Stanford football players don't need to be reminded the importance of Saturday's home game against Oregon. They know their Pac-12 history.
Beginning with the 2009 season, the Ducks and Cardinal are the only teams to win conference titles and it normally comes down to their annual meeting. It's no different this year.
"The winner of this game has won the Pac-12 championship," Stanford outside linebacker and Palo Alto grad Kevin Anderson said. "This game is huge."
The Ducks and Stanford will kick off at 4:30 p.m. (televised by FOX) as the Cardinal starts a three-game homestand to finish the regular season.
A Cardinal victory clinches the Pac-12 North Division title and keeps intact a chance to reach the college championship playoffs. A Stanford loss will kill off the national championship hopes, but not conference championship hopes.
Oregon has dominated the series recently, winning 10 of the past 13 meetings, including last year's lop-sided 45-16 victory in Eugene.
Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, though, beat the Ducks in his first two games against them and Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the nation one year, and No. 2 the following season.
Stanford (8-1 overall, 7-0 in the Pac-12) enters the game ranked seventh in the nation. The Ducks (6-3, 4-2) are unranked, though they're on a three-game winning streak coinciding with the return of quarterback Vernon Adams, who transferred to Oregon for his senior year from Eastern Washington.
Anderson compared Adams ability to scramble to former UCLA star quarterback Brent Hundley.
"He made outside linebackers look pretty bad," Anderson said.
Cardinal coach David Shaw said Adams plays on such a different level that he affects the game plan.
"He's in his own category," Shaw said. "During the course of a play you don't know where he's going to be. You try to cover all day on the back end and the guys up front have to control him. It's like improvisation jazz. It just starts and you don't know where it's going to go or where it ends."
Adams doesn't appear among the conference leaders because he's missed three games with an injury. He ranks among the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12, whether he's listed or not. He throws for an average of 244.7 yards a game, which would put him sixth in the conference, 41.3 yards ahead of Hogan.
A passing efficiency rating of 155.5 places Adams third in the conference, just behind Hogan. Adams also averages 268.8 total offensive yards.
"You just try to figure out how to contain him," Anderson said. "We can't jump. We have to make the sound tackle and not try to make the blow-up tackle, and just do whatever we can to keep him in the pocket."
What complicates matters for the defense is sophomore Royce Freeman, Pac-12 rushing and scoring leader. He's averaging 143 yards per game while Stanford sophomore Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 147 yards against Colorado last weekend, ranks second at 134.1. Freeman has gained 80 more yards on four fewer carries than McCaffrey.
"He's a big, strong, bruising back with breakaway speed," Shaw said. "He, himself, is a game changer. With Adams back, that's a dangerous backfield."
Anderson affirmed Shaw's assessment of Freeman.
"That guy's a beast," Anderson said. "All I remember is last year trying to tackle him and not being able to because he's big and strong. All he's done is gotten bigger and stronger."
Freshman Taj Griffin, 12th in the conference in rushing, is a nice complement to Freeman.
The Cardinal has a bevy of complementary backs to McCaffrey in Barry Sanders, Remound Wright and freshman Bryce Love, whose seen his playing time increase weekly and whom Shaw would like to use more.
"He needs to touch the ball multiple times," Shaw said.
Cardinal running backs coach Lance Taylor saw Love on a recruiting visit to North Carolina.
"The film said 'fast and explosive,' but you always want to send someone to go see him live," Shaw said. "He's elusive and can make people miss and has the speed to finish in the end zone, but he's also a physical runner. That's what you need to see live. There are lot of smaller backs in high school football that make a lot of plays and gain a lot of yards, but aren't physically capable of doing that on the college level."
Taylor phoned Shaw that night with this message: "This kid's got it," Taylor said. "He can play."
NOTES: Defensive lineman Brandon Simmons will not play against the Ducks, Shaw said, but that everybody else who played in last week's 42-10 win over host Colorado are healthy and available . . . The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 in a number of statistical categories, including: third-down conversion percentage (.467), third-down conversion percentage defense (.351), fourth-down conversion percentage (.900), first-down defense (159), fumbles lost (3), passing yards/completion (13.80), tackles for loss allowed (4.78), time of possession (35:16), total defense (338.7) and winning percentage (.889).n