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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The PAC 12: Oregon vs. Stanford

Wild on Sports
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The PAC 12:  Oregon vs. Stanford
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

Before Pete Carroll left Southern California, it was almost a foregone conclusion that USC would win the PAC 10 and would be competing for a spot in the National Championship game. However, since his departure, it has been a two team race for the top spot in the PAC 12, and because of the conference realignment, those teams don’t get to meet in the PAC 12 Championship Game. However, both coaches who rebuilt the programs, Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly are both in the NFL, and the teams are still the class of the PAC 12. However, on November 7th, either Oregon or Stanford will make their case for both the PAC 12 championship and a spot in the National Championship game, while the other will be relegated to a lower bowl, in the last BCS season.

Last year, Stanford defeated Oregon by three points, and if it weren’t for being stopped at the goal line against Notre Dame and a still mind-blowing loss to Washington, Stanford would have been in last year’s national championship game. This year, Stanford returns quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was amazingly efficient in taking what the defense was giving him. Hogan only started five games last year, but he went 5-0 in those games, including wins over Oregon, UCLA twice, and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Hogan showed uncanny poise and the ability to read defenses, throwing only three interceptions in those five games. The biggest issue will be who will emerge to help Hogan lead the offense; after Stepfan Taylor, Zach Ertz, and Drew Terrell left for the NFL. Coach David Shaw has been on record saying that he will use five running backs in every game, and there is no reason to think he won’t with the talent that he has at both running back and full back. Behind Stanford’s strong and veteran offensive line, Tyler Gaffney, Ryan Hewitt, and Anthony Wilkerson should shoulder most of the load, but don’t be surprised if Barry Sanders Jr. starts to see more and more playing time as the season goes on. The receiving corps will be a bit tougher to replace, but Hogan will look to 6’7 tight end Luke Kaumatule to create mismatches because of his size, and open up the field. Juniors Devon Cajuste and Jordan Pratt are both big targets for Hogan, but they need to improve their route running in order to make an impact on the field. Stanford’s offense will be supported, as always, by an extremely tough and aggressive defense, led by its veteran linebacking corps. Trent Murphy is a freak, playing OLB at 6’6 261, and is a force when rushing the passer, but also shows great coverage skills. All of Stanford’s starting linebackers, as well as the immediate depth players are either juniors or seniors, and all have great size, crucial for Stanford’s 3-4. The biggest question on defense has to be the secondary, which ranked 72 in FBS last year in pass defense. However, four of the six starters in the defensive backfield this year will be seniors, and have great size in order to take care of some of the faster receivers at the line. Needless to say, this is one of the best teams Stanford has ever fielded, and if Hogan can take the next step and help his offensive weapons develop, the Cardinal should be undefeated going into their game against Oregon.

The Ducks have to replace head coach Chip Kelly this year, the innovator of the fast-paced, no punting or field goal offense that Oregon has become known for. Mark Helfrich will be taking over for Kelly, but will have so many tools around him; it would almost be impossible for him to screw this up. Marcus Mariota was absolutely spectacular as a freshman and commanded the extremely fast-paced offense without a problem, and thrived in it, throwing for 2,677 yards and 32 touchdowns, and added 858 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. In his second year, expect him to be even better, especially if Helfrich leaves him in games past the 2nd quarter, something Kelly rarely did if Oregon was up big, which they usually were. The (other) Black Mamba returns as well, as “Offensive Weapon” De’Anthony Thomas looks to improve on his ridiculous season, where halfway through the season he was scoring touchdowns every six times that he touched the ball. It will be interesting to see who takes the place of Kenjon Barner, but it is likely to fall on Byron Marshall, who is a bigger back than Thomas, and can wear down the defense to allow Thomas to tear them up. The receiving corps is also extremely impressive, led by tight end Colt Lyerla and receiver Josh Huff. Look for senior Daryle Hawkins to have a strong year because of his size, and the way Helfrich will use him in both the slot and outside. Oregon’s defense is filled with athletic freaks, with three of their returning defensive linemen over 6’6, and lots of depth, to keep up the rotation required for the activity that the Oregon defensive line uses to create mismatches. The secondary is probably the strongest part of the defense, returning eight upper classmen, including corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who broke up 16 passes last year and caused 10 turnovers himself; coupled with junior safety Erick Dargan, who was responsible for 7 turnovers, and the Ducks have a very opportunistic secondary.

The PAC 12 and possibly one of the two national championship spots will be decided on November 7th when Oregon travels to Stanford. As long as both teams avoid huge mental lapses, they should coast through the rest of their schedules and finish with no more than one loss. Unfortunately, with the way the conference is set up, the teams won’t be able to meet in the championship game. Other than the September 14th matchup of Texas A&M and Alabama, the Stanford Oregon will be the most anticipated game of the college football season, and it shouldn’t disappoint.

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