STANFORD When Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., was loudest during Stanford's visit two years ago, the field shook. The Cardinal watched in amazement as the rubber pellets mixed into the artificial turf vibrated beneath their feet.
"No talking," said center Sam Schwartzstein, who communicates blocking schemes to his linemates. "All screaming."
Executing amid the bedlam is just one challenge facing Stanford on Saturday, when it visits top-ranked Oregon. The No. 14 Cardinal also must slow the most potent offense in the country, repel a havoc-causing defense and deal with inclement weather (the forecast: 50 degrees and rain). But Stanford's great challenge is psychological.
The players must have the poise to handle rapid changes in momentum (everything happens quickly when the Ducks are involved).
The coaches must have the discipline to stick with their game plan if the deficit mounts.
And from freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan on down, everyone on the Stanford sideline must believe the Cardinal can beat the three-time defending conference champions on their turf with the Pacific-12 Conference North title on the line.
"They've got the ingredients for handling the elements of what they'll be playing in," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said of the Cardinal. "But it's a big, big chore."
Belief is not normally an issue for Stanford, a smart, savvy, experienced team that has gone 31-5 in the past three years. But Oregon is not a normal opponent.
The core of this Stanford team has lost decisively to the Ducks the past two seasons. Both times, the stakes were enormous. Both times, Stanford held its own for a half. The combined second-half score: Oregon 59, Stanford 14.
The Cardinal's wobbly performance last year prompted quarterback Andrew Luck to admit to espn.com that Stanford had "an Oregon problem." When told of Luck's comment, Stanford senior linebacker Chase Thomas expressed full confidence in his team.
"There's no question we believe we can win," Thomas said. "We don't fear any team. We know what they do."
Knowing what the Ducks do is one thing. Stopping it is another.
Cal Cal's worst season in more than a decade could affect more than coach Jeff Tedford's future and the financial well-being of the Bears' athletic department.
Cal also is taking a beating on the recruiting front, where for years it has been one of the leaders in the Pac-12.
Two major online sites that track recruiting project Cal's 2013 signing class will rank among the lower half in the Pac-12. Scout.com has Cal at No. 8 in the conference and No. 47 nationally. Rivals.com envisions rankings of No. 9 in the Pac-12 rank and No. 53 nationally.
Asked how much the Bears' 3-8 record is affecting recruiting efforts, Tedford conceded, "That's always a concern." It may get worse by signing day Feb. 6.
Orange Bowl The Atlantic Coast Conference agreed to a 12-year deal with ESPN for the rights to televise the Orange Bowl, with the conference champion facing either Notre Dame or a team from the Big Ten Conference or Southeastern Conference. ESPN.com previously reported that the network will pay about $55 million per year for the game.
North Carolina 37, Virginia 13 in Charlottesville, Va. Bryn Renner threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter after a goal-line stand preserved North Carolina's lead, and the Tar Heels (7-4, 4-3 ACC) ended the postseason hopes of the Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5).
Texas A&M Freshman wide receiver Thomas Johnson was found safe in Dallas after he disappeared from campus three days ago.