The No. 13 Stanford Cardinal (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) head to Autzen Stadium this Saturday to face the No. 2 Oregon Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12).
It's a matchup that is the biggest game of the season so far for both teams. Oregon needs a win to stay on track for the National Championship game. On the other hand, Stanford is trying to keep its hopes alive for a Rose Bowl berth.
The Ducks have beaten the Cardinal twice in a row, even with the likes of Andrew Luck at the helm. Now, Stanford gets another chance at spoiling Oregon's unbeaten season.
Will another AP No. 1 team fall this week? The odds-makers don't think so, since the Ducks opened as 21 point favorites. But here are 10 bold predictions for Saturday's marquee matchup between Stanford and Oregon.
No matter who gets the ball to start the game, I think we'll see Stanford score first. Oregon's offense will face a defense that is tougher than any other defense they've seen this year. And Oregon's defense is so injury-ridden that the Cardinal might not have a hard time moving the ball.
Exactly how many times have opponents scored first against Oregon this season? Three teams have actually done so. Fresno State, Tennessee Tech, and Arizona State have all done it. Those teams ended up losing by an average of 29.3 points.
We saw Cal slow down Oregon's rushing attack last week. They only had one rushing touchdown and held RB Kenjon Barner to 65 yards on 20 carries.
With Stanford's rushing defense (No. 1 in the nation), it's hard to believe that Oregon will have much success running the ball. The Cardinal only give up 58.6 yards on the ground per game.
As a result, look for Oregon to get their yards through the air, as they did last week. Cal forced the Ducks to throw the ball, and QB Marcus Mariota happily took that challenge and threw for six touchdowns. Now, will Stanford be able to get a different result?
Stanford's star RB Stepfan Taylor can make history on Saturday, becoming the school's leading rusher with 202 more yards.
He'll have to wait until next week though. I think he'll have a relatively quiet game. It's not that Oregon's defense will stop him (the Ducks allowed 236 rushing yards against Cal). It's that I believe head coach David Shaw will try to mix it up and run less with Taylor.
The Cardinal have other backs that can do the work. Kelsey Young and Anthony Wilkerson are two other options that can make the Ducks guess on defense. In addition, the ability of QB Kevin Hogan to run the ball might also take some carries away from Taylor.
On average, Oregon has allowed 1.4 sacks per game this season. Stanford is first in the nation in sacks, recording 4.2 per game.
I think Mariota will struggle with the Cardinal's defensive pressure. He'll be on his back at the end of some plays, and this definitely is not good for the Ducks. Just last week, Mariota had to sit out a few plays and looked in pain after landing awkwardly on his shoulder.
I expect Oregon to be up at the half, but in the second half, the Ducks' ailing defense will help Stanford get back into the game.
Oregon's defensive injuries will play a big part in the outcome of this game. Their secondary is banged up, and even backup QB Bryan Bennett has been seen taking reps on defense. They're quite lucky, though, that the Cardinal offense focuses mostly on running the ball.
Towards the end of the game, I think Oregon's defense will let them down. Stanford will come back, and the fourth quarter will decide the game.
QB Kevin Hogan will make his first start on the road this season in Autzen Stadium. It's not the greatest place for a redshirt freshman QB to lead his team in the most important game of the season, but look for him to overcome the pressure and even thrive under it.
At times last week, Hogan led drives that were Andrew Luck-esque. He just needs to do so now for four quarters. With his dual-threat nature, I wouldn't be surprised to see him roast the Ducks through the air and on the ground.
Stanford's WRs haven't been that great this season. It's been the tight ends that have gotten the Cardinal this far, and I think they'll be the key to the passing game on Saturday.
TEs Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo may possibly be the best tight end duo in the nation. Ertz is the nation's second best TE in terms of receiving yards. Toilolo is the fourth-best TE in the nation (who's played at least eight games) in yards per reception.
After last year's missed FG try at the end of the Fiesta Bowl, Jordan Williamson has still been less than stellar. So far this season, he's been 12-for-20 with a long of 48 yards.
He missed his only field goal try last week, but despite the loud, distracting environment that Autzen Stadium provides, I believe Williamson will come through for Stanford when it matters.
My very bold prediction: he won't miss at all, and he'll make at least three field goals.
As much as Ducks fans like to see their beloved team score 54.8 points per game, it's not going to happen on Saturday.
It's likely that Stanford is going to have a significant amount of time of possession (not that it really matters against an Oregon team that can score in the blink of an eye).
More importantly, though, the Cardinal defense will show the Ducks why they have the No. 12 scoring defense in the nation, only allowing 17.2 points per game.
It happened in 2009 when the Cardinal were led by redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck and senior RB Toby Gerhart. Now redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan and senior RB Stepfan Taylor will try to pull off the upset. Will history repeat itself in 2012?
Despite how dominant the Ducks have been all season, I think they'll finally meet their match against this Stanford defense.
Get ready, because the college football world is gonna see another huge upset for the second week in a row!