The battle between Oregon and Stanford was not considered a rivalry by any means before 2009. Stanford won the first eleven meetings, with a 19-5 record prior to 1957. Oregon took control in 1957 with seven straight wins. Stanford took back control in 1964 and remained the better program for the rest of the century. From 1964 to 2001, the Cardinal dominated with a 24-9 record. From 2002 to 2008, Stanford fell into disarray with Oregon once again winning seven straight. The battles between these two teams were always one-sided, and rarely did they match up as the two best teams in the Pac-10.
Finally, in 2008, as Jim Harbaugh was in his first year of transforming Stanford into a powerhouse, we witnessed ten years of college football’s most underrated rivalry.
Stanford was still mediocre in 2008 at 4-5, while Oregon was in the mix for the Pac-10 title. The Ducks had just fallen out of the top 25 after being upset by California. Oregon and Stanford battled to a 20-20 tie in the third quarter. A 38 yard LeGarrette Blount touchdown gave Oregon 27-20 after three. Deep into the fourth quarter, Stanford scored a safety, 27-22. The Cardinal drove down the field and scored a touchdown with 2 minutes left. A missed two-point conversion left the score 28-27 in Stanford’s favor with only two minutes remaining.
Oregon punched in a touchdown with six seconds left to win 35-28. This win sparked the Ducks to victory in their final three games of the season, including a victory in the Holiday Bowl. Oregon finished the season ranked #10.
But Stanford was on the rise.
It’s 2009, Stanford has started conference play 4-2, but Oregon is on a seven-game winning streak entering their matchup. The Ducks are the best team in the conference and, if they manage to win out, there are credible national championship aspirations. Ranked #7, they hit the road. Toby Gerhart would finish second in Heisman voting that year and he torched Oregon for 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Stanford’s offense had devastated them. The Cardinal led 45-28 after three quarters. Two late touchdownss by Oregon put them within six points with two minutes remaining, but Stanford finished off the upset, winning 51-42.
Oregon would rally to win out and still claim their first Pac-10 championship since 2001. Stanford would ride that momentum to a 55-21 win over #11 USC, climbing to #14 in the polls. Then they would flounder against California, finish 6-3 in conference play, and lose in the Sun Bowl. Oregon would fall to Ohio State in the coveted Rose Bowl and was left wondering if that damn Jim Harbaugh cost them a national championship appearance.
This rivalry was heating up and 2010 was a highlight. Oregon and Stanford met early in the season. The Ducks were 4-0 and ranked #4 in the nation, once again with national championship aspirations. Stanford was 4-0 and ranked #9. This historic top ten clash would likely decide the Pac-10 Championship and the winner would become a national championship front-runner. The Cardinal exploded in the first quarter with sophomore Andrew Luck leading them to three touchdowns.
Oregon’s high-octane offense rebounded to score three touchdowns in the 2nd quarter, giving Stanford a 31-24 lead at the half. Halftime adjustments left the Cardinal clueless in the 2nd half, scoring zero points while the Ducks reached the endzone four more times. LaMichael James and his 257 yard, three touchdown performance gassed Oregon to a huge 52-31 victory. Stanford would claw their way back into the top ten by winning seven straight games, while the Ducks also won out the rest of their season with seven straight.
In 2010, Oregon and Stanford were among the best teams in the country, and their fateful early season matchup allowed the Ducks to repeat as Pac-10 champs and take a 12-0 record to the BCS Championship, where they lost by three points to some guy named Cam Newton.
In 2011 the Pac-12 was formed with the addition of Utah and Colorado, with Stanford and Oregon now competing together in the Pac-12 North division. This meant that only one of them would earn a berth to the Pac-12 Championship, and they would never be able to play each other with a conference title on the line. Regardless, the Oregon vs Stanford game immediately became a “semifinal” of sorts to decide which school would represent the North in the finals. After falling to LSU in the season opener, the Ducks revved the engine for a national championship run by crushing the conference. They entered the matchup 6-0 in conference play. Stanford, carried by certified legend Andrew Luck, was undefeated at 9-0, with a 7-0 Pac-12 record.
