When No. 20 Oregon (3-0) and No. 7 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) face-off this weekend in Eugene, the star power on the field will be at a supernova level.
Bryce Love, the Heisman trophy runner-up last year, will lead the Cardinal into raucous Autzen stadium against Oregon’s Justin Herbert, a potential top pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. and will air ABC as the national game of the week.
Both players enter the game with massive lists of accolades and have already emerged as Heisman trophy candidates this year. They can each make a strong argument for being the best player at their position in the country, as well as the best offensive player in the Pac-12.
Herbert enters the game with 12 touchdowns passes on the season, good enough for second in the nation. He’s thrown to 13 different receivers on the season with seven of them catching touchdown passes, making the passing game a real threat.
"We all know he's a difference maker," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said.
Herbert's offense averages 51.7 points per game and racks up 503 total yards of offense per game. His ability to consistently move the ball through the air has helped open up the running game, giving the Ducks an extremely balanced offense that’s difficult to game plan for.
Love counters with a rushing repertoire that includes strength, speed and quickness. On any given play, he’s a homerun threat by making tacklers miss, running through them or running by them. He led the country in total runs of 20+ yards last year and finished second with 162.92 rushing yards per game.
He’s gotten off to a slow start but his 22-carries, 136-yard performance against USC was a small taste of what he’s capable of as a senior.
In order to win this game, both players know they’re going to need help from teammates.
Herbert’s help will come on the defensive side of the ball with defensive end Jalen Jelks and outside linebacker Justin Hollins, two NFL prospects who are seeing their names drive up draft boards.
Jelks and Hollins make up the best pass rushing duo in the Pac-12 and have a legitimate argument about being one of the best duos in the nation. They have a combined 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season, not to mention four passes broken up and two forced fumbles.
Helping out Love will be receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and cornerback Alijah Holder. They’re each NFL prospects who like Jelks and Hollins, are physically above the rest of college football.
Arcega-Whiteside is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound matchup nightmare who’s finally combining his physical gifts with the rest of his game. He leads the Cardinal with 13 catches for 324 yards and five touchdowns — his improved route-running and separation is what’s been allowing to him get open more.
"They have great skill — if you try to bottle up the run-game solely, you’re going to have some issues outside," Cristobal said. "I think that’s the part that makes them such a good offense... they’re not just one-dimensional. They can do it on both ends."
Holder is another physical specimen, standing 6-foot-2, 189-pounds. His stats don’t jump out at but it’s because quarterbacks rarely throw his way, understanding his talents. When tested this year, he’s responded with four passes broken up in two games.
Buckle up and get ready.
When these two teams collide Saturday night, it’ll be much more than Oregon vs. Stanford. It will be a test of star against star, NFL prospect against NFL prospect. Only the strong will survive and earn their spot amongst the best.