The magnitude of the Stanford-Oregon showdown Thursday night can best be described in four words: Bigger than Alabama-LSU.

Actually, let's rephrase that to account for Southeastern Conference fanaticism:

Stanford-Oregon is more significant than Alabama-LSU, which comes two days later.

Unlike the SEC collision, the Pac-12 duel matches teams with national title aspirations and top-five rankings in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

It also has the Heisman Trophy front-runner.

With kickoff only three days away, here's a primer:

  • The stakes.

    Oregon dropped to No. 3 this week in the BCS standings, but a difficult schedule should catapult the Ducks into the national title game -- if they run the table.

    Stanford also is in contention. Despite a loss at Utah three weeks ago, the Cardinal (No. 5 in the BCS) controls its own destiny in the Rose Bowl race and remains in the hunt for a berth in the title game. It must win out and get a little help.

    Measured by the participants' position in the BCS standings and The Associated Press rankings, this is the biggest game ever played at Stanford Stadium.

  • The talent.

    As many as 15 players from this game could be selected in the 2014 NFL draft, according to an NFC scout who has evaluated both rosters.

    The top prospect is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman front-runner and a likely top-five pick (if he leaves school).


    Advertisement

    The second tier is occupied by Stanford senior linebacker Trent Murphy and two juniors: Cardinal guard David Yankey and Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. All three are first-round candidates.

    The crowded third level -- players projected for the second or third round -- includes Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu and the Ducks' all-purpose dynamo, De'Anthony Thomas.

  • The history.

    The teams have split the past four meetings, with the road team winning in 2011-12.

    If those games have taught us anything, it's to discard presumptions.

    Stanford was undefeated and the betting favorite two years ago with quarterback Andrew Luck, but the Ducks controlled the line of scrimmage and raced to a 23-point victory.

    Oregon was expected to win handily last year -- the No. 1 team in the nation, playing on its home turf and favored by 20 points -- but Stanford's defensive masterpiece fueled an overtime upset.

    This time, Oregon is favored by 10 points.

  • The quarterbacks.

    Mariota has been nearly flawless, with 20 touchdown passes, nine touchdown runs and no interceptions. If any fault can be found, it's his sloppy ballhandling in the pocket.

    Stanford's Kevin Hogan struggled at Oregon State and has been erratic over the past month, in part because of breakdowns in protection and the lack of a consistent No. 2 receiver behind Ty Montgomery.

    But the redshirt sophomore is usually at his best when the stakes are highest: He's 7-0 as a starter against ranked teams.

  • The styles.

    If Stanford is old school, Oregon is a school transported here from the future.

    The Cardinal methodically pulverizes opponents with its ground-and-pound running game and smothering defense. The Ducks prefer to slash and dash at Millennium Falcon speed.

    As a result, Stanford plays close games on a weekly basis, and the Ducks are a blowout machine.

    Since the start of last season, the Cardinal has played 13 games decided by a touchdown or less -- and won 10 of them.

    In that same span, the Ducks have been in one close game: The 17-14 overtime defeat to Stanford.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    BCS Standings

    1. Alabama (8-0) .9997
    2. Florida State (8-0) .9525
    3. Oregon (8-0) .9435
    4. Ohio St. (9-0) .8720
    5. Stanford (7-1) .7930
    6. Baylor (7-0) .7745
    7. Clemson (8-1) .7277
    8. Missouri (8-1) .6890
    9. Auburn (8-1) .6686
    10. Oklahoma (7-1) .6084

    GETTY IMAGES

    Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

    thursday's game

    Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) at
    Stanford (7-1, 5-1), 6 p.m. ESPN