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Prediction: Stanford vs. Arizona

9/14/2011

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- This is the first real test of the season for the Stanford Cardinal -- and for my prediction skills. There are a lot of factors and elements to consider. Great quarterbacks. Hot weather. Late kickoff. Conference opener. But when push comes to shove, my gut tells me Stanford is the better overall team.

Prediction: Stanford 35, Arizona 24

Overall: 2-0

Why they'll win: It has a lot to do with quarterback Andrew Luck -- but not everything. The Arizona secondary has been suspect through two games. And there is no reason to think that Luck won't have the same success previous quarterbacks have had. Arizona also struggles with its running game. Add the No. 2 rushing defense in the country into the mix and the Wildcats have got trouble. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles has thrown the ball 93 times in two games. And when you go to the air that many times, more often than not, bad things are bound to happen. Stanford's ability to take away the run and force Foles into long third downs and unfavorable throwing conditions will be the difference.

Fear the tree(s): Coby Fleener (6-6), Zach Ertz (6-6) and Levine Toilolo (6-8) make up one of the best -- if not the best -- tight end corps in the nation. In Stanford's three tight-end sets, when at least one of them has single-coverage, there are few cornerbacks in the country that can defend against that. Luck has the uncanny ability to put the ball high where only his trees can get it.

Difference-maker: Stanford fans can just feel Chris Owusu is on the verge of doing something special -- be it at wide receiver or in the kicking game. He almost broke a kickoff return for a touchdown against San Jose State and almost had a long touchdown reception against Duke. This guy is about to do something big. If it comes this week against Arizona, it could tip the scales.

Out on a limb: Stepfan Taylor will get his first 100-yard rushing game of the season on Saturday. Stanford doesn't want to get sucked into a shootout and the offensive line wants to prove that it can be just as effective as last year's unit. While it's very possible that we could see 80-90 passes this game between Luck and Foles, I think Stanford will do the opposite and try to assert itself on the ground more than in the air.