The No. 14 Stanford Cardinal (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) will play host to the No. 11 Oregon State Beavers (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) on Saturday in what will be a crucial game for both teams' Rose Bowl hopes.
Stanford is coming off a dominating 48-0 win against the Colorado Buffaloes. This was a match that really reinvigorated the Stanford football program (mostly for fans). We all saw what QB Kevin Hogan could do, and it made us all wonder if the Cardinal's two losses would have been any different if Hogan had started.
The Beavers travel to Stanford Stadium after defeating the Arizona State Sun Devils 36-26 last week. QB Cody Vaz was named the starter for that game after Sean Mannion's four interceptions against the Washington Huskies resulted in their first lost of the season.
This matchup will likely determine who will be the runner-up in the Pac-12 North. Assuming Oregon wins out and makes it to the National Championship, either Stanford or Oregon State can snag a Rose Bowl berth.
Here's what to watch for as the Cardinal take on the Beavers on Saturday (3:00 PM EST, FOX).
Hogan will get his first official start for Stanford on Saturday. This comes after Josh Nunes failed to meet expectations and turn in a good performance last week.
Keep in mind that the Colorado Buffaloes have one of the worst defenses in the nation. Even so, Nunes' two drives of the game ended in punts.
Hogan took over and quickly turned heads. He ended the game passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns, completing 18-of-23 passes. He was also the team's leading rusher with 48 yards on seven carries.
After this performance, Shaw named him the starting QB against Oregon State. He'll be going up against a much tougher defense.
Hogan will have the chance to really prove himself this week. His performance will be key to a Stanford victory. The only question now is whether or not the nerves will get to him.
This will be Hogan's first start for the Cardinal, and to add to the pressure, the game is one of the most important for Stanford.
It seems as though Stanford's already dominant front seven has flipped the switch in terms of sacks. Against Colorado, the Cardinal defense had seven sacks. And in the game before that, an astounding 10 sacks were recorded. In fact, Stanford leads the nation in sacks. They average 4.33 sacks per game.
Oregon State is on the lower end of the spectrum for sacks allowed. They are 93rd in the nation, allowing 2.38 sacks per game.
Getting after Vaz will be key for the Cardinal. With Stanford's relatively weak secondary and the Beavers' star receivers, Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, pressuring Vaz is of the utmost importance.
Stanford's secondary has picked it up, though. Safety Ed Reynolds had another interception returned for a touchdown last week (third of the year). And freshman cornerback Alex Carter has looked good in his last few games.
Star running back Stepfan Taylor had a quiet game last Saturday, only rushing for 43 yards. On the other hand, Oregon State's Terron Ward rushed for 146 yards.
Stanford and Oregon State have the No. 1 and No. 2 rushing defenses in the Pac-12 this season. The Cardinal have only been allowing 56 rushing yards per game, while the Beavers allow about 92.
Establishing the running game is another key for both teams. Whoever does so first will give their quarterback some room to breathe and operate.
Whose offensive line will step up? Whose front seven will be dominate the line of scrimmage? Which running back will step up and break out? These are all factors that will likely determine the outcome of the game.
Both teams are pretty evenly matched offensively, but I believe Stanford's defense will be too much for Oregon State to handle. Containing the Beavers' wide-receiver duo will be important for limiting how many points they're able to put up.
Look for Hogan to prove himself and have a big game. Tight end Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo will once again lead the Cardinal with big, crucial receptions.
I don't expect Taylor to have a great game against a defense like Oregon State's, but I think he'll do just enough to free up Hogan to do his job.
Expect David Shaw to be a little more versatile with his play-calling now that Hogan is the QB. Hogan has some speed, and I wouldn't be surprised to see many different running backs for Stanford. The Cardinal have had success with tricky reverse plays and plays in the Wildcat formation.
Stanford defeats Oregon State 27-24