Welcome to a Brief History of Stanford-Oregon. The Stanford Cardinal are playing the Oregon Ducks this weekend so it’s the perfect opportunity to explore the series at large.
The University of Oregon began sponsoring football in 1894. The team called themselves the Webfoots and began meeting regional opponents for their initial couple of years playing the sport. Oregon first met Stanford on the gridiron in 1900 when they traveled to Palo Alto for the first time. This was years before either school was a member of the PCC, the forerunner to today’s PAC-12. The Stanford football team was enjoying a good campaign under Fielding Yost, who would leave his position after the season and coach Michigan to football greatness. Stanford ran over the Webfoots 34-0 without much fuss. At the time, Stanford was considered one of the stronger teams on the West Coast while Oregon was still a small-time player. The teams played in 1904 and 1905, again at Stanford. The Webfoots lost both games by a combined score of 45-4.
Following the 1905 season, Stanford dropped football for over a decade over player safety concerns. Oregon kept playing football and under head coach Hugo Bezdek they made their first Rose Bowl In 1916, beating the Penn Quakers 14-0. The Webfoots made the 1920 Rose Bowl as well, and lost to Harvard 7-6.
Oregon was one of the founding members of the PCC when the league formed in 1915, but besides them the conference only contained Cal, Washington, and Washington State. Oregon’s short period success in the league was bolstered by this small pool of teams. When Stanford, USC, and UCLA all joined in the following decade, the Webfoots began to tumble down the standings.
Stanford and Oregon fist played as members of the same conference in 1920. The game was once again held at Stanford and Stanford once again won, this time in a 10-0 shutout. Their next meeting was in 1923, and Stanford finally traveled to Eugene. The outcome was the same, as Stanford prevailed 14-3. Under Pop Warner, Stanford became one of the premier teams in the West Coast and they would beat the Webfoots seven years straight from 1923 to 1929. Stanford won every game by more than a touchdown.
Following the 1929 season, Stanford stopped playing Oregon. The PCC never mandated how many conference games were to be played and who to play, so the Indians mostly just played their in-state competition with just one or two games against the six Northwest schools thrown in. This was back when Idaho and Montana were members of the PCC alongside the Oregon and Washington universities.
Stanford and Oregon finally played again in 1936. After 11 consecutive wins it was the first time that the Indians wouldn’t beat the Webfoots on the gridiron. They wouldn’t lose either. Stanford and Oregon ground out a 7-7 tie. The game was fairly meaningless as both teams were struggling to stay out of the PCC basement. Oregon’s first win in the series would come in 1937, when they beat the Indians 7-6 in Eugene. Stanford was the 2nd place team in the conference that year so the loss was considered an upset. The Webfoots would beat the Indians once more in four tries until both schools shut down their teams when the United States entered World War II.
Oregon beat Stanford twice in a row in 1947 and 1948 when both teams finally met again. The Webfoots had a short period of success in the postwar years, but Stanford won five of the next six meetings as the 40’s turned into the 50’s.
After years of up and down play, Oregon finally won the PCC again in 1957, coinciding with their first win over Stanford since 1953. Webfoot coach Len Casanova would be in Eugene for 16 years, and brought an amount of stability to the Oregon program. The Webfoots won seven straight games against Stanford from 1957 to 1963 as the Indians cratered in the late 1950’s. By that time, the PCC had dissolved. Oregon initially wasn’t invited into the successor conference (the AAWU) but continued to play Stanford as a football independent. The Webfoots would finally join the AAWU in 1964, but Stanford would reclaim dominance in the series.
Under John Ralston and his successors, Stanford won 12 of their next 14 games against Oregon. Stanford was usually in the upper half of the PAC-8 standings during this period, and the Webfoots were almost always in the cellar.
Oregon had very little success in sport of football in the 20th Century. What little success they had was never sustained. They were considered a bottom-tier team for most of their existence and rarely kept a coach longer than five seasons. After yet another disappointing season Oregon was looking for a new head coach in 1977. Bill Walsh was the university’s first choice, but he went to coach Stanford instead. Walsh had two good seasons and then left for the NFL. The Webfoots went with Rich Brooks, who would stay for 18 seasons and slowly built Oregon into a winning program piece by piece.
In 1978, UO renamed their team the Oregon Ducks. In hindsight it seems as if all the history of the program before that point was prologue. Brooks and his successors would eventually bring Oregon to heights undreamed of in the Webfoot days. For all of his eventual success, Brooks didn’t start out strong. He only had three winning seasons in his first ten years in Eugene and didn’t get the Ducks to a bowl game until 1989, his 13th year on the job. He only managed six wins against Stanford in his career. The Cardinal were still more often than not a step ahead of Oregon during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
After nearly two decades, Brooks finally had his breakthrough in 1994. The Ducks won the PAC-10 and attended the first Rose Bowl in nearly 40 years, where they lost to Penn State. After the season, Brooks left to coach in the NFL, and the job passed to Mike Bellotti, who had been Brooks’ offensive coordinator since 1989. Brooks did most of the heavy lifting to turn Oregon into a solid program, but the Ducks finally began to soar under Bellotti. From 1995 to 2008, Oregon had only one losing season.
