Oregon-Stanford Preview

OREGON AND STANFORD SQUARE OFF IN BIGGEST PAC 12 GAME THIS SEASON

It's not getting as hyped as much as last week's LSU-Alabama game. But, Saturday Night's Oregon-Stanford showdown in the Pac 12 could turn out one of the best and most important games of the 2011 college football season.

There's a fairly short list this season of games that really matter. LSU-Alabama was obvious. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State is likely to be obvious unless the Cowboys stub their toe between now and then. Boise State's schedule is so easy that today's tussle with TCU as a big favorite grades out as their biggest challenge. It's as if March Madness started at the Elite Eight, then decided not to let everyone really compete. Oregon-Stanford at least matters for now...and it could ultimately launch the winner into the BCS Championship game.

Tonight's ABC matchup is clearly and undisputedly the biggest game in the Pac 12 this season. That could turn out to be premature if the winner is upset in the Pac 12 Championship game by the winner of the South Division. Stanford or Oregon will be prohibitive favorites in that game when it arrives on the schedule.

We're going to spend the next couple of weekends getting caught up on the league races around the major conferences. So...we'll go deeper than just Oregon-Stanford today in the NOTEBOOK. We'll look at the full standings...and then crunch some numbers for games that are important in the West. Arizona State had looked to be a shoe-in a few weeks ago. Suddenly, it's a real dogfight because UCLA got its act together and upset the Sun Devils.

Let's start, and quickly dispense with the Pac 12 North standings...

PAC 12 NORTH
Stanford 7-0
Oregon 6-0
Washington 4-2
California 3-4
Oregon State 2-4
Washington State 1-5

Washington is a nice story. California has had some good moments. But, this is obviously all about the top two teams. They're far and away the class of this six-team field...and are deservedly in the BCS discussion because of how well they played last year and how much talent they had coming back. Oregon was just a few plays away from the National Championship last year. Stanford was playing at a very high caliber when they beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. They don't seem to have lost a step.

The more complicated race is in the South...

PAC 12 SOUTH
USC 4-2
Arizona State 4-2
UCLA 4-2
Utah 2-4
Arizona 1-6
Colorado 0-7

Arizona State crushed USC, and would have wrapped things up if they hadn't missed a late field goal against suddenly coherent UCLA. But, they DID miss that field goal...so we have a three-way tie at the top that could unfold in a variety of ways before the month is over. USC and UCLA still have to play each other, which means it will be difficult for the season to end in a three-way tie unless ASU gets stunned by struggling Washington State or Arizona. And, the math is a formality in a sense because USC is ineligible to play in the postseason this year anyway because of past transgressions. Arizona is still safe as long as they keep winning and UCLA fails to score TWO upsets against Utah (where the Bruins are +7) and the Trojans. It would be something if a few surprises mean USC's games are part of the tie-breaker process even if they're banned from winning the tie-breaker.

That's how the standings shape up. Now let's look at the stat rankings we've been using in our conference breakdowns this season. We're not going to do the whole conference because many teams don't matter many more.

GAMES THAT MATTER IN THE NORTH
Oregon at Stanford

GAMES THAT MATTER IN THE SOUTH
Washington at USC
Arizona State at Washington State
UCLA at Utah

Arizona State is a prohibitive favorite at Washington State. No need for us to run stats on that one for you. If you think ASU is going to bounce back from their loss to UCLA...you'll be leaning one way. If you think they'll still be down in the dumps, you might take a flyer on the dog. That game will only get on the NETWORK radar in terms of customer selections if we hear something special from our Pac 12 sources.

Let's look at the other three games, with expanded coverage of the BIG one.

Oregon: 7th on offense, 61st on defense, vs. the 36th ranked schedule
Stanford: 8th on offense, 18th on defense, vs. the 73rd ranked schedule

We know both offenses are fantastic. Oregon has to get the nod as the superior offense given that the rankings are about even but Oregon's played a much tougher schedule. Heck, Oregon played LSU's great defense this year! It's like Stanford has played Duke three times, followed by the bad teams in the ACC.

