The No. 11 Oregon State Beavers travel to Palo Alto on Saturday to take on the No. 14 Stanford Cardinal in a matchup of two strikingly similar teams in must-win situations. Saturday’s winner becomes the last challenger to the Oregon Ducks for the Pac 12 North, practically making this game a semifinal for the division.
The Beavers and Cardinal have had very similar formulas for their success this season. They play excellent defense, run the ball well, and have made late-season changes at the quarterback position to give their offense a spark.
For Oregon State, they have turned to Cody Vaz, who is now 3-0 as a starter this season in relief of Sean Mannion. He got his first start against the BYU Cougars after Mannion was injured in Oregon State’s game against the Washington State Cougars. The sophomore Mannion came back quickly from his injury, starting again against the Washington Huskies, where he struggled. Vaz came in late in that game and nearly rallied the Beavers and has been the starter since.
Stanford, meanwhile, is giving redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan his first start of the season today. For eight game, Josh Nunes was under center with the full support of the team, but his inconsistent play forced head coach David Shaw to open up the quarterback competition once again before last week’s game against the Colorado Buffaloes.
Nunes played the first two offensive series and did nothing with them, so Hogan got his opportunity and efficiently picked apart the Colorado defense over two quarters. That was all Shaw needed to see, as he named Hogan his new starter first thing Monday morning.
For both of these teams, whichever replacement quarterback can find their rhythm will likely be the one to lead their team to victory. Vaz has already shown he’s in sync with the Oregon State offense, throwing for 870 yards with seven touchdowns to one interception in just over three games.
He’ll need some help from his running game and Storm Woods to take some of the pressure off from a physical Stanford defense that can wreak havoc on an offensive line.
Hogan saw his first major action last week beyond the few snaps where he’d been the read-option, wildcat style quarterback to give the Stanford offense a little change of pace. He looked very good last week, albeit against a very bad defense, moving the Cardinal with his legs and his arm. In his two quarters of play last week, Hogan threw for 184 yards with a pair of touchdowns while rushing for 48 yards.
Coaches admit he still only has about “80 percent” of the playbook at his disposal, but he runs them efficiently enough to make up for it. The added dimension he brings with his legs will be helpful in avoiding the pressure that the Oregon State defense can bring on quarterbacks.
Whichever team wins, their work won’t be done. With both at 5-1 in the conference, they sit a game back of Oregon, who is 6-0. Oregon State and Stanford still have showdowns with the Ducks on their schedule, so it is of utmost importance to stay within striking distance to try and pull off the upset over Oregon and steal the Pac 12 North title, assuming they win the rest of their games as well.
But even if the winner of this game can’t upset Oregon, they would still be in a very good position for an at-large bowl bid. If Oregon wins out, they will likely play for the national championship in the Orange Bowl as the No. 2 team in the BCS standings. That would mean the Rose Bowl, which takes the winner of the Pac 12 every year, would have an at-large pick to fill Oregon’s spot.
Traditionally, the Rose Bowl likes to maintain their Pac 12-Big Ten matchup whenever possible, and a 10-2 Oregon State or 9-3 Stanford team would be a very appealing option for them to sign.
So while college football doesn’t officially get their playoff yet, the Pac 12 is enjoying a mini-playoff this season between Oregon State and Stanford. The winner keeps hopes of a Pac 12 Championship and Rose Bowl berth alive while the loser hopes for a bid to the Sun Bowl. Game on.