(AP) — Oregon and Stanford had barely wrapped up their games on Saturday when the buzz started in anticipation of their meeting this weekend.
The game in Palo Alto between the No. 3 Cardinal and the No. 6 Ducks will likely decide the Pac-12 North’s representative in the league’s inaugural championship game – and could have greater implications at season’s end, too.
Stanford is undefeated at 9-0 overall and 7-0 in the Pac-12, following a 38-13 victory over Oregon State. Oregon, meanwhile, defeated Washington 34-17 at Husky Stadium to up its record to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in conference.
“It’s been 10 minutes. I guess we’re allowed to think about Stanford now,” Oregon offensive lineman Carson York said.
The Ducks, who were undefeated last season until losing to Auburn in the BCS championship game, fell to top-ranked LSU in their opener this season.
But Oregon hasn’t lost since, and Saturday night won in the final game before Husky Stadium gets a $250 million facelift. Running back LaMichael James ran for 156 yards and a touchdown, and in the process became the first Duck with three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Safety Eddie Pleasant, who had two interceptions for Oregon, was also already talking about Stanford after the game.
“We know what kind of team they are. We know that’s a great team,” he said. “They haven’t won since we played them (last year) so we know they’re hungry for us.”
Oregon was ranked No. 4 last season when the No. 9 Cardinal visited Autzen Stadium. The Ducks tied it at 31 with 8:20 to go in the third quarter on quarterback Darron Thomas‘ 6-yard keeper to shift momentum, and the defense held Stanford the rest of the way for a 52-31 victory.
Stanford hasn’t lost since, and the win Saturday over Oregon State extended the team’s streak to 17 games, best in the nation. The Cardinal are 9-0 for the first time since 1952.
The win came with a price when receiver Chris Owusu was taken from the field by ambulance with a concussion from what was ruled as a helmet-to-helmet hit with Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer. The hit knocked the ball from Owusu’s hands and it was scooped up by Poyer, who ran into end zone, but the play was nullified by the personal foul penalty.
Poyer said after the game that he thought he hit Owusu with his shoulder, and the matter was still being debated by Oregon State fans on Sunday.
Owusu’s status for the game Saturday at Stanford Stadium was not immediately known.
Afterward, Stanford coach Davis Shaw said his team’s mistakes on offense opened the door for the Beavers to close within 17-13 in the second half.
“The game was close early on because we dropped two touchdown passes. We flat-out had them in our hands and we didn’t catch them” Shaw said. “We’ve got to make those plays in order to beat a team like Oregon. You can’t miss opportunities.”
Stanford would pull away from the Beavers with three unanswered touchdowns. Andrew Luck finished with 206 yards passing and three touchdowns in his first victory in the state of Oregon.
The eventual winner of the Pac-12 North will play a representative of the Pac-12 South in the first league championship game to be held at the school with the best record on Dec. 2. The league was split into two divisions and a championship was added this season when the conference brought in Utah and Colorado.
As it stands, No. 18 USC (7-2, 4-2) leads the South division standings, but the Trojans cannot play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) has the second-best record, but fell to UCLA 29-28 on Saturday.
The winner of the Pac-12 championship – unless the victor is ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings, and therefore headed to the national championship – will represent the league in the Rose Bowl against the winner of the Big Ten championship game.
Updated November 6, 2011