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Oregon vs. Stanford Football Prediction and Preview

Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal Football Prediction and Preview

Ducks look to stay undefeated when they take on the Cardinal

The definitive rivalry in the Pac-10/12 from 2009 through 2015 was Oregon and Stanford. The series wasn't a rivalry in the traditional sense, but it featured enough thrilling games and boasted high stakes with the two trading championships and denying one another national title opportunities to fit the definition.

In addition to the two programs combining for every conference championship for that stretch, the Ducks and Cardinal were perfect foes for each other because of their polar opposite styles. That's changed in recent years with Mario Cristobal taking over at Oregon.

The Ducks (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) are now the gold standard in the Pac-12, employing a brand of football akin to that which Stanford mastered under David Shaw in the early 2010s. Oregon aims to parlay its rebranded approach into a College Football Playoff berth.

Stanford (2-2, 1-1), meanwhile, looks to avoid falling below .500 playing its second consecutive home game against a Top 25-ranked opponent.

No. 3 Oregon at Stanford

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -8

When Oregon Has the Ball

How it gets to the end result has changed, but the final product has remained the same for Oregon in terms of running the ball. Under Chip Kelly, when the rivalry against Stanford took off, the Ducks peppered opponents with a multifaceted ground attack featuring multiple ball carriers.

Oregon still throws a diverse rushing attack at opposing defenses — CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and quarterback Anthony Brown have carried for 343, 286, and 163 yards, and all have multiple touchdowns — but the Ducks don't show much jab-jab-jab with the run as they throw haymakers.

The Oregon offensive line bullies opposing defenses to create rushing lanes, and the result is a team average better than five yards per carry. Stanford's defense has been uncharacteristically soft against the run this season, giving up 5.2 yards per attempt.

UCLA's Zach Charbonnet rushed for 118 yards a week ago to pace the Bruins to 204. Verdell, a similarly physical rusher, could make hay in similar fashion. Stanford's dealing with a bevy of injuries in the secondary, which Oregon could exploit for some deep pass patterns.

However, the Ducks are likely to lean heavily on the run to set up those passes, even with the apparent weakness Stanford has at defensive back.

When Stanford Has the Ball

Injuries hampered the Cardinal running back rotation in Week 4, an area UCLA attacked aggressively. Nathaniel Peat was limited to just 2.1 yards per carry.

Austin Jones and Casey Filkins remain questionable heading into Week 5. Quarterback Tanner McKee has been excellent since earning the starting job before Week 2, and he nearly engineered a comeback from down two touchdowns in the second half last Saturday against the Bruins with 293 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Even as well as McKee and his rotation of pass-catchers performed — particularly Elijah Higgins, who averaged almost 21 yards per reception — being rendered one-dimensional puts a firm cap on how productive the Stanford offense can be for a full 60 minutes.

This became especially problematic for the Cardinal in the fourth quarter when, after tying UCLA at 21, they were forced to attempt field goals when advancing into Bruins territory. An opponent can't keep pace with Oregon if it can't turn possessions in Ducks territory into touchdowns, and the Ducks have been solid in the red zone.

Opponents get into the end zone after advancing past the 20-yard line on just 46.8 percent of possessions — and that's been primarily with All-American defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Justin Flowe sidelined with injury.

Thibodeaux is probable going into Saturday, so look for him to team with Noah Sewell and Brandon Dorlus to make some noise.

Final Analysis

Stanford rallied effectively from what could have been an ugly turn last week against UCLA, showing unmistakable growth from the Week 1 debacle against Kansas State. McKee is playing the best football of any Cardinal quarterback arguably since Kevin Hogan.

Hogan quarterbacked the last Stanford team to win the Pac-12 title —which, perhaps fitting to note this week, was denied a berth in the College Football Playoff with a home loss to Oregon.

With the Ducks firmly in the hunt for the championship this year, the Cardinal will look to deliver a receipt six years in the making. However, Stanford is at a physical mismatch. Oregon's built to attack the Cardinal's current weaknesses and should win the way it has in the last two Cristobal vs. Shaw meetings: With the Ducks doing what Stanford has long done more effectively.

Prediction: Oregon 28, Stanford 17 

Podcast: Complete Week 5 Preview and Predictions + Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45