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‘Rags to Roses’ excerpt: Leadup to Oregon 2012

The following is an excerpt from The Stanford Daily’s recent book, “Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football,” on Stanford’s win at Oregon in 2012. For more information on “Rags to Roses,” including purchasing information, go to www.stanforddaily.com/ragstoroses.

One thing was clear: The road to the Pac-12 Championship went through Oregon.

No team understood that fact better than Stanford. For two consecutive seasons, the Ducks had denied the Cardinal the conference title and a national championship bid; Andrew Luck ‘12, who only beat the Ducks once in his three-year playing career, had even admitted that Stanford was suffering from an “Oregon problem.” With Luck gone, the Cardinal arrived at Autzen as a 21-point underdog.

“Everyone had always talked about us having an Oregon problem,” said senior free safety Ed Reynolds. “In my three years here, the only [Pac-12] team that my class hadn’t beat was Oregon.”

“It’s really that environment, that team, that offense — it poses kind of a unique danger,” said fifth-year senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov.

Even so, the Cardinal players and coaches didn’t view their recent failures against their nemesis as a deterrent. If anything, those two heartbreaking losses fueled the team’s resolve to redeem itself.

“The motivation for us as players that week was unmatched from any other game that we’ve played in, just because of the fact that we had been embarrassed by those guys for two years in a row,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner. “They had really been the one thorn in our side, the one thing we couldn’t overcome in the regular season. And the fact that nobody gave us a chance — that’s one of those things that helped build this program, that no one ever gave us a chance. So we were perfectly comfortable in that niche.”

“We went into that Oregon game knowing that if we could drag them into deep water, we’ve got a chance,” added defensive coordinator Derek Mason. “We knew that we could win that ballgame. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind. Everybody knew going into that game that all we needed to do was get these dudes into the fourth quarter. Nobody had taken Oregon into the fourth quarter.”

Interestingly, there was a chance that Stanford wouldn’t need to beat Oregon to earn a Rose Bowl bid. If the Ducks ran the table, they would land squarely in the national championship game. In that scenario, the Cardinal probably could make it to the Rose Bowl Game by losing to the Ducks — but keeping the game close — and then beating UCLA the following week. Those two game outcomes would give the Cardinal the second-best record in the conference, so as long as Stanford finished in the top 14 of the BCS standings, it would be eligible to fill in for Oregon as the Pac-12’s representative in the Rose Bowl Game. But that path was not an option in the minds of the Cardinal players. They didn’t just want to sneak into the Rose Bowl; they wanted to beat Oregon on the road and win the Pac-12 North.

“We wanted to make a statement that game,” said senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley. “We didn’t have the season we had wanted to up to that point, but we knew we still had our destination. We could go wherever we wanted. If we won out we were going to go to the Pac-12 Championship, and that was what we had our eyes set on.”

ESPN’s College GameDay crew, a crowd of 58,792 at Autzen and nearly 6.5 million TV viewers turned their attention toward the showdown between the two Pac-12 heavyweights. A bleak day filled with pockets of rain turned into a cold, wet night as kickoff drew closer. Minutes before the game began, the rain relented and Oregon’s public address announcer proclaimed, “It never rains at Autzen Stadium.” Seconds later, the downpour resumed.

Contact the authors of “Rags to Roses” at ragstoroses@stanforddaily.com.