The worst stretch of head coach David Shaw's tenure as Stanford head coach saw the Cardinal drop blowout losses to Washington and Washington State, and sputtering through an offensively anemic home defeat to Colorado.
A resurgent effort on the road against Arizona, however, has the Cardinal headed in the right direction for a nine-win finish to the regular season.
Stanford returns to The Farm in Week 10 against an Oregon State bunch that, despite a 2-6 record, has shown tremendous growth in head coach Gary Andersen's second season.
The Beavers fell just short of upending the Pac-12 North race last week against Washington State. While Stanford's out of the mix for a divisional title this season, a victory over the conference standard-bearer for three of the last four seasons would be a meaningful building block in Andersen's rebuilding project.
Oregon State at Stanford
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5, at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Stanford -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Christian McCaffrey Is Back
The Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2015, Christian McCaffrey struggled for a stretch this season, the result of other issues on the Stanford offense and an undisclosed injury.
The McCaffrey that set records a season ago reappeared in Week 9 at Arizona, going for 169 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, with a third score on a reception.
Christian Classic run should gain momentum against the nation's No. 107-ranked rush defense. Oregon State has given up a staggering 5.24 yards per carry for almost 220 per game. For McCaffrey, the final month could be a last-ditch effort to get back into the Heisman race.
2. Protecting Marcus McMaryion
Quarterback Darrel Garretson's injury earlier last month gave the reins to McMaryion against the Washington schools, with mixed results. Against Washington State, the sophomore went 23-for-39 for 327 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also operated out of a clean pocket.
Washington's overwhelming defensive front pressured McMaryion repeatedly, manifesting in a 12-of-26 game with two interceptions and no scores.
The Beaver offensive line's ability to give McMaryion some time to operate is key for Oregon State to avoid an early deluge. Despite struggles elsewhere this season, Stanford's remained one of the better teams in the Pac-12 when it comes to getting to the quarterback, with Solomon Thomas ranking 18th in the nation in sacks.
Ryan Nall's return from injury should help alleviate some pressure in the backfield, but McMaryion needs time to get the ball out to give the Oregon State offense balance.
3. Keller Chryst, Round 2
Shaw entrusted the Stanford offense to Chryst at quarterback, after using Ryan Burns primarily for the first two months. Chryst's debut against Arizona had some highs — two touchdowns — and lows, including an interception just before halftime that, had Dane Cruikshank not fumbled on the return, could have completely altered the game's complexion.
With the first start jitters now out of the way, Chryst can begin to settle into a role he should hold for the next season-and-a-half. Shaw's unlikely to have the quarterback throwing more than 20 times, especially if McCaffrey gets rolling. But these are baby steps to building for next season.
Last week's near-miss against Washington State, and another narrow loss against Utah two weeks earlier, prove Gary Andersen has Oregon State on the cusp of breaking through. This is a program headed in the right direction, now just seeking its one, marquee win.
A road victory against Stanford would fit the bill. The Cardinal have seemingly figured out some of their earlier issues, and with key players like McCaffrey and Quenton Meeks healthy again, Stanford should be the favorite in all of its remaining games.
Oregon State should score another win in conference play before the campaign ends — just not this week on The Farm.