In 1999, Stanford and Oregon finished first and second in the PAC-10 respectively. In the nearly 80 years that the teams had spent in the same conference, this was the first time that the pair were in such direct competition for the league title. The only problem was that they didn’t play each other. As a ten team league that played eight conference games at the time, there was always one team that wasn’t played in any given year. In 1999 and 2000, the Cardinal and the Ducks happened to skip each other in PAC-10 play. Stanford went to the 2000 Rose Bowl, their first since 1973, where they lost to Wisconsin. It was the last time that the teams skipped a year playing each other.
Brooks had built Oregon from a bad team into a good one. Bellotti then built the Ducks from a good team to a great one. Oregon tied for the conference title in both 2000 and 2001, but were denied the Rose Bowl in both seasons. USC would dominate the PAC-10 for most of the 2000’s, but the Ducks were frequently in the mix. They finished behind the Trojans in 2005 and 2008.
One team that definitely wasn’t in the mix was Stanford. The Cardinal plummeted to the bottom of the league following Ty Willingham’s departure. Stanford’s relationship with Oregon changed noticeably in the following years. Bellotti ran circles around his Cardinal counterparts, and the Ducks beat Stanford every year from 2002 to 2008, tying their seven game win streak for the longest in series history. The wins that Oregon had over Stanford constitute many of the most lopsided wins the Ducks ever had over the Cardinal.
In 2007, Stanford hired Jim Harbaugh to revive the floundering Cardinal. His rebuild would be just as drastic as the one Brooks made at Oregon, but it took much less time. Harbaugh never beat Bellotti, who retired as head coach following the 2008 season. Bellotti’s successor was his offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly. If Bellotti turned a good team into a great one, then Chip Kelly turned a great team into a true elite. Jim Harbaugh transformed Stanford from a bad team into a true elite at the exact same time.
The stage was now set for the Stanford-Oregon series to enter an altogether new phase in its history. At no point before then were both teams a member of college football’s elite at the same time. Their meetings became the biggest game in PAC-10/12 play every season. In 2009 and 2010 the pair finished first and second in the PAC-10. When the league expanded to 12 teams and instituted divisional play, the Ducks and Cardinal finished first and second the North Division every year until 2016. Their game often was a battle of top 10 teams and carried divisional, conference, Rose Bowl, and occasionally BCS Championship Game implications.
The yearly clashes between both teams in this period are in a league above all other Oregon and Stanford games from the past. In 2009 unranked Stanford unseated #7 Oregon 51-42, the only blemish that the Ducks had in PAC-10 play. In 2010, both teams were undefeated going into the game. With everything on the line, the #4 Ducks hammered the #9 Cardinal 52-31 in Eugene, ending Stanford’s BCS Championship hopes and cementing their own.
As the PAC-10 became the PAC-12, the game became the deciding game in the North Division and a premier showcase of West Coast football talent. Since the North has still never lost to the South in the PAC-12 Championship Game, Stanford-Oregon was effectively the conference championship game every season from 2011 to 2015. In 2011, #6 Oregon handed undefeated #3 Stanford their first loss on the season in a 53-30 drubbing at Stanford Stadium and shut the Cardinal out of the BCS Championship Game once again. In 2012, David Shaw got his first win in the series when #14 Stanford shut Autzen Stadium down in overtime with a 17-14 victory over the undefeated #1 Ducks, returning the favor of the previous two seasons to knock Oregon out of the BCS Championship Game.
Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly following the latter’s departure for the NFL. Helfrich was Kelly’s OC, continuing the tradition that had lasted all the way from the Brooks era. #2 Oregon was undefeated in 2013 yet again, and fell to the #6 Cardinal 20-26, putting Stanford into the Rose Bowl for the second season in a row. 2014 was the first time since 2009 that there was an unranked team in the game. The #5 Ducks smoked Stanford 45-16 on their way to the inaugural College Football Playoff. 2015 was the last time in which both teams finished 1st and 2nd in the North, and unranked Oregon upset #7 Stanford 38-36 at Stanford Stadium, keeping the Cardinal out of the Playoff.
Both teams took a step back in 2016, as Washington and Washington State finished ahead of them in the division standings. Stanford buried the Ducks 52-27 in Autzen Stadium. Helfrich was fired at the end of the season, breaking the coaching chain that had begun with Rich Brooks all the way back in 1977. Willie Taggart is now the head man in Eugene, and he’s a branch of the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree.
Stanford leads the all-time series 47-32-1.