No. 7 Stanford can clinch Pac-12 North with win over Oregon
While the Big Game still is tops in terms of history with memories of The Play and battles for the prized Axe, when it comes to importance the Cardinal's annual game against Oregon now takes top billing.
For the past five seasons, the winner between the Cardinal and Ducks has gone on to take the Pac-12 title. That could happen once again this year as No. 7 Stanford (8-1, 7-0, No. 7 CFP) can clinch the Pac-12 North by beating Oregon (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) at home.
''We haven't had as much history going back decades like we have with Cal,'' linebacker Kevin Anderson said. ''But recently it has been a bigger game because the Pac-12 North has been at stake.''
The Ducks are mostly playing spoiler this year thanks to a stretch of three losses in five games earlier this season. They can still win the division by winning their final three games starting with Stanford and hoping the Cardinal lose at home to Cal next week.
What an Oregon win would do is put a serious dent in the Cardinal's hope of making it into the College Football Playoff.
''We take all that into consideration,'' Ducks receiver Dwayne Stanford said. ''We're trying to get to the Pac-12 championship and to do that we've got to win out and we need some luck.''
Here are some other things to watch when Oregon visits Stanford:
CONTAINING ADAMS: The top task for the Cardinal will be trying to contain Oregon's dynamic quarterback Vernon Adams. Adams has thrown for 887 yards and 10 TDs in three games since returning from a broken right index finger. His ability to extend plays with his legs and then beat teams with his arm has Cardinal coach David Shaw concerned.
''He's like improvisational jazz,'' Shaw said. ''It just starts and you don't know where it's going to go or where it's going to end. The last couple of weeks, it's ended in the end zone quite a bit.''
WILD CAFF: Stanford has its own game-breaker on offense in Heisman Trophy hopeful Christian McCaffrey. The Cardinal launched a website this week promoting his candidacy (wildcaff.com) but it's McCaffrey's play that really states his case. McCaffrey leads the nation with 2,174 all-purpose yards and is on pace to break the mark of 3,250 yards Barry Sanders set in 11 games on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988. McCaffrey has rushed for 1,207 yards, caught 28 passes for 325 more, gained 642 as a dangerous punt and kickoff returner and even threw a TD pass last week at Colorado.
''Give him the Heisman,'' receiver Michael Rector said. ''He deserves it. He's over here doing things that we haven't seen around here for a long time. He's a special player.''
RUNNING ROYCE: If the Cardinal focus too much on Adams, running back Royce Freeman could do them in. Freeman has five straight 100-yard rushing games and is averaging 143 yards per game on the ground. Freeman gained 150 yards from scrimmage last year against Stanford. Shaw called Freeman a ''game changer,''
''He's a big, physical, bruising back,'' Shaw said. ''But at the same time he has long speed also and he has breakaway speed. He can make people miss in the open field and he can break tackles.''
CONTROL THE CLOCK: When Stanford has had success against Oregon, it has been by controlling the clock and keeping the Ducks offense off the field. In victories in 2012 and `13, the Cardinal averaged nearly 40 minutes of possession. That forces Oregon to make the most of its few opportunities.
''Their offense is going to try and keep our offense off the field by controlling the ball,'' Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. ''But when we have it we have to be efficient with it and take advantage of chances.''