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Cardinal primed to make it three straight over Ducks: The Optimist's Preview of Stanford-Oregon

What's an optimist think about this Saturday's decisive Pac-12 matchup?

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," Mark Twain supposedly said and so says the Stanford football team.

People have counted out the Cardinal the last two seasons after early losses only to see one of the most resilient programs in the country turn it up down the stretch and hoist Pac-12 championship trophies.

Now, Stanford gets set to face off against the big, bad Ducks as the lower ranked team, written off by every "expert" in the land. Where have we seen this script before?

Uncle Phil can buy all the uniforms and shiny facilities he wants, but the Stanford defense has been the real owner of Oregon the last two seasons. And the Cardinal defense is somehow even better this year. Peter Kalambayi and the Andersons are unblockable, the secondary has improved considerably from a season ago, and I dare you to find me more reliable and battle-tested leaders than Jordan Richards and A.J. Tarpley. Oregon's offensive line gave up seven sacks to the mighty pass rush of Wazzu. It's gonna be one hell of a party in the backfield.

Heck, Oregon couldn't score through three quarters last year with De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff. Good luck this time around. The Stanford defense is hungry and better than ever.

They say Marcus Mariota turned down the promise of NFL riches because he had some "unfinished business" with a certain Pac-12 rival. Ask Matt Barkley how that turned out. Mariota put up an impressive five touchdown passes against Cal last week, but just wait until he gets a look at one of the best defenses in the country. The pressure will be on number 8 to live up to the expectations, keep his Heisman chances alive, and pick up a victory in a must-win game for the Ducks. That's a pretty heavy burden to bear.

Offensively for Stanford, Kevin Hogan's legs always seem to save something special for Oregon. With read-option touchdown runs in 2012 and 2013, a trend just might be emerging. After his 37 yard touchdown run - complete with a stiff arm that would qualify as a misdemeanor in some states - you know Stanford is finally going to call Hogan's number on designed runs. The end result will be an added dimension to a Stanford offense that took off against OSU and a valuable clock-killing tool to keep Mariota off the field.

No Tyler Gaffney? No problem. With a bevy of explosive backs, the Card should be able to do enough on the ground to keep the Ducks honest, but the key to the Stanford attack will be though the air. Hogan and company looked extremely comfortable running the no-huddle against Oregon State and the results of that game speak for themselves. Stanford has solved its offensive woes and will throw a game plan at Oregon very different from a year ago.

And when it comes to coaching, give me David Shaw's big-game record over Mark Helfrich's. Oregon's new boss still has to prove that he can win the big ones and fill the giant shoes of former coach/cult leader Chip Kelly. Shaw is about as steady as they come. He will have his team ready to play and it will be up to Helfrich to do the same.

At Stanford, solving hard problems is the modus operandi and the Card has solved its so-called "Oregon problem." It's time to move on to more pressing issues - cancer and poverty are calling.