Stanford coach David Shaw often references Oregon if his players get complacent in practice. Trainers bark out the results of the last two matchups to them in the weight room. During offseason workouts, the defensive huddle would sometimes break with the chant: “Beat the Ducks.”
It’s no secret who Stanford is after.
For the past two years, the Cardinal have been the Pac-12 Conference’s second-best team. All along they’ve been chasing the same program, and — like everybody else in the conference — have been unable to keep pace.
Just how far Stanford is from unseating Oregon depends on who you ask.
Las Vegas bookies believe it’s 21½ points. Cardinal linebacker Chase Thomas called the difference between the teams “a second half.” Shaw said “the gap is as big as the score the last two years,” with Stanford losing by an average of 22 points.
The one true measuring stick for how close — or far — the teams really are now will come Saturday night, when No. 14 Stanford (8-2, 6-1) faces top-ranked Oregon (10-0, 7-0) at ear-piercing Autzen Stadium with the league’s North Division lead at stake.
“This is pretty much our Pac-12 championship game,” Thomas said.
In everything but name, it has been the past the two seasons.
Stanford lost 53-30 at home last November in a game Oregon never trailed — nor was seriously challenged. Two years ago, the Ducks rallied from a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter to blow past the Cardinal 52-31 in Eugene.
Both losses cost Stanford the league title and a spot in the BCS national championship game.
“They do this thing where they play close for a half and then they just take off,” Stanford senior defensive tackle Terrence Stephens said. “It’s going to take our best game to win.”
While Oregon ran away with the last two games, Stanford upset the then-No. 7 Ducks 51-42 in 2009. However, the Cardinal haven’t won at Autzen Stadium since 2001, a place so loud the last time, Stanford players said the pebbles from the turf shook.
But Stanford is not alone in its struggles against the Ducks.
Oregon has won the last three league titles. USC handed Oregon it’s only league loss last season, and the only other teams to beat the Ducks the last three years are Auburn in the national title game in January 2011 and LSU in last season’s opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I think the entire conference,” Shaw said, “has an Oregon problem.