Stanford kicks off Pac-12 season at No. 12 Oregon
No. 12 Oregon and Stanford senior quarterback Davis Mills launch come-from-behind bids for national honors when the perennial Pac-12 North powers kick off the season on Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
The Ducks figure to look a lot different than the 12-2 team that captured the conference title, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished at No. 5 in the nation last season.
That squad was led by quarterback Justin Herbert, who has graduated to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, and a veteran offensive line that featured guard Shane Lemieux, now with the New York Giants, and tackle Penei Sewell, who has opted out of the 2020 season.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal has yet to announce Herbert’s replacement, with sophomore Tyler Shough and senior Anthony Brown considered the leading candidates. Whoever it is will be surrounded with some of the best skill-position talent in the conference, including 1,220-yard running back CJ Verdell and seven-touchdown wideout Johnny Johnson III.
“When you’re playing Game 1, opening game of the season, there’s no value to a team giving up every detail of what they’re doing,” Cristobal said of his quarterback situation earlier this week. “Respectfully, just decline to give out information on who’s starting at certain positions because we’d rather let the opponent figure that out, quite honestly.”
The Ducks won 21-6 at Stanford last season behind a defense that sacked Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello five times, limited the Cardinal to 234 total yards and got an interception from Jevon Holland, a standout safety. Holland also has chosen to opt out this season, along with cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and fellow safety Brady Breeze, one of the stars of the Rose Bowl win.
That leaves defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and cornerback Mykael Wright as the leaders of the Oregon defense.
An injured Costello eventually was replaced last season by Mills, who was rated by Rivals as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2017, ahead of the likes of Heisman Trophy candidate Mac Jones of Alabama.
Mills threw for 1,960 yards and 11 TDs with five interceptions in eight games last season, including a school-record 504 yards in a loss at Washington State.
Stanford had no trouble putting up points in recent trips to Oregon. The Cardinal have come away with high-scoring wins in each of their last two visits, prevailing 52-27 behind Christian McCaffrey’s three scores in 2016 and 38-31 in overtime in 2018 behind Costello’s 327 yards and three TDs in 2018.
Like Oregon, the Cardinal won’t be suiting up the roster they expected before the start of the pandemic. Two of Stanford’s top returning players — offensive tackle Walker Little and cornerback Paulson Adebo — also have chosen to opt out this season to protect their NFL draft status.
As his team attempts to rebound from a 4-8 season — Stanford’s first losing campaign since 2008 — coach David Shaw realizes there are more important things at stake this year than who wins and loses on the field.
“I have no issues with people who opt out or choose not to participate because we are in crazy times right now,” he said this week. “I can look my guys in the eye and say everything we’ve done in our conference has been for their health and their safety, and for nothing else.”
The Cardinal and Ducks have won or shared the Pac-12 North title in seven of the past nine years.
–Field Level Media