For the second straight year, both teams were top ten ranked and the winner would be poised for both a conference championship and a serious shot at the national championship, too. Stanford, ranked #3, hosted #6 Oregon and, after a quiet first quarter, Oregon was up 8-0. The second quarter was a tug-o-war, Cardinal touchdown, Ducks touchdown, Cardinal field goal, Ducks touchdown, then Cardinal touchdown with seconds left in the half. After the vicious back and forth, Oregon led 22-16. They ripped into Stanford with 14 points to open the third. Stanford was kept to only 14 points for the second half while Oregon continued to cruise.
A 143 yard rushing game from LaMichael James and five turnovers by Stanford gave Oregon a decisive 53-30 victory. The Ducks would choke a national championship bid by losing to #18 USC the next week. In what should have been a rematch against USC in the Pac-12 Championship, Oregon instead won its third straight title against UCLA because of USC’s postseason ban. Stanford would win their final two games to finish 11-1. They would wind up ranked #4, losing to Oklahoma State by three points in the prestigious Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, the Ducks would be crowned Rose Bowl Champions by defeating Russell Wilson’s Wisconsin. If the College Football Playoffs were in effect, the AP Polls would show Stanford (11-1) sneaking in as the fourth team despite losing to Oregon (11-2).
After two convincing Oregon wins, 2012 rolled around and for the third season in a row, the winner would ultimately win the conference. Stanford opened at #21 but climbed to #8 with a stellar upset over #2 USC. The following week, they got ambushed on a Thursday night by an unranked Washington. Then they lost to #7 Notre Dame. Stanford would enter a fateful matchup with Oregon at 8-2, ranked #14 after a big win against #13 Oregon State. Meanwhile, the Ducks were 10-0 with wins over three ranked opponents. This was peak Oregon, and they were merely three wins away from a return to the national championship.
Stanford was there to play spoiler and break the Ducks’ streak of three conference championships. Oregon at #1 and Stanford at #14, and this time the game was close.
After the Ducks’ offense being unstoppable in previous meetings, this matchup was finally a defensive struggle. The Cardinal’s offense picked up 21 first downs but struggled to score points with three turnovers and six punts. Oregon led 14-7 but Stanford clutched a touchdown in the 4th quarter to tie the game 14-14. Heading to overtime, both teams had missed important field goals earlier in the game. Defense was still dominant in OT. Oregon was stuffed, and then kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed his second field goal of the game. After also being stopped, Stanford kicked their field goal to dethrone the #1 Ducks 17-14.
The two squads finished conference play 8-1, and Stanford’s head-to-head tiebreaker put them in the conference championship. Oregon would take out #16 Oregon State and still get to play in the Fiesta Bowl, where they defeated Kansas State. They were certainly kept out of the national championship due to that loss, so the Oregon-Stanford matchup had serious championship implications for the third straight year. Stanford would handle UCLA to punch their ticket to the championship game, then proceed to win their first Pac-12 title since 1992 by beating UCLA again by three points. They finished an amazing season 12-2, beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Then comes 2013; Oregon entered the season as national championship contenders and once again dominated the early season. They entered the Stanford matchup ranked #2 in the nation, 8-0. Stanford came in at 7-1, but they were ranked #6 thanks to wins over #23 Arizona State, #15 Washington, and #9 UCLA. Their only blemish was a narrow loss to Utah. For the fourth year in a row, this game was a top 15 matchup with the winner becoming the favorite to win the conference. Oregon was completely shut down, scoring zero points in the first three quarters. Stanford’s offense was powered by Tyler Gaffney at running back, moving the ball well, and kicking four field goals en route to a 26-0 lead. Marcus Mariota finally led Oregon to its first touchdown, and then a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown made the score 26-13 with five minutes remaining. Oregon scored again but failed to finish the miracle comeback and lost 26-20.
