout. Could be one of the best games we've seen in a decade.

David in Huntington Beach, Calif. writes: Kevin, love the Les Miserable quote, awesome.

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks David. It was either that or "Tomorrow" from Annie, which I didn't think captured the gravitas of the moment.