My thoughts on how Thursday night's game between Stanford and Oregon will unfold:

  • What has changed since last year:

    Marcus Mariota's better (better decisions, better command) and so is Oregon's downfield passing game. In short: there's more balance to the Ducks' attack.

    Stanford is also more equipped to strike downfield, having exchanged the short/middle-distance passing game to its tight ends for a middle/downfield game to its receivers.

  • What hasn't changed since last year:

    Oregon's aggressiveness with its front seven and its sound back line.

    Stanford's ability to read/react and tackle in the open field -- the two most important elements in slowing the Oregon offense.

    Stanford’s Kevin Hogan throws against Oregon State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday Oct. 26, 2013.
    Stanford's Kevin Hogan throws against Oregon State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday Oct. 26, 2013. ((AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens) )

  • Most important non-QB for Stanford: Ty Montgomery. The Cardinal must make a few big plays on offense or special teams.

  • Most important non-QB for Oregon: Tony Washington. The Ducks must pressure Kevin Hogan.

  • Couldn't help but notice the similarities in outcomes against UCLA.

    Both Stanford and Oregon struggled for most/all of three quarters against the Bruins, then rolled to victory in the fourth.

    Oregon zoomed to a 28-point win because that's the way it plays; Stanford methodically powered to a 14-point win because that's the way it plays.

    Both benefited from interceptions by Brett Hundley.


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  • The prevailing sentiment is that Oregon will win handily, in part because of Stanford's issues on the defensive line, in part because of Stanford's struggles in the passing game and in part because, well, that's what the Ducks do.

    But if the past two years have taught us anything, it's that presumptions are risky:

    Stanford was a slight favorite two years ago and got hammered; Oregon was a heavy favorite last year and got upset.

    I can't help but think Stanford's off-the-charts moxie has been overlooked in the pregame media dialogue, overshadowed by the issues on the defensive line and the hype (largely justified) that follows Mariota.

    The Cardinal has played one close game after another the past two years (the post-Luck era); it's as tough mentally as it is physically; it invariably rises to the occasion; and time and again, it finds ways to win.

  • In the interest of calling my shot ahead of time, I'll take Stanford.

    I picked Stanford in my preseason game-by-game projections and can't change now. Nor have I seen enough evidence to necessitate a reversal.

    My general feeling is that Stanford will score between 17 and 27 points (it usually does). The question is whether the Ducks score 14 ... or 40.

    Expecting their total to be on the low end: Stanford 23, Oregon 21.