In recent years, the PAC-12 has waited for the Stanford – Oregon game before deciding on a favorite for the PAC-12 North title.
This year’s version takes place in Eugene, Oregon this Saturday with kickoff scheduled for 4:30pm. The game will air live on ABC network.
Stanford dominated the series for quite some time and, as recently as 2017, posted a Duckbarrasing 49-7 puree of the lemon and lime.
But things change. Stanford has changed as I discussed here.
What will we see in 2020?
To see predictions for all FBS games this week, please visit us here.
Stanford’s offense vs Oregon’s defense
In the past two seasons under coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal has transitioned from over 60% rushing to over 60% passing. That is likely to continue since Stanford returns only 38% of its effective rushers from a team that finished 109th for average yards per carry in 2019.
Now that we know that, we know we can expect a heavy dose of passing from former five-star high school recruit Davis Mills who has proven to be accurate and effective even if not very durable.
Stanford doesn’t have an elite receiver so Mills will be spreading the ball to a half-dozen receivers led by Michael Wilson and Simi Fehoko. The Cardinal relied heavily on tight end Colby Parkinson last year but he left early for the NFL and no other tight end on the roster caught more than four passes.
Stanford’s offensive line took a punch in the gut with the optout of Walker Little in September. Junior center Drew Dalman and right tackle Foster Sarrell will be effective but the rest of the OL will consist of two sophomores and a freshman. The starting group is big (average 304.4 pounds) but having an inexperienced line in an opening game against the likes of Oregon’s defensive front doesn’t portend much success.
Oregon’s defense will be tough on Mills as well.
Despite the loss of All PAC-12 linebacker Troy Dye, our preseason system determined that Oregon is returning one of the highest rated pressure groups in the nation. Six of the top eight tacklers-for-loss are back led by sensational sophomores Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mase Funa, and Isaac Slade-Matautia.
It was Oregon’s pressure last year that held then-starting Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello to four yards per passing attempt and a quarterback rating of just 21.6.
Oregon’s secondary has taken some hits with the optouts of three starters, but leading interceptor Verone McKinley III returns. The starting back-end group looks solid but depth is going to be a problem.
In this game, Stanford must be successful with the pass because it is woefully weak in rushing and it now has to deal with an Oregon rush defense that was 13th in the nation in 2019 and looks even stronger today.
Oregon’s offense vs Stanford’s defense
Of course, Oregon’s biggest issue is replacing NFL Rookie of the Month Justin Herbert at quarterback.
Tyler Shough is the likely starter and he brings a running dimension that Oregon hasn’t seen in a while. Shough only has 15 passes to his college credit, but he completed 12 of them at nearly 10 yards per attempt. He also rushed for over five yards per carry and demonstrated an ability to create on the fly and avert pressure.
The Ducks have eight players who caught 10 or more passes last year. The group is led by spectacular Johnny Johnson III who had 57 receptions, 836 yards and seven touchdowns.
Oregon’s tight end situation is similar to Stanford. The Ducks graduated Jacob Breeland who was a three year starter and, although they have four decent replacements, none have Breeland’s star quality.
Even so, Shough-time should look pretty good because Stanford ranked just 121st for stopping the pass and 88th for getting interceptions.
On October 1st, the Cardinal secondary took a huge hit when Paulson Adebo announced he was opting out of the 2020 season. Adebo led the Cardinal in interceptions (8) the past two seasons and was a two-time All PAC-12 corner.
Running back C.J. Verdall has back-to-back 1000 yard seasons and will flourish even more in Oregon’s new offensive system. No one should complain if C.J. is seen loitering the halls of the Heisman.
He will be joined in the backfield by Travis Dye and Cyrus Habbi-Likio giving Oregon the best returning effective backfield in the PAC-12.
Stanford’s defense will be about average against the run in 2020.
We can’t overlook Oregon’s offensive line which is as green as its VaportUntouchable jerseys. There are enough returning players with experience but none were season-long starters. Like Stanford’s OL, this group will take time.
But, the most exciting news for this offense is the hiring of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. As we discussed here, the Duck offense is going to explode in 2020.
Stanford has a clear advantage in the kicking game. Ryan Sanborn has performed better in kickoffs, field goals, and punting than any kicker on UO’s roster.
Oregon is a clear favorite in returns because of the spectacular play of Mykael Wright who averaged 38 yards per kickoff return.
Over all talent
In studying the four-year recruiting histories of these two teams, it’s clear that Oregon has recruited higher-rated talent than the Cardinal.
And, Stanford has another problem.
While The Farm is accustomed to seeing players transfer-out because of its graduate school requirements, the 2020 offseason has been particularly brutal. When I last checked, Stanford had lost 18 players to transout and optouts.
Oregon won 21-6 last year.
Our system doesn’t risk a lot of spread on opening games, especially those involving teams, like Oregon, which have not yet disclosed who their starting quarterbacks.
As things stand today, our Index says Oregon will win again, this time 34-27.