STANFORD -- Kevin Hogan will be easy enough to recognize in Thursday night's game of the century. He will be the only starting quarterback on the field without the Heisman glow or the guaranteed-NFL-first-round-draft-choice future.

That's fine with him. Stanford's quarterback understands that his Oregon counterpart, Marcus Mariota, is the flavor of the month in college football. Hogan just wants to be the flavor of a third-down play when it matters most.

For certain, Hogan won't be trying to outplay Mariota, the leading Heisman candidate and a wondrous talent.

"In a game like this, it can only hurt your team if you try to do something like that," Hogan said the other day after practice. "You can't try to force things. I'm not playing against him, anyway. I'm playing against a great defense."

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) celebrates after Ty Montgomery (7) makes a touchdown against Arizona State in the second half at Stanford Stadium at
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) celebrates after Ty Montgomery (7) makes a touchdown against Arizona State in the second half at Stanford Stadium at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Wait. Oregon has a defense, too?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Although you'd never know if from the Ducks' coming-attraction clips. Those all feature Oregon's nuclear-fission offense. However, the Ducks also own the top-ranked Pac-12 scoring defense. Oregon has even better numbers than Stanford's vaunted unit.

Which is why, at least according to one alleged expert (who might be me), the most critical man on the field Thursday night will be ... that's right ... Kevin Hogan.

My logic: The Stanford defense will at least slow down Oregon and Mariota a little bit. But for the Cardinal to win, Hogan must induce his offense to score a few touchdowns. And because everybody knows that the Cardinal's most consistent offensive threat is running back Tyler Gaffney, the Ducks surely will set up their defense to stop Gaffney -- and challenge Hogan to beat them with his arm or legs.

Again, that's OK by Hogan.

"Whatever they want to do, I'm ready for it," he said. "You just want to be that much more focused."

Here is the definition of "focused" for Hogan: For the past week and a half, he has been watching Oregon video on his iPad while walking to class or in any spare moment.

"I trust the bikers and other people to avoid bumping into me," Hogan said. "As long as I can get wireless, wherever that is on campus, I'm watching it, on my laptop or iPad."

It's no shock that Hogan's biggest fan is his coach, David Shaw. He has never wavered after making Hogan the Cardinal's starter late last season. There have been times when Hogan's passing mojo seems to slip out of its groove, causing him to throw too high or too low. Shaw always defends Hogan and notes how he elevates his play in big games (Hogan is 7-0 as a starter against ranked opponents).

But what about that wobbly last outing two Saturdays ago, in Stanford's nervous 20-12 victory at Oregon State? Hogan completed only 8 of 18 pass attempts for 88 yards. Shaw says Stanford had "probably our worst day of pass protection all year." Even so, Hogan was sacked only twice and finished with positive rushing yards.

Don't be surprised, therefore, if Hogan's legs wind up playing a huge role against Oregon. He does not have Mariota's speed, but he can still find the open spaces.

"We just need Kevin to relax and play his game," Shaw said, "and play at a high level. His mobility, just like Marcus Mariota's mobility, hurts defenses. When Kevin is taking care of the ball, when he's running when he should run and throwing the ball with accuracy, we believe we've got good weapons that can go downfield and make plays for him."

Mariota, of course, will be doing the same, with a superior skill set. But as last season demonstrated, quarterbacking skill sets are neither everything nor the only thing. Stanford went to Eugene and snapped Oregon's 13-game winning streak with a gutbucket 17-14 overtime victory. Hogan made one of that game's biggest plays by hitting tight end Zach Ertz for the tying touchdown with 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan hands off to Tyler Gaffney against Arizona State in the third quarter at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday,
Stanford's Kevin Hogan hands off to Tyler Gaffney against Arizona State in the third quarter at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)

That night, Mariota had a decent game, running for 89 yards (77 coming on one carry) and throwing for 209 yards and a touchdown. Hogan had 211 passing yards and 37 rushing yards. Both threw an interception. But guess which quarterback walked away with the "W"?

If anything, last year's experience solidified Hogan's mindset that he does not need to be spectacular and try to outperform Mariota. Shaw has never been concerned about it, anyway.

"Kevin understands that he's at his best when he just runs the plays and uses his God-given talent and his mentality to be a competitive son of a gun," Shaw said. "We've talked about that before. Getting into the tit-for-tat, quarterback-for-quarterback ... that doesn't help him, and that doesn't help us."

Hogan says that as a kid growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, he used to watch the major prime-time college matchups on television -- Texas vs. Oklahoma, or USC vs. Notre Dame. It's a kick for him to realize that he'll now be playing in one of those games -- and a kid somewhere will be watching Stanford and Oregon.

Most likely, that kid might be tuning in mainly to check out Mariota. If the game's last play is a kneel-down by Hogan, he won't mind at all.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.