It’s very simple for the human No. 1 and BCS No. 2 Oregon Ducks on Saturday: Beat Stanford and the Ducks will play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second year in a row. They would host Saturday’s USC-UCLA winner on Friday, Nov. 30.
Should Oregon win four straight outright conference titles, it would be quite a rarity in college football. The Ducks had the best record in the Pac-12 in 2009 and 2010 and then won the inaugural conference title game over UCLA last season. Another title would make Oregon the first team since Southern Cal from 1966-69 to win four straight Pac-12 outright titles. Pete Carroll’s powerhouse Trojans in the 2000s were a part of seven straight conference crowns. But they shared the conference’s best record in 2002, ’06 and ’07. Then you have the whole vacated thing because of the Reggie Bush sanctions. The last major conference champion to win four straight outright crowns was Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘N Gun” Florida Gators from 1993-96.
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Also should the Ducks win, they would probably jump Kansas State in the BCS standings as the Wildcats play a bad Baylor team on Saturday. If Stanford were to pull the big upset – and it would be bigger than Texas A&M winning at Alabama – then the Cardinal would control their destiny. They would host the Pac-12 title game by winning their season finale next Saturday at UCLA (so in theory, the Cardinal and Bruins could play in back-to-back weeks). Should Stanford lose that, Oregon would be the North champion with a win at Oregon State next weekend.
Stanford at Oregon Betting Storylines
Is it possible to slow the runaway train that is the Oregon offense? The Ducks lead the nation in scoring at 54.8 points a game (No. 3 in rushing) and have scored fewer than 50 just three times all season – the same number of times they have scored at least 60. Last week in a 59-17 win over Cal, the Ducks became the first team ever to score at least 40 points in 13 straight games (11 of at least 49).
Whom do you key on in Chip Kelly’s offense? Freshman QB Marcus Mariota, who totally deserves a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, leads the nation in quarterback rating at 176.96, which would set a Pac-12 record. His completion percentage of 71.7 percent would set an NCAA freshman record. His 28 TD passes are the most by a freshman in Pac-12 history. This guy wasn’t even the favorite to win the job back in the spring!
Then you have running back Kenjon Barner, who is No. 6 in the nation in rushing with 1,360 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and tied for second with 19 touchdowns. It’s scary that I only mention De’Anthony Thomas, the fastest player in college football, third. He’s averaging 7.9 yards a carry and has 12 total touchdowns (one on a return). Oregon has 71 offensive drives resulting in touchdowns and 40 have lasted less than two minutes.
But the Cardinal have easily the best defense that Oregon has faced. Stanford leads the nation in rush defense, allowing a scant 28.9 ypg and 2.0 yards per carry. It is No. 12 in scoring defense (17.2). Whereas high-powered USC put up 51 points on the Oregon defense, Stanford allowed the Trojans 14. To be fair, Oregon’s defense is the best in the Kelly era, and it’s always going to allow some points and yards because it is on the field so much with the Ducks’ offense scoring so quickly.
The question is if Stanford can score enough to pull the upset. Coach David Shaw recently benched inconsistent starting QB Josh Nunes for redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. So far so good. Hogan is completing better than 77 percent of his passes with five touchdowns in the past two games. In his first start, Hogan did throw two picks in last week’s 27-23 win over Oregon State but also rushed for 49 yards. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is well known for unique blitz packages and being very aggressive, so can Hogan keep his composure in one of the most difficult environments in the nation?
More likely the Cardinal will keep pounding running back Stepfan Taylor to keep the Oregon offense off the field (the Ducks’ D-Line is a bit banged up). Taylor rushed for 114 yards on 19 carries with a TD last week against an excellent OSU run defense. He has become only the second Stanford player with at least 1,000 yards rushing in three straight seasons.
Oregon has won nine of the past 10 meetings. That one loss – at Stanford in 2009 – is just one of two conference losses ever for the Ducks under Kelly (the other to USC last year).
Stanford at Oregon Betting Odds and Trends
On BetOnline, Oregon is a 20.5-point favorite with the total at 64.5. The line is tied for the shortest of the season for the Ducks at home (also -20.5 in a 49-0 Week 4 win over Arizona). The Ducks are 6-4 ATS this season and 6-3 “over/under”. Stanford is 8-2 ATS and 3-7 O/U.
Stanford is 6-2 ATS in its past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The Ducks have covered five straight Pac-12 games. But Oregon is 1-4 ATS in its past five home games vs. a team with a winning road record. The under is 4-0 in Stanford’s past four on the road. The over is 8-1 in Oregon’s past eight following an ATS win. Stanford has covered just twice in the past 10 against Oregon. The over has hit in the past seven meetings.
College Football Picks: Stanford at Oregon Predictions
Unless I am overlooking something, the Cardinal haven’t been such a big underdog since the season before Andrew Luck arrived in Palo Alto.
Stanford survived four turnovers last week, and that clearly can’t happen again. If you look at the final scores of the past two games between Oregon and Stanford, they look like routs: 52-31 in 2010 and 53-30 last year. And those Cardinal teams had Luck. But if you look closer, the games were close at the half: 31-24 Stanford two years ago and 22-16 Ducks last season.
It looks to be a sloppy game, with temperatures in the mid-40s, a 70 percent chance of rain and winds up to 17 mph. I think that helps Stanford as it will go old-school and hope to physically dominate both lines of scrimmage. That worked against Southern Cal. Count on Taylor getting 25 carries unless the Cardinal fall behind early. Oregon will win, but take the points and the under.
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