Before the season started, this weekend’s big Stanford-Oregon showdown was being billed as a battle between the top two preseason Heisman favorites—Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James. However, because of the elbow injury that James sustained back in Week 6 against Cal, he’s fallen out of the Heisman race after a sensational start to the season
Luck, on the other hand, has held onto his Heisman front-runner status and guided the Cardinal to a 9-0 record. He has lived up to the monumental amount of preseason hype that built up over the summer.
However, the superstar quarterback has gained a few critics along the way, with some trying to downgrade him because of Stanford’s weak early schedule (USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin ranks it 73rd in the country).
Luck will now have his chance to shine in the spotlight in front of a national audience on Saturday night, as he and his Cardinal teammates try to avenge last year’s second-half collapse in Eugene. Their loss at Autzen Stadium cost them a shot at an undefeated season, a conference championship and a berth in the national title game.
LaMichael James certainly remembers that game well.
The speedy junior tore up the Cardinal defense in last year’s meeting, rushing for 257 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the 52-31 romp.
Given the improvement that the Stanford defensive front seven has made this year, it will be difficult for James to find that kind of success once again.
The Cardinal currently rank third in the country in rush defense, giving up an average of just 78 yards on the ground per game.
In a game of this magnitude, with the Pac-12 North division likely hanging in the balance, both teams will need their star players to step up and make a big impact.
The roles are almost reversed this year, as it’s now Luck who is the one with everything to lose. He’s the one that’s playing at home, with the chance to move to 10-0 and possibly position his team to jump up to No. 3 in the BCS standings.
That doesn’t mean that Oregon, which still has an outside shot at a national championship berth and a great shot to win the Pac-12, has nothing to play for. However, James and the Ducks simply won’t have to deal with the same type of pressure as Luck and the Cardinal.
Luck is the one who’s coming into the game with all of the Heisman hype. Yet, if James starts running like the same player we saw before the injury, he may just have a chance to steal his thunder.
No matter who ultimately ends up winning, the two stars can hopefully put on the type of exciting offensive show that everybody’s hoping for.
Since Stanford has the better quarterback, the better offensive line, the home-field advantage and the revenge factor, I'm picking the Cardinal in this one. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if James and the Ducks made things mighty interesting.