#8 (#6 in the BCS) Stanford (6-1, 4-1) at #25 in the BCS Oregon St. (6-1, 4-0) / Reser Stadium / 7:30 PDT / ESPN / KEJO 1240 AM / KEX 1190 AM
Oregon St. returns home for Homecoming, both symbolically and literally, after back to back late night road trips, and 4 of their last 5 away from home.
It's also the night cap to arguably the biggest football weekend in the history of the state, which began earlier with #12 UCLA down the road at #2 Oregon. Its the first time EVER that both state of Oregon teams have been ranked and co-lead the conference, AND both are hosting ranked opponents on the same day, and ESPN is all over it, starting with Gameday down the road, and then covering both games.
Last year, the then 11th ranked Beavers nearly had the then #14 Cardinal beat in their own stadium, leading 23-21 late in the 4th quarter with the ball, when Cody Vaz inexplicably dropped the ball with no one near him. It rolled right to a Stanford player, and Kevin Hogan, making his first start, capitalized on a short field to lead the Cardinal to the game winning touchdown, on a 13 yard pass to Zach Ertz, and the 27-23 win.
Stanford went on to win the Pac-12 North, the Pac-12 Championship, and the Rose Bowl.
Vaz would subsequently suffer a severely sprained ankle, and Oregon St. would lose 3 of their last 5 games, alternating between 2 quarterbacks that each had only 1 good leg apiece under them.
This year, Hogan hasn't been quite as good, actually losing a game at Utah, but still has Stanford in position for another run at the same tri-fecta that marked the beginning of the Hogan era.
This year, Sean Mannion is healthy again, and only leads the nation in passing yards, touchdown passes, and passing yards per game. Had he had even a few more seconds at the end of the Eastern Washington game, the Beavers might even be the higher ranked team. As it is, Oregon St. has the same control of their own fate as far as the Pac-12 North Division and Rose Bowl races are concerned.
Tonight's winner will carry huge momentum into November, while the loser will have to scramble for an upper tier bowl bid.
Stanford will doubtless put more pressure on Mannion than he has faced all season, but then the Cardinal haven't faced a passing machine like Mannion, or a target like Brandin Cooks. While most have noted Mannion leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns, the concern for the Cardinal might be that Mannion also not only leads the country in passes for over 20 yards, but has more such plays than anyone has had through 7 games in a decade, which encompasses the emergence of so-called pass-heavy offenses.
On the other side of the ball, the Beavers are facing the best running back they've encountered this season in Tyler Gaffney, but can't completely commit safeties Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy to run support lest Ty Montgomery take off. The game could swing not on the Stanford defense vs. the Oregon St. offense, but rather on the Beaver defense against the Cardinal offense.
Stanford opened as a near touchdown favorite, but the line has narrowed down, floating around a field goal depending on exactly when you check which line. Which means everyone will have to stay up late to see this one decided.
Cooks will be looking to take over as the all-time leader in career touchdown passes at Oregon St. tonight. If he hauls one in, he will break out of the tie for the record he currently shares with James Newson and Mike Haas.
The Beavers will be without starting TE Connor Hamlett, while the Cardinal are minus Devon Cajuste, their #2 WR behind Montgomery (local product Jordan Pratt from Monmouth, OR will get the start), and also kicker Jordan Williamson, who also missed the UCLA game, something which could be very significant in a game that could be decided by a field goal. It's also a possible chink in the armor for the Cardinal special teams, which are the best in the conference, and figure to still be an advantage against the Beavers, who have struggled, especially in the return game.
Buildingthedam.com will be at the game, and back afterwards for your familiar mid-night analysis.