STANFORD (AP) – Leave it to a Stanford coach to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson when asked about his team’s dominance.
Coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t quite ready to get caught up in recent successes as the No. 9 Cardinal (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) get ready for a visit to Autzen Stadium on Saturday to face fourth-ranked Oregon (4-0, 1-0).
“As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success,” Harbaugh said, quoting the 19th century philosopher. “But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies.”
Uh-huh, sure. But who could blame Harbaugh for basking a little?
Stanford hasn’t started a season 4-0 since 1986. The team hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 since 2001.
Now that they’ve returned to the top tier of the rankings— after more down seasons than anyone cares to remember—their first opponent is the formidable Ducks.
Harbaugh called the clash between the two teams “monumental.”
There really couldn’t be any more hype than there already is:
There’s the rankings, Autzen Stadium, a national TV audience, a visit from ESPN’s GameDay. The list goes on.
“As a kid you always watched College GameDay and you’re always watching the games in prime time. To finally be in that slot is a dream come true,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov. “For the guys who had to go through the tough seasons, the five-year guys, it’s a step in the right direction to how we want to send them off. It’s a great opportunity for the program.”
The Cardinal have not played in a game where both teams were ranked inside the Top 10 since 1970, when No. 10 Stanford defeated No. 4 Arkansas 34-28. That was the last time they won a game while ranked in the Top 10 — they’ve lost six straight since then.
Saturday’s game will be the first time Oregon and Stanford have faced each other as ranked teams. And the Cardinal are looking for their first 5-0 start since 1951, when they won the Pacific Coast Conference and a Rose Bowl berth.
Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champion, has won 12 straight games at Autzen overall, and nine straight Pac-10 matchups. The team has hosted 70 straight sellout crowds.
This season, the Ducks’ unique spread option offense is giving opponents fits, but after New Mexico, Tennessee, Portland State and Arizona State, the Cardinal are going to be considerably more challenging—and partly because of their similar reliance on their ground game.
Oregon has the third-ranked offense in the nation, averaging 560 yards a game. They also have the third-best rushing offense, with an average of 321.7 yards a game.
Sophomore running back LaMichael James is averaging 158.3 yards a game, second only to Michigan’s Denard Robinson (172 yards). Darron Thomas has proven himself adept at running the offense in his first season as Oregon’s starting quarterback.
“It’s not finesse. They run a spread attack but it is a very physical approach to the spread. They’re not trying to finesse you, they’re trying to get physical with you and impose their will on you,” Harbaugh said.
Over on the other side, Stanford is ranked No. 24 for total offense with 457.5 yards per game, and they rank No. 19 in rushing offense with an average of 223.2 yards over four games.
The Cardinal built a reputation for their smashmouth rushing attack last year with Toby Gerhart chewing up yards behind the blocking of fullback Owen Marecic.
This season, Gerhart has moved on and Marecic is still clearing the path for Stanford’s running backs—and even scoring on his own. A two-way player, he ran for a 1-yard touchdown and then returned an interception 20 yards for a score on the next play from scrimmage in last week’s 37-14 win at Notre Dame.
“This year they don’t have a big bruiser in the backfield like Gerhart, but other than that it’s the same Stanford team. They like to show their physicality and we’re going to have to match that physicality and intensity,” Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris said.
Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 251 yards and two scores last year when Stanford defeated the visiting Ducks 51-42. At the time, Oregon was ranked No. 7.
The Cardinal also proved the spoiler in 2001, when Stanford won 49-42 in Eugene for the then-No. 5 Ducks’ lone loss of the season.
With everything pointing to another high-scoring affair, ultimately it may come down to defense.
“At the end of the day, we just gotta make more plays than we give up and we gotta limit the big plays,” Harris said.
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)