Defense is a tougher call because of strength of schedule, and because Oregon's defensive stats are hurt by playing fast-break football all the time. You saw the Ducks slow down Auburn in last year's BCS battle after much of the vaunted SEC couldn't slow down Cam Newton. The Oregon defense is likely to be better than this stat ranking suggests. Stanford wouldn't rank so high nationally if they had played a tougher schedule. We'll certainly agree that Stanford's defense is much better than you normally think of finesse-style academic schools. Did they scare you in the second half of the USC game a few weeks ago?

Vegas currently has Stanford favored by 3.5 points, which is a touch more than the value of home field advantage. The stat rankings are in line with that assessment. If you're going to pick a winner here, it will likely be the result of personnel matchup analysis rather than big picture stat stuff. Can Stanford stop Oregon's best weapons? Can Oregon disrupt Andrew Luck? There are no letdowns or lookaheads. Nobody's coming in reeking of overconfidence. This will be a more up-tempo high scoring version of LSU-Alabama in terms of great teams going to war knowing they MUST win to have any shot at the national championship.

Washington: 52nd on offense, 93rd on defense, vs. the 30th ranked schedule
USC: 27th on offense, 56th on defense, vs. the 29th ranked schedule

This was a very exciting game last year...and Washington doesn't seem to have lost a step with the loss of Jake Locker. The Huskies do great out worse than USC on both sides of the ball though...and these teams have played very similar schedules in terms of strength. We will admit that we were VERY impressed with the Trojans when they played at Notre Dame...then when they came very close to stunning Stanford here in the Coliseum. Lane Kiffin has this team playing at a very high caliber. Are they consistent enough now that they should be laying double digits to Washington? That's the big question for handicappers.

UCLA: 66th on offense, 95th on defense, vs. the 21st ranked schedule
Utah: 111th on offense, 29th on defense, vs. the 27th ranked schedule

Again, evenly matched schedule strengths (which, as always, are taken from the historically accurate Jeff Sagarin ratings at USA Today) mean the stat rankings are easy to compare for value. UCLA has the better offense, but its average ranking is around 80th. Utah's offense has been atrocious this year...but it's defense lifts the average ranking to near 70. That's why the Utes are favored by a touchdown at home. If you focus more on recent form than the full season, it's tougher to justify that line. We're working closely with our Pac 12 sources on this one. If UCLA is belatedly drinking the Kool-Aid about their 2011 chances, then they may offer some good underdog value here. But, this is a tough place to play if you're not familiar with the surroundings.

The Pac 12 may or may not be a prominent part of our selection slate for customers today. We're focused in the NOTEBOOK on previewing the biggest games and outlining championship dynamics through the month of November. In a normal week, a game like Oregon-Stanford would be a shoe-in for the TV Triple Crown. As we outlined for you yesterday, the TV schedule is LOADED this week for the first time in ages. Outside the Pac 12...

SEC: Alabama at Mississippi State, Auburn at Georgia, Florida at South Carolina.

Big 10: Nebraska at Penn State, Michigan State at Iowa, and Michigan at Illinois.

Big 12: Texas at Missouri, Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, and Texas A&M at Kansas State.

ACC: Miami at Florida State, and Wake Forest at Clemson.

Mountain West: TCU at Boise State.

Big East: West Virginia at Cincinnati.

Our top REVENGE play and our TV TRIPLE CROWN can be purchased Saturday morning here at the website with your credit card. Be sure you take care of business EARLY because many of the best matchup of the day start at noon ET, 9 a.m. PT. If you'd like to sign up for the rest of the season today to get the most bang for your buck, that's also possible online, or by calling our office at 1-800-323-4453.

Oregon at Stanford is the next chapter in the BCS story. With JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, BCS stands for BIG CASH SCORE!

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