Two big Pac-12 games on tap
It’s not just Stanford that can’t solve the Oregon football machine.
Asked Tuesday if his Cardinal have “an Oregon problem” – the Ducks have stood in the way of the Pac-12 championship for Stanford the past two seasons – coach David Shaw made sure to generalize.
“I think the entire conference has an Oregon problem,” Shaw said.
It’s Shaw’s problem again this week. And once again, if the Cardinal can solve it, there could be a stake in the Pac-12 championship game to be had.
Stanford (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) would also need to win a tough game at UCLA next week to guarantee a share of the Pac-12 North championship. But the tiebreaker would go to the Cardinal.
All Stanford has to do first: win a game against an undefeated No. 1-ranked team on the road, in a stadium where Oregon has lost just twice since 2007.
The Ducks opened as a 24-point favorite, and can clinch the Pac-12 North title outright – a feat that has become something of a birthright in Eugene – with a win.
“They’ve lost one game a year,” said Shaw, who’s hoping to draw Oregon to that average on Saturday. “That’s a credit to what they do up there. They have great athletes, they have great schemes in all three phases. They know how to adjust those schemes.”
To that end, Saturday’s matchup could be one of the more intriguing in the conference this season. Oregon is third in the nation in rushing offense at 325.1 yards per game. Stanford leads the nation in rushing defense, yielding just 58.6 yards per game.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly refuses to engage in such silly tasks as comparing the defenses of Oregon’s various opponents throughout the years, but he did acknowledge that Stanford is “really, really strong, especially their front seven.”
“This defense is the best we’ve faced,” Kelly said.
Farther south, the stakes will be just as high when USC and UCLA meet at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. The winner might get to play there again.
If the Bruins (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) win, they clinch the Pac-12 South title outright. If the Trojans (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) win, they clinch at least a share of the division championship with UCLA. And in that scenario, USC would hold the tiebreaker, meaning Saturday’s winner is headed to the title game regardless.
That’s quite the reversal from last year’s game between these teams, which USC won, 50-0. Naturally, UCLA played in the Pac-12 championship game with the Trojans sidelined by NCAA sanctions.
Truth be told, the Trojans and Bruins enter this game from different places: In its first year under new coach Jim Mora, UCLA wasn’t expected to be in this position. And USC, with Heisman candidate quarterback Matt Barkley returning for this senior year, was expected to be playing for more than just a conference championship.
“We screwed a couple games up, obviously, so none of us wanted to be where our win-loss record is,” said Kiffin. “But at the same time, we want to be alive. We’ll have another game if we win for the conference championship.”
“We all know this one’s special,” Mora said. “We all know what the stakes are.”