Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is just one player who could star on Thursday night. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Thursday nights rarely offer the most exciting college football matchups of the week, but this Thursday might be an exception. This week No. 5 Baylor takes on No. 12 Oklahoma before No. 2 Oregon faces No. 6 Stanford in a battle of midweek top-25 contests.
What can we expect from this strong slate of Thursday-night college football? Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the games in this week's Read-Option.
Martin Rickman: We're in an interesting spot, fellow Campus Unioner. This Thursday is shaping up to what could be the most exciting Thursday night slate in college football history. I'm not hyperbolic in saying that, am I? Three top five teams and four top ten teams in all in the BCS standings are playing, and this could end up ultimately deciding at least one of the teams playing in the national championship.
Zac Ellis: And it's not just that the teams are all ranked, which they are, but the matchups on paper are intriguing. Both Oregon and Baylor boast two of the country's most exciting offenses, while Stanford and Oklahoma have proven to be stingy on defense for much of the season. These two games would make for a strong Saturday of college football, let alone a Thursday night.
MR: It's so strange to see everyone amping up for Thursday and by and large dismissing what typically is a huge game in Alabama-LSU. But change is good and upsetting the sediment sometimes unearths hidden value. Oregon and Baylor are part of the new guard of college football, and this will be a really good test to see if the ultra high scoring offenses are going to be copied around the league.
ZE: Indeed, it is odd to see that LSU-Bama game being so overshadowed. ... Heck, College GameDay will be in Tuscaloosa. You mentioned Baylor and Oregon, though, and that's what I'd really like to watch here, especially Oregon. This week De'Anthony Thomas proudly proclaimed that his Ducks should be able to hang "at least" 40 points on the Cardinal defense. Talk about bulletin-board material, huh? But while Stanford is the toughest defense Oregon will face during the regular season, the Ducks have handled their last two defensive challenges pretty well. Against both Washington and UCLA, Oregon hung around before opening things up in the second half and, oh yeah, scoring at least 40 points in each game. I'm curious to see if the same thing happens against Stanford, even though the Ducks will be on the road.
MR: Stanford has been the one team to seemingly have it figured out, and defensive coordinator Derek Mason deserves credit for getting the team prepared last year and pulling out the win. There's a sense that the Oregon team left something out there last year, and it doesn't want to repeat that this year -- and lose another shot at appearing in the BCS title game. Do you think Stanford has what it takes to shock the Ducks again?
ZE: One reason I'd say yes is that I have a question about Oregon's ability to survive a four-quarter test. It's not really the Ducks' fault that most of their games have been blowouts and, consequently, the starters are often taken out of the game midway through the second half. But what happens if Stanford holds Oregon in check until crunch time in the fourth quarter? Marcus Mariota is extremely talented, and the Ducks' defense is also a strong unit, but we have yet to see this team claw its way to victory in a tight game. In that kind of contest, I'd be inclined to lean towards the Cardinal. What do you think?
MR: I was wondering about that too. I almost think it hurts the team that they haven't had a close call yet. There's no discernible proof a team that wins close games is any tougher than a team piling up blowout after blowout, but there are some parallels to be made with Baylor, which did have to pull out a tough win when the Bears didn't have their best stuff against Kansas State. That said, maybe Oregon's always going to have its best stuff this year. The Ducks have talent across the board, and while in prior years they maybe would have leaned a bit more heavily on a particular playmaker like LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, it's a team effort from Mariota to Byron Marshall to De'Anthony Thomas to Bralon Addison to Josh Huff. If Oregon can score against that tough Stanford defense, I do have my doubts about the Cardinal's ability to keep pace. They like to grind out drives and they want to lean on running back Tyler Gaffney, even though they get a weapon in receiver Devon Cajuste back this week. How do you see this Baylor-Oklahoma game playing out? Is the real Oklahoma the team that beat Notre Dame and Texas Tech? Or is the one that lost to Texas and looked pretty poor against West Virginia?
ZE: It's funny, really. If the Sooners hadn't been tripped up by a Mack Brown-coached Texas team backed against a wall in the Red River Rivalry, we'd be talking about Oklahoma as a legit BCS-title threat. That game against the Longhorns is just such a blemish on that résumé, and it was so out of place for the Sooners, that it makes me wonder if and when it happens again. But regardless of that loss, the OU defense has been statistically dominant this year. The unit gives up a little over 314 yards per game, and it handed an offensively inclined Texas Tech team its first loss of the season two weeks ago. This is as good a time as any for Oklahoma to stake its claim as the Big 12 favorite if its defense can keep things up.
MR: My biggest worry is depth when it comes to Oklahoma. It seems like every week the Sooners suffer another rough injury, although they've weathered it pretty well to this point. I just am not sure if they have it in them to get in a track meet with that explosive Baylor offense.
ZE: That's a good point. It's also worth noting that Texas Tech's 30 points were the most points Oklahoma has given up this season in a win. But the Longhorns previously hung 38 on the Sooners. Does that bode well for Art Briles and the Baylor attack?
MR: I think so. But I've been crushing hard on Baylor all year, so I'm sure there's a bit of bias there. Enough about the football, how do we make the most of this oh-so-special Thursday evening in college football?
ZE: I'd suggest enjoying some barbecue during the Oklahoma-Baylor game because any good Big 12 matchup should and does involve some sort of smoked pork. While watching the Oregon-Stanford game, I plan on consuming some chicken, that way I'm not taking sides in that battle of bird-themed mascot names. What will you be doing?
MR: I lean heavily toward smoked meats, as well, but something tells me I'll have a hankering for rapid-fire snacking. All those points don't leave much room for a knife and fork. And because the game is extra late for us east coasters, caffeine is a must. I can already feel the lining of my stomach deteriorating. Make sure and watch these games with friends, preferably the ones who maybe aren't into football yet. This is as good of an opportunity for an introduction as we're going to get.