Collision course: Pac-12

Across the ESPN blogosphere today, we’re looking at the critical showdowns in every conference that are looming. LSU-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, etc. The Pac-12 has its own marquee clash of the titans approaching in less than a month. It will be a contrast of styles and philosophies featuring a pair of top-five teams. And to sweeten the stakes, the teams in question have split their past four meetings. We’re talking about, of course …

Game: No. 2 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford, Thursday, Nov. 7

What’s at stake: More than likely the Pac-12 North title and a spot in the conference championship game. The winner advances to the Rose Bowl, unless selected for a more prestigious game. And that’s where the bigger stakes come into play -- the kind that involve placement in the BCS bowl game. Should either team successfully navigate the Pac-12 minefield and come out unscathed, it’s inconceivable to picture a scenario in which an undefeated Pac-12 team doesn’t get into the BCS championship. Even a one-loss Pac-12 team makes a compelling case. And seeing as Oregon has gone to four straight BCS bowl games (including a championship game) and Stanford has gone to three in a row, it’s likely the loser on Nov. 7 will remain relevant and in the national spotlight.

Roadblocks/derailment opportunities: There are plenty of chances for either team to slip up, nay, flat-out lose. “Slip up” implies the rest of the Pac-12 isn’t up to the task of beating either of these teams. So far we’ve seen a deep, talented conference that could push anyone, any day. Stanford goes on the road for two of its next three games. That includes this week’s trip to Salt Lake City for its first meeting with the Utes since they joined the conference, and a visit to Corvallis against an Oregon State team that is putting up lofty offensive numbers. In between, a home date against No. 11 UCLA, the two-time South champ eager for a third-crack at the Cardinal in the past 10 months. The Ducks also have to face the Bruins on Oct. 26, but not before they travel to Seattle this weekend to take on a salty Washington team and a home date against Washington State.

How it unfolds: No clue. At least from this half of the Pac-12 blog. Oregon dominated the last time it came to The Farm, and Stanford simply wilted. There were drops, missed assignments and all-around sloppy play from a team that doesn’t play sloppy football. Last year it was the Cardinal who slowed the pace to a halt behind one of the best defensive efforts in the conference we’ve seen in a long time. This year’s contest figures to take on a similar personality. If the Cardinal can be physically dominant and gang tackle, they’ll have the edge. If the Ducks are able to spread things out and do what they’ve been doing since the season started, it could be a long night for the Cardinal. Both teams will want to assert their personal styles. Whichever one is most true to its identity should have the upper hand.