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Oregon or Stanford: Which Team is a Bigger Threat to Washington in the Pac-12 North?

Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw

Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw

Since the Pac-12 introduced divisions in 2011, the North has been won by three teams -- Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The Cardinal have the most division titles with four (2012-13, '15, '17), followed by the Ducks' two (2011, '14) and the Huskies (2016) have the other.

Oregon Ducks QB Justin Herbert

Looking ahead to 2018, Stanford may be the defending champion, but Washington is considered the favorite. The Huskies are ranked eighth in Athlon Sports' projected Top 25 with the Cardinal (No. 18) and Ducks (No. 23) not too far behind. So if the Pac-12 North is once again a three-team race, which is the biggest threat to Washington? Is it the Cardinal, the team that has been the division's most consistent these past seven seasons, or the Ducks, who could be just as fearsome on defense compared to offense?

We posed this exact question to Athlon editors and contributors and asked them to pick the team they viewed as the biggest threat to Washington reclaiming the mantle of Pac-12 North champions.

Oregon or Stanford: Which Team is a Bigger Threat to Washington in the North?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

I think there’s a big gap between Washington and the rest of the North. But if a team is going to threaten the Huskies at the top in 2018, I’ll take the defending North Division champs in Stanford. The Cardinal have question marks to address on a rebuilt defense, but the offense returns Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love at running back, along with a line that ranks among the best in college football. Quarterback K.J. Costello needs to take a step forward in his development, and there’s a good chance he does with the return of tight end Kaden Smith and big-play threat J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Considering the personnel concerns on defense, coach David Shaw may have to open up the passing attack and ask more out of the offense this season. But with Costello having the fall slate to work as the starter and develop, there’s plenty of optimism for improvement in the passing game. Stanford does have to play Oregon in Eugene but catches Utah and USC on the Farm. The Ducks should continue to improve on defense under Jim Leavitt, and quarterback Justin Herbert is one of the best in college football. However, with the transition at head coach, I’ll take the sure thing (Stanford) and bank on Shaw delivering another 8-10 win season. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)

As hard as it is to go against Stanford, which has been as consistent as teams come under David Shaw, I'm going to take Oregon here. Back when Chip Kelly was still in Eugene the Ducks were known for their explosive offenses, and the results spoke for themselves. While the offense has remained productive since Kelly left for the NFL, the numbers haven't quite been the same, which put more pressure on the defense. The good news for Oregon fans is that thanks to coordinator Jim Leavitt, the Ducks are no longer a one-dimensional team. This defense has a chance to be one of the Pac-12's best units (if not in the entire FBS), while the offense could take a step forward with a healthy Justin Herbert at the controls for a full season. Put the two together and Mario Cristobal's team is well positioned to make some noise in the North this season. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Oregon gets Washington and Stanford on its own turf.

Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I'm not sure either team is quite in the same league as the Huskies are going into the season but it wouldn't surprise me at all if it's the rival Ducks who wind up being the biggest thorn in Washington's side. If Justin Herbert stays healthy, they'll have an offense that can beat you a number of different ways and a defense that should be pretty salty at all three levels given what they return. The Cardinal should be dangerous on offense but I'm not quite sold on the defense being up to the task. Add in the Huskies having to go to Eugene while they get Stanford in Seattle and the answer right now seems pretty clear.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)

My initial gut reaction was to suggest Stanford because there is more consistency I can rely on between David Shaw and Bryce Love. But the timing and location of the matchup with Oregon has me leaning toward the Ducks. Oregon is being hyped as having one of the top quarterbacks in the game with Justin Herbert and the first year under new head coach Mario Cristobal brings an equal dose of optimism and some questions about how quickly Oregon can bounce back. But drawing Washington at home after getting a bye week to prepare combined with the fact that the Huskies will have already faced Auburn, Utah, and UCLA seems like a favorable spot for the Ducks. Stanford may have the better season than Oregon, but if the Ducks score that upset at home, that could come back to haunt Washington down the line.

Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)

The most consistent facet of the Pac-12 since 2010, when it was still the Pac-10, has been Stanford football. While Oregon returns some solid pieces for Mario Cristobal's first season, the Cardinal remain the team to beat in the North, for all intents and purposes.

David Shaw's teams often play a style similar to Chris Petersen's Washington Huskies. Last season, the Cardinal had the advantage. Stanford has questions about its defense, but the return of Bryce Love in the backfield, a loaded offensive line, outstanding pass catchers and promising quarterback K.J. Costello combine for what should be the program's best offense since 2015.

Washington drawing Stanford at Husky Stadium is certainly a boon -- we remember what a house of horrors it was for the Cardinal last time. But falling late in the schedule, as it did a year ago, UW-Stanford should function as a de facto Pac-12 North title game.

John Coon (@johncoonsports)

As long as Bryce Love is in the backfield, Stanford is a threat to beat just about any team. Love put himself on the map last season after churning out 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns on 263 carries. He was held under 100 rushing yards in only one game. Coupled with the return of K.J. Costello under center and the Stanford offense will be in really good shape. The Cardinal also are always one of the more punishing defensive teams in the conference. Oregon will be tough to stop if Justin Herbert can stay healthy, but the Ducks are still a year away from climbing atop the Pac-12 North again. It will come down to Washington or Stanford in late November.

Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)

Stanford is the bigger threat. While Oregon may have a bunch of dynamic players and a prolific quarterback, Stanford has been the more consistent team over the last five years. The Cardinal bring an effective style to the Pac-12, one predicated on physicality and a brilliant running game. Additionally, Stanford has the luxury of employing the same head coach as last year. Oregon is on its third in three years. That tends to mess with the overall scheme, as players were recruited for a specific style and coach but will now be forced to master a new style under a new coach. It's worth mentioning that Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal has a 27-48 overall record, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the idea that Oregon will be a bigger threat.