For several years, the annual battle between Oregon and Stanford settled the Pac-12 North division.
When the two meet this week, it’ll once again be a battle in the spotlight, as the seventh-ranked Cardinal visit the No. 20 Ducks. ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Eugene, Ore., for what should be one of the biggest games in the conference this season.
Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has already defeated one conference heavyweight with a 17-3 win against USC in Week 2, but now takes aim at the Ducks (3-0), who appear to be back on track after two down years.
“The problem I’m having is they look a lot like the really good teams that we’ve played up there,” Cardinal head coach David Shaw said during the Pac-12 coaches teleconference on Tuesday. “This team was put together very well.”
During the Pac-12’s first five years, 2011-15, Stanford and Oregon placed in the top two spots in the North, three times finishing in a tie. Stanford has won the North four times in the last seven seasons, with Oregon winning twice.
Oregon stumbled to last in the North in 2016, but rebounded to go 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12) in 2017. Led by dynamic quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks could make a statement with a victory this week at Autzen Stadium.
To win, the Ducks will have to stop Stanford star running back Bryce Love. The senior sat out of last week’s win against UC-Davis, recovering from bumps and bruises sustained against USC.
“He’s fired up for this weekend,” Shaw said, adding that Love took a lot of hits against the Trojans. “It was good to get him to recover and feel good, and he’s ready to go.”
Bruins’ Speight progressing
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight participated in most drills during the open viewing period at Wednesday’s practice, an improvement over his involvement last week.
A graduate transfer from Michigan, Speight started the season opener, but injured his back in that game. Bruins coach Chip Kelly said Speight is “day to day.”
At this point, it’s not clear whether Speight or true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson will start for the Bruins (0-3) on Sept. 28 at Colorado. Thompson-Robinson has started the last two games for the Bruins.
Thompson-Robinson’s father, Michael Robinson, criticized Kelly’s coaching and play-calling on Twitter after a 38-14 loss to Fresno State last week.
“I was informed of that,” Kelly said. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. That’s the great thing about sports. When you win people say good things, when you don’t win, people don’t say good things. We all have to play better here. We have to call better plays, we have to execute better and we’re all in this together.”
Repeat of 2016 for Trojans?
Southern California (1-2) is off to a disappointing start after back-to-back humbling losses to Stanford and Texas. Ranked No. 15 in the preseason, the Trojans have been outscored 54-17 the last two weeks and have fallen out of the rankings.
This is somewhat similar to USC’s 1-3 start to the 2016 season. That year, the Trojans made a change at quarterback, inserting redshirt freshman Sam Darnold into the lineup. Darnold led them to nine straight wins.
Darnold, of course, is now in the NFL, and the Trojans are set at quarterback with true freshman JT Daniels. Head coach Clay Helton said the 2016 season could still be a lesson for his team.
“A good thing for our coaching staff and our team is a lot of our kids, a lot of our leadership was on that team; now they’re seniors,” Helton said. “They know the start of a season doesn’t dictate where you will be at the end. The process of continuing to trust the process and get better each and every week is extremely important.”
USC will host Washington State (3-0) on Friday night and has won its last 17 games at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Utah has scored just 24 points in the last two games, only 17 of those by the offense. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said drops, penalties and turnovers have hurt the Utes, who are off this week. “We just need to find our identity and get into a rhythm,” he said. “The bye week comes at a good time in that regard.” … Four Pac-12 teams have a bye this week: Colorado, California, Utah and UCLA. … Washington State’s Gardner Minshew is the first Cougars’ QB to win his first three starts since Steve Birnbaum in 1998. … Washington’s Jake Browning needs 132 passing yards to become the 17th quarterback in Pac-12 history to reach 10,000 career yards.