Oregon at Stanford, Oklahoma at Baylor: Expect Thursday thrills

How and why college football jilted Saturday for Thursday is a question for another time.

Short answer: Give blame or credit to the rise of cable networks, ratings, greed, financial survival, the gush of television money and the insatiable desire for stand-alone attention.

And so it is with some intelligent forethought — and some luck — that a late-week doubleheader featuring four schools in the Bowl Championship Series top 10 has become the most anticipated Thursday in the history of the sport.

Think of it as a great heavyweight card, with No. 3 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford as the main event and a terrific undercard of No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor.

There are national title implications, for sure, with three of the four schools still in contention. And one-loss Oklahoma isn't completely out of the mix if you heed, for this one last season, the old BCS axiom that goes "That can't happen … can it?"

In 2007, two-loss Louisiana State was No. 7 in the BCS standings entering the final weekend before a series of improbable twists left the Tigers standing at No. 2 in the final standings.

Much will change between now and Dec. 8, but for now five undefeated teams — sorry, Fresno State and Northern Illinois — remain in the chase with a few one-loss teams not far off the scent.

What might not matter in two weeks matters now to No. 2 Florida State, which will be cheering for Stanford.

The Seminoles started No. 2 in the BCS, dropped behind Oregon the next week, and overtook the Ducks again Sunday.

The problem is, Florida State can only rent No. 2 as long as Alabama and Oregon keep winning. The Seminoles are holding on to No. 2 on the strength of a No. 1 computer ranking that will dissipate as it plays weaker teams down the stretch.

Equally thrilling, beyond what's at stake, are the stylistic matchups of the four teams. Baylor and Oregon are playing on offense at a level not before seen. If the teams played each other you'd need oxygen tanks for the chain gang.

Baylor is slightly more prolific, with Oregon's competition slightly more credible. Baylor averages 63.9 points and 718.4 yards per game. The Bears average almost 80 plays per game and 9.1 yards per offensive snap.

Baylor spreads across the line of scrimmage, then attacks vertically in space. "They kind of put you in a bind virtually every snap," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

Games have been so lopsided that Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is looking forward to playing in a meaningful game. "The 70-point games are great, being done at halftime is great, but I want to be in there," he said. "I want the ball in my hands."

Oregon's offense is almost as stunning, averaging 55.6 points and 632 yards per game. The Ducks average 78 snaps, 8.1 yards per play and have a nation-leading 71 plays of 20 yards or more. And Oregon's defense proved it is legit by holding UCLA to 14 points.

However, neither Oregon nor Baylor has faced defenses like they'll see Thursday night.

Stanford went to Eugene last year and wrecked Oregon's season with a 17-14 overtime win. Holding Oregon to 14 points at home is almost like a shutout. The Cardinal's physical front and lockdown secondary has the ability to do what few defenses can do against Oregon: force punts.

Does the name A.J. Tarpley ring a bell? He's the Stanford linebacker who intercepted quarterback Marcus Mariota in the first half of last year's game.

Mariota has since thrown 293 passes without an interception.

Stanford Coach David Shaw knows his defense will need a repeat performance against the dangerous Mariota. "Every ball is perfect," Shaw said of the Ducks' Heisman candidate. "Every ball's in stride. Then when nobody's open, he just takes off and outruns everybody."

Stanford will miss defensive end Ben Gardner, out for the season with an injury, but defensive end Henry Anderson is expected back after injuring a knee at Army.

The only team to slow Baylor down this year has been Kansas State. Baylor won, 35-25, but was held to half its points average and 446 total yards.

Kansas State is where current Oklahoma coaches Bob and Mike Stoops honed their defensive philosophies under legendary Coach Bill Snyder.

Oklahoma also defeated high-scoring Baylor last year, 42-34, in Norman.

Mike Stoops, who rejoined his brother's staff after being fired at Arizona, remembers the criticism he took after the Sooners defense surrendered 450 yards to Baylor's offense.

"Everyone said how bad we played," Stoops said. "I laugh at that now." Stoops, in other words, would be happy to hold Baylor to that number this year.

The key for Stanford and Oklahoma is keeping the nation's two best offenses on the sideline.

Mike Stoops says you'll know how Oklahoma is faring by how many plays his defense has to defend.

"If we play 90 to 100 snaps," Stoops said, "… it's not good."


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