Oregon and Stanford meet in a top-10 matchup in Eugene on Saturday.
It isn’t often that two Pac-10 football teams meet as top-10 ranked. It isn’t often that ESPN’s “College GameDay” comes to a Pac-10 site.
Saturday will mark Oregon’s fifth hosting of Corso and Herbie (USC leads the league with six), and the occasion causes Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to lead with his “A” material.
Actually, it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “A” material.
“I guess I agree with (Emerson),” Harbaugh said Tuesday, quoting the 19th-century essayist and poet, in the context of a compliment to the Cardinal. “I hate to be defended in the newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success.
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“But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as though I am one that is unprotected against my enemies.”
Wow, such erudition doesn’t usually drip from the weekly Pac-10 coaches conference call. But about that praise, Jim: Not to worry. Against all odds, you’re taking to Eugene the brawniest, most hellbent team in the league to put a hat on a hat and move the pile.
“Little bit different styles,” said a neutral party, Arizona coach Mike Stoops. “The rough-and-tough guys from Stanford, and those guys who are a little bit more finesse from Oregon. I equate rough and tough to Jim Harbaugh. His offense plays like defense.”
Stereotypes are usually risky, but this one has some legs. Oregon’s Chip Kelly minimizes that angle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly discourage it when asked if there is a speed difference.
“Oregon is fast-fast,” Harbaugh said. “They’re the fastest team we’ve seen, including our own. Yeah, there’s a difference.”
This one matches the two best rushing offenses — done differently — in the league. And it’s no doubt Stanford’s best team in Harbaugh’s four years, against an Oregon squad that could be capable of a run at the national title.
Four of the past five confrontations of top-10 teams within the conference have involved USC, but it’s a different day, and if the NCAA caning of the Trojans voids USC’s dominance in a prolonged way, this game might hint as to the successor.
The No. 4 Ducks have shown a different emphasis on offense in the post-Jeremiah Masoli era. In their first four games of 2009, quarterback Masoli had carried 41 times. Darron Thomas has 19 tries entering October, as the thrust has tilted more toward tailback LaMichael James, probably with good reason.
James, in a season and three games, has 12 100-yard performances — two off the Oregon career record of Jonathan Stewart.
No. 9 Stanford has its own stats glitter, like 26 trips to the red zone in 2010, and 26 scores, the sort of number that can leave a coach in a rhapsodic mood.
On the team psyche he has tried to develop, Harbaugh went all homily again, saying, “There’s guys cutting some stone. A person goes up to the first stonecutter, asks what he’s doing, and he says, ‘I’m just cutting some stone.’
“The person goes a little farther, asks the second stonecutter and he says, ‘I’m cutting stone, and I’m part of a team building a great cathedral.’ That’s attitude.”
The league’s nine-game grind in conference, plus the penchant for the testy game outside it, gives us Arizona State at Oregon State on Saturday.
That’s a game between an OSU team that faced two top-10 outfits in September, against one that lost by one at Wisconsin before running off 99 offensive plays in vain against Oregon on a night that ended at 11:20 p.m.
The loser has three losses and a hill to climb to get to a bowl game.
And what’s more …
• No wonder WSU is having problems on defense. None of its linebackers are among the top 25 tacklers in the league.
• Arizona, with a bye this week, hasn’t allowed a TD in three of four games.
• Oregon punted 11 times at ASU and still found time to score 42 points.
• OSU QB Ryan Katz hasn’t yet thrown an interception despite the tough opposition.
• Harbaugh, after the Notre Dame victory, said he passed out so many game balls “if I was at USD (University of San Diego, his previous port) and I gave away that many, we wouldn’t be able to play the next week.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org