Word of Oregon’s 48-24 rout of Oregon State Saturday in the Civil War likely reached Pasadena by the time Stanford pulled ahead of UCLA, 21-7, on Stepfan Taylor’s 49-yard touchdown rush. Any chance the Pac-12 South division champion Bruins had of hosting the second conference championship game were gone; which isn’t to imply reputed tough guy head coach Jim Mora would allow any of his UCLA players to sandbag the second half. But I do fully anticipate a much more competitive game when the Bruins and Cardinal meet in a rematch next Friday on The Farm.
Stanford led by as many as 25 points when Taylor rushed for his second touchdown and just moments later, Usua Amanam returned Kenneth Walker’s fumbled kick return for another Cardinal score. Star Bruin running back Johnathan Franklin got on the board with an ultimately meaningless score to bring the final tally to 35-17.
The Cardinal’s win snaps a three-year Oregon monopoly on the Pacific Conference championship. Chip Kelly occupied the throne Pete Carroll long owned, when USC won at least a share of every conference title from 2002 through 2008. And even this year, despite its 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford, Kelly’s Ducks will still end the regular season with the best BCS rating in the conference.
That and a dollar will get Oregon a cup of coffee, but no BCS championship game berth.
Oregon’s hope to salvage its crystal ball dreams was dashed with the Cardinal win. UO could have sneaked into the top two with a 12th win over a top 25 opponent, which UCLA would have provided in the conference title game. The Ducks would have also needed a USC win over Notre Dame; the Irish lead 19-10 as of this writing. A Florida State defeat of Florida also would have helped. That didn’t happen.
To put it succinctly, not a single break that Oregon needed to reach Miami went its way. Stanford, on the other hand, is a home win away from accomplishing two feats not achieved in the Jim Harbaugh-Andrew Luck era: a Pac-12 championship, and an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
As mentioned above, the Bruins are typically better than 18 points worse than the Cardinal. UCLA rolled into Saturday’s contest on a five-game win streak, which included wins over Arizona State, Arizona and USC. The Bruins weren’t just winning, either, but in most cases dominating. On Saturday, it was the Cardinal who did the dominating.
The stout Stanford front seven stymied Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries. UCLA’s inability to establish an effective ground game, coupled with an early multiple score deficit, forced Brett Hundley to pass 38 times.
Stanford’s defense has been effective to drawing offenses out of their comfort zones all season. While other Cardinal teams with Toby Gerhart and Luck were more exciting offensively, Chase Thomas is worthy a place in program lore right alongside those names. The same is true for David Shaw.
Stanford had every reason to falter when Harbaugh left after the Cardinal’s Orange Bowl defeat of Virginia Tech. Though Shaw was Harbaugh’s right hand man through the massive reconstruction project on The Farm and previously, a run of unprecedented success at University of San Diego, history does not typically look favorably on assistants succeeding standard bearers.
Shaw hasn’t just bucked that trend, but he’s added to his predecessor’s legacy. One stroke of genius to Shaw’s credit that has helped the Cardinal’s run to the Pac-12 championship game was putting in a freshman at quarterback late into the season. Kevin Hogan has been vital to Stanford’s late season resurgence, which includes wins over three top 25 opponents.
A fourth such victory on Friday will cement this team as one of the greatest in program history.