For those who may be new to college football, Stanford-Oregon has been almost as important a game as Alabama-LSU this decade. Even though Alabama has gone on to win 2 national titles since 2010, that doesn't take away from the importance of Stanford-Oregon. In the last 5 years, the winner of this game has gone on to win the conference and since the expansion of Utah and Colorado, only Stanford and Oregon have won the North and are the only teams to win the conference championship game. Oregon has lost in 2 National Championship games and Stanford has missed out on two BCS Championship Game appearances due to Oregon losses. This game has won or lost Heisman trophies, and overall, has made the conference nationally relevant. What most people don't realize is the winner of this game hasn't just won the conference this decade but throughout their history.
Stanford and Oregon have met 78 times since their inaugural game in 1900 and although the importance of this game has not been nationally relevant in the past, that doesn't mean it has not had significant ramifications. Stanford has won the conference 14 times in their history and Oregon has won 12 times. Oregon had its first conference championship in 1916 and Stanford won its first in 1924.
During those combined 26 conference championship runs, Stanford went 10-0 against Oregon and did not play Oregon in the other 4. Oregon has gone 6-2 against Stanford and did not play them in 4 of their conference championship runs. Those 2 losses ended up costing Oregon a chance at a potential National Championship in 2001 and 2009 as Oregon went a combined 22-3 in those two seasons. The point is Stanford versus Oregon has always been a rivalry; it's just finally blossoming on the national scene.
Before we get into this decade, we go back to how the latest chapter of the rivalry began. Most will say that 2009 was the game that started it but you can truly say that the ending of the 2008 game was the beginning of the fireworks show. As Jim Harbaugh was still rebuilding the program in Palo Alto, Oregon was starting their run as a national powerhouse. In 2007, Oregon may have had a shot at the national championship if it weren't for a freak injury to quarterback at the time, Dennis Dixon.
2008 was Mike Bellotti's last season and Oregon came into the season ranked in the top-25. When the Stanford game came along, Oregon was 6-3 but was still a name. It was in Eugene and Harbaugh had a chance to prove that Stanford would no longer be a doormat and that winning big games was not a fluke. Stanford scored to take the lead with 2:18 left to play. The problem was Stanford was still far from having even a decent defense and Stanford gave up the game-winning touchdown with 6 seconds to play. The loss stung but Stanford knew it was heading in the right direction.
Sometimes, you almost wish the 2009 game happened a year later to really put an importance on the series as of late. Stanford-Oregon has been one of the most important games in all of college football this decade plus a year. Since that 2009 game, this series has been a bloodbath. When Oregon has won, it has put up points quicker than a slot machine spews coins on a jackpot. When Stanford has won, the defense strangles Oregon "Godfather Style." That's why the 2009 game always gets brought up because it has been the only game where the winner did not play its "style" of football. And that type of game is something I potentially see this Saturday.
Stanford comes into this weekend with a 2-game lead over Oregon in the North. I am not going to break down how Oregon can win the North because that would take a PhD to explain. I will explain how a win Saturday for Stanford clinches the North and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It keeps Stanford ranked in the top-10 and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
Stanford has lost key members on the defensive side of the ball every year since 2009 but this might be the most athletic team Stanford has had on that side of the ball. If Oregon can't beat Stanford on offense, Stanford will run right down Oregon's throat and Stanford might put up another 50 burger like in 2009. If Stanford wins in dramatic fashion, they will not only continue the trend of beating Oregon during their conference championship years but might get the game back they needed back in 2011. Stanford has 1 loss but that seems light years away and Oregon is still a name even at 6-3. A win on Saturday versus Oregon is all the committee will care about.