Five things to watch: Stanford-Washington State

Stanford visits Washington State for a game between the Pac-12 North's two leading teams. Kickoff is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN. Here are five things to watch:

Can the Cougars slow Stanford? The Cardinal boast the Pac-12's best offense this year, and they have steamrolled every single defense ever since halftime of a Week 2 win against Central Florida. Stanford is averaging a league-high 45 points per game in conference play. Their offensive line has been playing at a level comparable to the Andrew Luck era, Christian McCaffrey has thrust himself into the Heisman conversation and Kevin Hogan has a 200 passer rating in the league, throwing to tight ends who are as big as ever.

Washington State, meanwhile, has shown life on defense, but so far there's been no indication that they feature an element on that side of the ball that Stanford's previous opponents have lacked. To have a chance, the Cougars will have to put up a fight against Stanford's vaunted offensive line, and they'll also likely have to force some turnovers -- something that's gone better for them this year (Washington State already has 12 takeaways after logging only eight in all of 2014).

Washington State's run game: The Cougars have surpassed 100 yards on the ground in three straight games after not reaching the century mark a single time last year. This newfound balance has helped quarterback Luke Falk throw for over 500 yards in two of the past three games. More success in the run department will be necessary for Washington State to neutralize a Stanford pass rush that, despite losing much of the ferocity it showed the past three seasons, must be reckoned with. Gerard Wicks, Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow must be productive behind the Cougars' big offensive line to ensure necessary offensive stability.

Stanford's pass rush: I mentioned that the Cardinal's quarterback-pressure capabilities have lost considerable muscle this season. Their statistical tumble has been drastic: After leading the country in sacks for two years and finishing sixth in 2014, Stanford ranks 105th nationally this season. They've posted only 10 sacks so far. The Cardinal hope that outside linebacker Kevin Anderson will return from injury so that they can generate some pressure on Falk. Stanford's formula to whipping Washington State the past two seasons has centered on getting to the quarterback, but that ability is in question this year since their pass rush has lost effectiveness while the Cougars' run game has improved.

McCaffrey in the return game: Washington State has already surrendered four touchdowns in the return game -- two on punts and two on kickoffs -- and special-teams coverage difficulties are not a new problem for them. Stanford, meanwhile, is extremely dangerous in the return game because of McCaffrey's explosiveness. He's in the national top 10 when it comes to kick return average, and some productivity in this regard can give the Cardinal a significant edge.

The effects of weather: The forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain on Saturday night in Pullman. Wet, windy conditions would presumably favor Stanford, the running juggernaut, over Washington State, the pass-happy team. But then the Cougars have been running the ball more effectively this year, so the impact of possibly adverse weather conditions will be interesting to track in this one.