EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon at Stanford next week is more than a football game.
It's an emblem of a power shift in the Pac-12 - and in all of college football, Austin Murphy argues in this week's Sports Illustrated.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon's Heisman-buzzworthy quarterback, appears on the cover above the tagline:
"The Colossus: Oregon Redefined West Coast Football, Now It's Time to Conquer America (They're Coming For You, SEC)"
Stanford's defeat of Oregon at Autzen Stadium in overtime last year knocked the Ducks out of the hunt for both the Pac-12 and national titles.
This year, No. 2 Oregon (8-0) and No. 5 Stanford (7-1) meet in front of nationally televised audience on ESPN at 6 p.m. in a rare weeknight game.
"This game will have everything. It's Oregon's second-ranked offense, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, against Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov and the Cardinal's 25th-ranked D. It's a play-in to the Pac-12 title game, and the latest dramatization of the conference's power shift from Los Angeles. It's a clash of fashionsthe Cardinal's basic red-and-white versus whatever space-age design the Ducks are rockingand of philosophies reflected by those unis: Stanford's old-school, smashmouth power game versus Oregon's no-huddle, hurry-up Blur attack."
Murphy quanitifies this shift: For more than 60 years, top level West Coast college football was dominated by heavyweight contenders UCLA and USC, which won a combined 18 conference titles and 55 national titles between them.
Now all eyes in the West are focused on the Oregon Ducks Mariota and wide receiver Josh Huff and the Cardinal's Skov and linebacker AJ Tarpley.
Murphy traces the shift at both schools to a surge in resources.
"The Ducks have won 12 games in each of the past three seasons; the Cardinal, 12, 11 and 12. The Ducks have been to four straight BCS bowls; the Cardinal, three," he writes. "Both teams' ascent to the college football aristocracy has come (relatively) recentlyspurred largely by a couple of sugar daddies. Call it the Nouveau Riche Bowl. John Arrillaga (net worth: $1.8 billion), who played basketball at Stanford in the 1950s and developed much of the real estate that is now Silicon Valley, has given at least $251 million to his alma mater, where six buildings bear his name. Nike shogun Phil Knight (net worth: $16.3 billion) has kept his name off the architecture in Eugene, but he's been even more generous, bestowing at least $300 million."
Oregon's new state-of-the-art, 145,000 square foot football facility that has gone viral across all recruiting and social media platforms, Murphy writes.
But the senior writer for SI says Knight plays down the importance of his philanthropy and influence on the football program's success. "The secret is not the money," Murphy quotes Knight as saying. Even with his gifts, Knight believes, Oregon has less to work with "than any of the traditional powers. The secret is management."