The Oregon Ducks have been close, but missed field goals dashed their BCS title dreams in 2011 and 2012.
The November schedule hasn't been kind to the Oregon Ducks in recent years. On Thursday night, they can change the perception of the program and solidify themselves among the top two in the BCS standings in the process.
After dismantling No. 19 UCLA 42-14 in their last game, Oregon had a bye on a Saturday. Despite falling to No. 3 in the BCS standings after Florida State's win over No. 11 Miami (Fla.), the Ducks know if they finished undefeated, they will likely be in the top two of the final BCS standings.
Coming off a huge win over a ranked program, with another big game up next, Oregon is set up to make a strong statement to the human voters and the BCS computers. It sounds good in theory, but nothing is that easy in college football.
No one knows that more than the Oregon Ducks.
It wasn't quite November, but Oregon fans haven't forgotten Stanford's late October upset of the No. 5 Ducks in 2001. The Ducks blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell out of the national championship race after losing 49-42 to the Cardinal.
The No. 3 Ducks have been in this position before. In 2007, the Ducks beat No. 9 USC and No. 6 Arizona State to move to No. 2 in the BCS standings. After a bye week, the Ducks traveled to Arizona and along with quarterback Dennis Dixon, the Ducks fell out of the national championship race.
In 2009, the Ducks bounced back from a season-opening loss at No. 14 Boise State to win eight games in a row. After the Ducks blew out No. 5 USC to jump to No. 8 in the BCS standings, the Ducks traveled to Stanford, where the Cardinal beat the No. 7 Ducks 51-42, knocking them out of the national title race.
After beating Oregon State on the road in early December, Oregon earned a spot in the BCS title game against Auburn. The Ducks narrowly lost the game 22-19 and have had their sights set on a return trip to college football's biggest stage ever since.
Oregon has been in position each of the last two seasons to make the BCS title game, but the Ducks had their dreams crushed with a pair of three-point losses at home in the month of November.
In 2011, No. 7 Oregon passed its biggest November test when the Ducks traveled to Palo Alto and destroyed No. 4 Stanford 53-30. The following week, the No. 4 Ducks were set to move up to No. 2 after Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State just two days before they were to face off against No. 18 USC.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley led USC to a 38-14 lead before an Oregon rally cut the lead to 38-35. But Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime in the final seconds. The loss ended a 21-game home winning streak and a 19-game Pac-12 winning streak.
For the second year in a row, a loss by the Big-12's top team (BCS No. 1 Kansas State) opened the door for the Ducks to take complete control on their BCS destiny.
In 2012, the No. 13 Cardinal shocked the college football world with a 17-14 overtime win over the No. 2 Ducks in Eugene. Maldonado had his shot at redemption but missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime. Following the miss, Oregon had a chance to send it to double-overtime, but a Cardinal fumble slipped out of their grasp. Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson nailed a 37-yard field goal to end Oregon's nation-leading 13-game winning streak.
The 2013 Ducks have a different feel to them. QB Marcus Mariota doesn't seem to get flustered by anything. And after last year's loss to the Cardinal, he knows what to expect. There are a couple of positives for the Ducks in that three of the four losses above all happened at home.
As reported by Warren Williamson of OregonDuckfootballnews.com earlier this season, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich believes there are benefits to playing on the road.
I think there is a certain element of less distractions on the road. There’s less guys worried about tickets …and who’s coming to sleep in their bed,…and whatever those things are that come with playing at home. We don’t look at it as an us against the world mentality,…it’s us against us….and try to compete against ourselves,…whatever we did yesterday, do it better.
Since that 2009 loss to Stanford in Palo Alto, Oregon has played better on the road. It currently owns the longest streak in the country with 18 consecutive road wins. In 2009, the Ducks fell to the Cardinal on the road, but the 2011 matchup was an Oregon masterpiece.
A repeat performance from 2011, or even a close win over No. 5 Stanford on Thursday night, could propel the Ducks through the November schedule and would likely put them back in front of Florida State in the BCS standings for good.
After Mariota got tripped up after rushing for a 77-yard gain on Oregon's second possession, last year's matchup felt like one of those games that just wasn't meant to be.
Mariota and the Ducks know what Stanford has to offer on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal don't have a stable of NFL tight ends like they did last year, and they will be without future NFL defensive end Ben Gardner, who is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle.
Despite Gardner's absence, the Cardinal still have one of the elite defenses in college football. It likely won't matter; their offense has struggled to find consistency in 2013. Oregon's defense was outstanding against the Cardinal last year.
It would be a lot to expect even more from this year's Oregon defense, but the Ducks are better on that side of the ball in 2013. The Ducks learned a lot from last year, and they know that Stanford is capable of crushing their national title hopes once again.
The Ducks are capable of blowing the Cardinal out. That might be their best option considering the kicking woes of the last two seasons. Maybe it comes down to a late field goal that gives Maldonado another shot at redemption—or maybe it is over by the fourth quarter.
However it might happen, the Oregon program needs to win this game for a number of reasons.
With Stanford's history of wrecking Oregon's dreams and their recent November woes, the biggest reason of all might be for the Ducks to prove to themselves that they can make their BCS championship dream a reality.