Once again, dethroned by Stanford.
The Cardinal lost the following week to an unranked USC team, giving Oregon a chance to still win the Pac-12 North if they won out, but the Ducks were upset in a blowout loss to Arizona. Oregon finished the season ranked #10 and dominated Texas in a lopsided Alamo Bowl, while Stanford made it to the Pac-12 Championship game despite being 7-2 in conference play, repeated as champs by beating Arizona State, and then lost to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Then came 2014 and the debut season of the College Football Playoff, for which Oregon and Stanford were both candidates. The Cardinal stumbled to a 3-2 record in Pac-12 play, losing games to #14 USC, #9 Notre Dame, and #17 Arizona State. Oregon, meanwhile, was 4-1 in the conference with big wins over #7 Michigan State and #18 UCLA, and another upset loss to Arizona. The Ducks were still ranked #6 and they would certainly make the inaugural playoff by winning out.
So, for the third year in a row, Stanford came to play spoiler.
This time, Oregon finally lived up to destiny and destroyed the boys from Palo Alto, 45-16. The Cardinal would end up only 7-5, winning the Foster Farms Bowl, and having many questioning if this was the beginning of their end. Meanwhile, Oregon would destroy the rest of their schedule and blow out #8 Arizona to win the Pac-12 Championship. Oregon would crush Jameis Winston’s Florida State in the Rose Bowl and fall 42-20 to Ohio State in the first CFP Championship.
The tables were turned in 2015. Oregon was ranked #7 in the preseason poll and lost to #5 Michigan State, #18 Utah, and unranked Washington State. Stanford lost in their opener to Northwestern but rebounded to win eight straight games. Once again, the Stanford vs Oregon game was likely to decide the fate of the Pac-12 North. This time Oregon was the unranked spoiler, and Stanford was #7 with the College Football Playoff punched in the GPS. Another classic game with eight lead changes, Stanford was up 23-21 at the half. Oregon went up 28-23 to open the third quarter. Their fourth-quarter field goal proved crucial as Stanford scored in the final seconds of the game, but was still upset 38-36. Stanford’s 8-1 conference record would still allow them to play in the championship due to Oregon’s early-season woes. The Ducks, meanwhile, would take down #22 USC and finish the season ranked #15, losing the Alamo Bowl after a manic come-from-behind effort from TCU. The Cardinal would claim their third conference championship in four years, but ultimately didn’t make the College Football Playoff. Instead, they settled for a blowout victory over Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
For seven straight years, Oregon and Stanford were the best teams in the Pac-12, with five games that carried national championship implications.
Through numerous quarterbacks, running backs, and even coaches the two programs remained elite and the annual Oregon-Stanford match was college football drama at its finest. Then 2016 came, and there was a clearly defined end-of-an-era. Washington took control of the Pac-12 North by crushing Stanford 44-6 and stomping Oregon 70-21 in back-to-back weeks. The Ducks fell from grace, going 2-7 in conference, while Stanford was only 6-3. Stanford would win 52-27 over Oregon but the game carried no weight.
In 2017, both teams improved but injuries to Justin Herbert left Oregon devoid of any offense, losing 42-7. Oregon would lose the Las Vegas Bowl, while Stanford would pull an upset over Washington, giving them a spot in the Pac-12 Championship, only to lose to USC for the second time and fall to TCU by two points in the Alamo Bowl.
Now we finally arrive at a beautiful throwback game in 2018. After a two year hiatus, #20 Oregon faces #7 Stanford in an early-season matchup that could spark a Pac-12 Championship and perhaps an undefeated season for the winner. Stanford is undeniably the favorite. But, in this rivalry, that seems to be a disadvantage.
There’s nothing more to be said besides appreciating the last decade’s two best college football programs on the west coast once again battling on the biggest stage.
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