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Just How 'Big' Is Saturday's Stanford-Oregon Game?

Big players make big plays in big games. Owen Marecic and the Cardinal have an especially big game coming up.
Big players make big plays in big games. Owen Marecic and the Cardinal have an especially big game coming up.

In his weekly column for The Bootleg, the always entertaining Troy Clardy posits that Saturday's trip to Oregon is "the biggest regular-season game for Stanford football in at least 40 years." It's a bold statement to be sure, especially considering it's the fifth week of the season and the Big Game always takes on added significance. It's also tough to argue.

Let's examine Clardy's claim, decade by decade. Keep in mind, the big games listed below are 'big' in the sense that they featured at least one, and more often two, ranked teams and/or serious title implications. (Stanford's upset at USC is the game that most everyone will remember about the aughts, but that could hardly be considered a big game beforehand.)

The '00s

  • November 21, 2009, No. 14 Stanford vs. Cal: The Cardinal had an outside shot at a Rose Bowl berth after back-to-back wins against Oregon and USC, but the Bears rendered what the the Pac-10's other title contenders did meaningless with a 34-28 win.
  • September 25, 2004, Stanford vs. No. 1 USC: This was easily the biggest game of the Buddy Teevens Era. The Cardinal started 2-0 in Teevens' third and final season at the helm before welcoming top-ranked USC to the Farm. Stanford was coming off a bye week and gave the Trojans all they could handle, but blew an 11-point lead and lost, 31-28.
  • November 3, 2001, No. 10 Stanford at No. 11 Washington: Consecutive wins over No. 5 Oregon and No. 4 UCLA vaulted the Cardinal to a No. 10 ranking in the AP poll and, more importantly, the No. 6 spot in the BCS rankings. The feel-good story came to a screeching halt in Seattle, where Stanford fell 42-28.

The '90s

  • November 20, 1999, Stanford vs. Cal: Stanford entered the Big Game in need of a win to claim its first undisputed Pac-10 title since the conference expanded to 10 teams in 1978. Casey Moore's two touchdown runs, including one of 94 yards, paved the way for a 31-13 win.
  • November 18, 1995, Stanford vs. Cal: After starting the Pac-10 season 1-3, Stanford had rallied for three straight wins under first-year head coach Ty Willingham. One more would make the Cardinal bowl eligible for the first time since 1992 and one year after a 3-7-1 season. In a decade lean on big games, this Big Game, which Stanford won 29-24, was a big deal.

The '80s

  • October 11, 1986, No. 18 Stanford vs. No. 12 Washington: Linebacker Chris Weber summed up the importance of the Cardinal's early-season battle with the 3-1 Huskies thusly: "I know we're 4-0, but if we beat Washington, that would put us in the stratosphere." Stanford quarterback John Paye threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough in a 24-14 loss.
  • October 11, 1980, No. 16 Stanford at No. 5 UCLA: Paul Wiggin's first Stanford team was 4-1 and two weeks removed from an upset win at No. 4 Oklahoma. UCLA, which, along with USC, was under sanction and therefore ineligible for postseason play, was undefeated and coming off an upset win at Ohio State. The Bruins defeated the Cardinal, 35-21.

The '70s

  • November 5, 1977, Stanford at No. 16 USC: Stanford was 6-2 with one conference the first season of Bill Walsh's first tenure and was thinking roses. The Trojans whipped the Cardinal, 49-0, and Stanford ultimately settled for a trip to the Sun Bowl.
  • October 10, 1970, No. 12 Stanford vs. No. 4 USC: Clardy specifically mentions this game and the one against the Trojans the year before as regular-season contests that rank among the biggest in Stanford football history. Jim Plunkett led the Cardinal to a 24-14 win en route to the Pac-10 title and the Heisman Trophy.

Let me know what games I missed in the comments.