Thursday night games seldom feature two ranked opponents, let alone two games where both teams rank in the Top 10. The last time two ranked opponents met under the Thursday night lights was 2011. The last time featuring two Top 20 teams was Oregon/Oregon State in 2009. Tonight should be a spectacle, but the spectacle may be more appealing than the football games themselves. As with last weekend’s “top 10 showdown” between Miami and Florida State, both of tonight’s games feature double-digit under dogs.
Oregon at Stanford… The winner claims the Pac 12 North. Oregon would be a presumptive BCS title game participant with a win. Stanford, with one loss against a tough schedule, would have a shot with help. Stanford defeated Oregon in Autzen last year, costing the Ducks a chance to play in the BCS title game ahead of Alabama. Oregon would rather the game resembled 2011. Can the underdog Cardinal pull off the upset? Perhaps.
Stanford has an elite defense, one that is built to play Oregon. They have an active front that generates pressure. Their linebackers are quick to the edge. They tackle well in space. They will try to follow last year’s formula: contain the run, knock Oregon out of rhythm, decide the game on Mariota’s arm and special teams. Mariota is the potential No. 1 overall pick. But his passing efficiency dips by a wide margin, when teams can get after him. The Cardinal run defense has been stout all year. The passing defense has been erratic. But it held prolific UCLA and Oregon State offenses to fewer than five yards/attempt the past two games.
We’re more concerned about Stanford’s offense. On aggregate, that unit is…not that great. Passing has been an issue. Maybe it’s Kevin Hogan not progressing. Maybe it’s the tight end exodus. Maybe it’s Pep Hamilton’s departure. Likely, it’s a combination of all three. Ty Montgomery and David Cajuste can make plays down field, but their intermediate game is much worse than in previous years. Stanford receives consistent, but unspectacular production from the run game. A typical game this year is having a couple quick touchdown drives with big plays and spending the rest of the game, bogged down, more or less.
Stanford will run, and keep running it. Tennessee, UCLA and Washington were able to move the ball on the ground somewhat against Oregon. But, their yards/carry stats didn’t really help them when they fell behind and lost. Stanford can win this game 20-17. Not sure they can win it 45-41. A lot of the raw numbers like Stanford outright. We’re not quite ready to predict that yet. But, for this good of a team at home (such as it is) in a Thursday night game. 10.5 is a lot of points. Pick: Stanford (+10.5)
Oklahoma at Baylor… Some may argue this is the biggest game in Baylor’s football history. The school finally felt assertive enough to ditch the tarp. Besides the obligatory “Bob Stoops in an important night game on the road” caveat, Oklahoma has not impressed outside Norman this year. They capitalized on turnovers to beat Notre Dame, were blown out by Texas and labored to a two-score win at Kansas. They impressed in Norman either. Baylor has won 16 of its last 17 in Waco, including a win over Oklahoma in 2011. They are averaging 9.21 yards/play and 766 total yards at home in 2013. Their lowest point total so far is 69 against Wofford. That’s while shutting it down mid-third quarter. Yes, these teams are both in the Top 10, though the Sooners enter as 16.5-point underdogs.
Oklahoma has, statistically, one of the nation’s top pass defenses. But their last two live opponents, Texas and Texas Tech, both averaged more than seven yards/attempt. Those quarterbacks were Case McCoy and a freshman. The Sooners also are outside the Top 60 in yards allowed/carry. They will face a great offensive line and one of the nation’s best backs in Lache Seastrunk. On paper, it looks like Oklahoma may have the personnel to at least partially match up man to man with Baylor’s spread. In practice…not sure we’re buying them.
We’re not buying Baylor as the third best yards/play defense in the nation. They have not played a real offense yet. They have looked vulnerable at times against the pass. Kansas State, in Baylor’s one competitive game, ran for 337 yards and three touchdowns on them at more than five yards per carry. The key for them will be to keep doing the important things well, stopping third-down conversions and preventing scores in the red zone (currently No. 1 nationally).
Oklahoma’s offense is a long way from past years. They should find some traction, but it’s hard seeing such an average crew match Baylor drive for drive. The Bears’ defense does not need to be good, just good enough. The Bears may go down this year, but not to Oklahoma at home. Roll Briles. Pick: Baylor (-16.5)