Can Stanford spoil Oregon's party?
Oregon has broken Stanford's collective heart the past two seasons, handing the Cardinal their lone regular-season loss each year, both in dominant fashion.
In 2010, Stanford jumped to an early 21-3 lead before the Ducks exploded. In 2011, the Cardinal, despite having a guy by the name of Andrew Luck as their quarterback, imploded with five turnovers.
Stanford went 12-1 in 2010 and outscored its foes by an average of 26.6 points per game. It lost to Oregon 52-31. Stanford went 11-2 in 2011, losing the Fiesta Bowl to No. 3 Oklahoma State by three points in overtime. Its average margin of victory was 27.4 points per game. It lost to Oregon 53-30.
Yet we're not here to bury Stanford, but to offer up a different role. Not only that, a role reversal.
Stanford dream buster.
Consider what the Cardinal have done this year.
When the sun rose on Sept. 15, everybody thought Matt Barkley was perfect and USC was a dominant national title contender. But the clock struck midnight on that when the Trojans were pushed around in a 21-14 loss.
A loss to Stanford.
California was mounting a turnaround when it eyeballed the Big Game on Oct. 20. The Bears were riding a two-game winning streak that included a blowout win over UCLA, and coach Jeff Tedford looked to be rallying to save his job. But the clock struck midnight on the Golden Bears' golden hopes in a 21-3 loss.
A loss to Stanford.
Oregon State was 7-1 and riding Rose Bowl dreams just last weekend. One of this season's feel-good stories, the Beavers controlled their own destiny in the Pac-12 North Division. But the clock struck midnight on Mike Riley's crew in a 27-23 loss.
A loss to Stanford.
Notre Dame was unbeaten and dreaming big when Stanford came to town on Oct. 13. Folks in South Bend, Ind., were thinking coach Brian Kelly was finally reawakening the echoes. But the clock struck midnight on that when the Cardinal converted a two-point conversion after Stepfan Taylor used a tough second effort to bull in for an overtime TD in the Fighting Irish's 21-20 overtime loss.
A loss to wait that didn't actually happen because of a dubious call.
Still, that Notre Dame victory is a blotch on the Fighting Irish's résumé in the beauty contest of college football. The chief reason folks rank the Irish behind Kansas State and Oregon is style points. So the Cardinal did deliver a degree of bad news in that game, though some might argue we're doing rhetorical yoga to maintain the trajectory of our contrived theme.
The point: Stanford might not be the elite team this year that it was the previous two, but it has already played the role of spoiler with Meryl Streep-ian verisimilitude! (That's 43 points for using a "Meryl Streep" reference in story about college football and 38 more for using the word "verisimilitude." There's an 11-point deduction for the use of an exclamation point.)
There are practical reasons to consider the notion that Stanford could upset the Ducks and end their run for the BCS national title game. Oregon's defense is banged up, and Stanford owns the best defense the Ducks have played this year, one that ranks No. 1 in the nation against the run.
But really, there aren't that many. Stanford is a flawed team and Oregon is a Holy Cow! team.
Stanford coach David Shaw said Oregon has "great athletes and great schemes in all three phases." He said the Ducks "are the best team in the nation and they are the deepest team in the nation." And he may be right.
But Stanford is a good-enough team. Its upset chances, just in terms of the football part of football, are legitimate. Perhaps it is due for a redemptive win in the series. And perhaps Oregon is due for a befuddling loss.
Stanford dream buster! Hey, it could happen.
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