The Stanford Cardinal can take a giant step toward a Pac-12 championship and perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoff this weekend with a win, but it may not come without a good fight from the suddenly revitalized Oregon Ducks. Over the past few years, Stanford and Oregon have routinely been at the top of the conference. This year, Stanford has a chance to clinch the division against the Ducks, while Oregon can keep slim chances at the division crown alive with a win. Stanford may still have some breathing room in the division, even with a loss as far as the Pac-12 is concerned, but the Cardinal cannot afford to lose a second game with the playoff push underway. One more loss for Stanford could be more than enough to take Stanford out of the College Football Playoff conversation entirely.
Stanford is 8-1 and has not lost since the season-opener on the road at Northwestern. The loss in Evanston has been given some excuses by the playoff selection committee, with chairman Jeff Long saying the early kickoff and time difference was given consideration for why the Cardinal lost in the opener. Regardless, a loss on the road against another top 25 team early one tends to get excused by the committee, but Stanford has been a dominant force since that opening loss. Stanford has plowed through Pac-12 play (okay, the Washington State game was a close call) for a 7-0 record. With Oregon and Washington State each sitting two games back in the loss column, Stanford can put the finishing touches on the division with a win this Saturday against Oregon. Stanford only has one Pac-12 contest after the Ducks (Cal) and finish the season against Notre Dame in a game that could, potentially, be a playoff elimination game if the Cardinal and Irish avoid a slip up before that.
Oregon and Stanford have always played each other tough in more recent meetings, and this should be no exception. Oregon got off to a sluggish start to the season. At one point, it was reasonable to suspect Oregon might not be eligible for postseason play the season after playing for the national championship. Things looked that bad for Oregon when they were just 3-3 with losses to Michigan State, Utah and Washington State, two of which came at home in different ugly fashions. Oregon has now won three in a row, with two road wins against Washington and Arizona State and a home win against Cal. Suddenly, the Ducks look like a formidable foe with an offense that has rediscovered itself. Against Stanford, Oregon will face its stiffest challenge yet and they will do so on the road. With Stanford rolling with an emerging Christian McCaffrey at running back and continued steady play from quarterback Kevin Hogan, Oregon’s defense will be in for a tough battle against a physical approach from the Cardinal.
On Tap This Weekend
No. 7 Stanford (8-1, 7-0 Pac-12) vs. Oregon (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12)
Stanford can clinch its third Pac-12 North title with a win (2012, 2013) and make reservations for the short trip to Santa Clara with a win. The Ducks won last year’s game, 45-16, and the winner of this game has gone on to play for the Pac-12 title each of the past four seasons. Home teams are 2-2 in that span but have won two in a row.
No. 19 UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) vs. Washington State (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12)
The Bruins are not out of the Pac-12 South race, although they need to win to keep pace with Utah to set-up a battle for first-place in the Pac-12 South next week in Salt Lake City. Mike Leach has Washington State bowl eligible for a second time and still capable of a strong finish. Luke Falk vs. Josh Rosen should be a nice quarterback showcase.
California (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) vs. Orgeon State (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12)
Cal’s once-promising season has taken a nose dive with a four-game losing streak in conference play. The Golden Bears should have an excellent chance to snap the losing streak and clinch bowl eligibility at home this weekend against a woeful Oregon State program. If Cal can’t win this game, picking up a win against Stanford or Arizona State will be quite an uphill battle.
Northern Arizona (6-3, 4-2 Big Sky) vs. Sacramento State (2-7, 1-5 Big Sky)
The last time these two played was in 2013, with Northern Arizona coming out on top of a 39-38 game. Sacramento State blew a 31-14 lead in the game, and this year they are coming off another Big Sky loss. Stuck at the bottom of the conference standings with UC Davis, Sacramento State appears headed to another rough weekend with Northern Arizona undefeated at home this season.
UC Davis (1-8, 1-5 Big Sky) vs. Cal Poly (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky)
UC Davis scored just three points last week in a loss at Weber State and has now scored just nine points in its last two games. This weekend they take on Cal Poly, who is coming off a win against Sacramento State. The Mustangs opened up a 28-3 halftime lead last week, so UC Davis will have to avoid digging a big hole this week.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.