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Stanford romp more about Pac-10's strength than Oregon's weakness

Following Oregon's decisive 47-20 win over USC last weekend, I heard a lot of people say, "I can't see the Ducks losing again." Those people apparently hadn't been following the Pac-10 very closely this season.

What once was viewed as a one-team league is unquestionably the nation's toughest, deepest conference this season (no offense, SEC apologists). Oregon found that out the hard way Saturday: Stanford (6-3, 5-2 Pac-10) is no longer a Pac-10 afterthought. Third-year coach Jim Harbaugh's team boasts a talented, physical offense that carried the Cardinal to a 51-42 upset of the seventh-ranked Ducks (7-2, 5-1).

The Ducks' defense came in allowing just 11.6 points per game in five Pac-10 victories -- but they'd yet to run into Toby Gerhart (38 carries, 222 yards, three TDs) and Andrew Luck (12-of-20, 251 yards, two TDs, no INTs). Stanford's potential All-American rusher and potential Freshman All-American quarterback) sliced and diced Oregon's previously stout defense much the way Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James did to the Trojans a week earlier.

Stanford went up 24-7 early in the second quarter and eventually built a 48-28 lead early in the fourth quarter. Credit Masoli (22-of-38, 343 yards, three TDs, no INTs) for continually rallying the Ducks, but Oregon's defense simply couldn't handle Gerhart, who posted his second 200-yard game of the season. This one was a career high.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly took a lot of pride in the way his team had improved each week since the Boise State opener. His defense had performed at an improbably high level considering how many key players it's lost to injury. The Ducks couldn't maintain that momentum Saturday. They probably left a lot on the field in Eugene following last week's emotionally charged USC win, and Stanford is competitive enough at this point to exploit a flat opponent.

The Cardinal, 10-26 the past three seasons, appear headed for their first bowl game since Tyrone Willingham's last season in 2001. Kelly deserves all sorts of accolades for the way he's handled the Ducks during a turbulent debut season, but it's also time to stop and acknowledge the transformation that's taken place in Palo Alto under Harbaugh's watch.

After a week spent debating Oregon's standing in the BCS Championship race (Ducks fans thought they should have risen higher after last week's USC win, but voters kept them behind opening-week victor Boise State), the Ducks are no longer even a Rose Bowl lock. They still control their own destiny, but they're now tied for first in the loss column with Arizona (6-2, 4-1), which they visit Nov. 21. The Wildcats still have road games against Cal, Arizona State and USC.

Four teams -- Stanford, USC, Cal and Oregon State -- all entered Saturday night a game behind Oregon and Arizona, with the Bears hosting the Beavers and the Trojans facing Arizona State. Whereas the SEC has already determined its title-game participants, the Pac-10 race figures to come down to the very last week.

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