In what should be one of the most competitive games of the 2012-2013 college football campaign, No. 14 Stanford hosts No. 11 Oregon State on Saturday.
But, while the Cardinal are slightly favored over the Beavers (per Bovada), expect Oregon State to reign supreme in the Pac-12 clash.
Both squads feature dominant run defenses. Stanford has allowed 1.91 yards per carry this season, tops in the nation per CFBStats.com. Oregon State has allowed 3.18 yards per carry, 15th in the country.
So you would have to think this game comes down to the passing games of each team.
Stanford and Oregon State are in very similar situations in that regard. Both teams have replaced their previous starters with inexperienced quarterbacks. Stanford replaced senior Josh Nunes with freshman Kevin Hogan last week against Colorado. Oregon State replaced Sean Mannion with Cody Vaz last week. Vaz, despite being a junior, had a grand total of 17 pass attempts for Oregon State before this season.
Then you look at the pass defenses for each team. The stats are eerily similar. Both teams are tied for 24th in the nation in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.2). Oregon State has allowed eight passing touchdowns while notching 14 interceptions, complete with star senior cornerback Jordan Poyer. Stanford has allowed nine passing touchdowns while registering 11 interceptions.
Oregon State held a rolling quarterback in Arizona State's Taylor Kelly to 3.7 yards per attempt last week. Stanford held USC's Matt Barkley to 6.2 yards per attempt while notching two interceptions in the 21-14 victory on Sept. 15.
But to me, this game comes down to the difference-makers in the receiving corps for Oregon State. Brandin Cooks (906 yards, four touchdowns) and Markus Wheaton (787 yards, eight touchdowns) have been sensational this season.
Cooks had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against a tough Arizona State pass defense last week. Wheaton posted four catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanford coach David Shaw said, via ESPN:
The thing with the kids from Oregon State, they're so quick, so explosive. You have to be ready for them coming off the ball, screens, fly-sweeps and just when you think everything is short, they'll run right by you.
This also has the potential to be a letdown game for Hogan. While he went 18-of-23 for 194 yards and three touchdowns taking over for Nunes in Stanford's 48-0 victory over Colorado, the Buffaloes may be the worst team, with the worst defense, in the entire FBS. They've allowed 46.2 points per game this season, worst in the nation.
Hogan will learn on Saturday that most college defenses, including Oregon State's, aren't that forgiving.
In the same breath, Vaz wasn't half-bad against a solid Arizona State pass defense in Oregon State's 36-26 victory last week. While he went 14-of-33, he also averaged 8.1 yards per attempt while tossing three touchdowns to one interception.
Who will win on Saturday?
Arizona State is allowing 5.6 yards per pass attempt this season, tied for ninth in the nation. The Sun Devils have also notched 12 interceptions.
All of this considered, I see Oregon State emerging victorious in front of a disappointed crowd at Stanford Stadium on Saturday.
Prediction: Oregon State 23, Stanford 20