STANFORD, Calif. — Most teams that are unsettled at quarterback this late in the season are unranked, are no longer in control in their conference championship race, or are out of contention for a BCS bowl game.
And then there are Stanford and Oregon State.
In the biggest game for both programs so far this season, Kevin Hogan will make his first start at quarterback for the No. 16 Cardinal against Cody Vaz and the No. 13 Beavers today at Stanford Stadium. The winner will keep alive its chance to upset second-ranked Oregon and represent the North Division in the Pac-12 title game.
“Usually, you’re in these positions because your quarterback is playing well," Stanford coach David Shaw said. “But I think both teams also have to do what’s necessary to help their teams win."
Such is the case on The Farm this week.
Hogan, a strong-armed and fast-footed redshirt freshman, had increasingly been inserted over the previous four games on read-option packages until relieving inconsistent starter Josh Nunes after Stanford’s first two drives at Colorado stalled last week. Hogan shredded the nation’s worst defense, passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns and running for 48 yards in two quarters of work to lead the Cardinal (7-2, 5-1) past Colorado, 48-0.
Monday, Shaw called Hogan by phone to inform him he would be making his first collegiate start against the Beavers. He told his new quarterback to “just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t try and do too much and help the team out," Hogan said. “That was pretty much it."
The Beavers boast the more experienced starting quarterback — albeit by only three games.
Vaz had started two games for Oregon State (7-1, 5-1) while starter Sean Mannion recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery. Mannion returned at Washington on Oct. 27, throwing four interceptions before Vaz replaced him in a 20-17 loss for the only blemish on the Beavers’ record.
Vaz overcame a shaky start to pass for 267 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon State’s 36-26 home win over Arizona State last week. Now he will make his fourth start — but just the second that is not injury related — in a pressure-packed environment at Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal have won seven straight and 18 of the past 19 games.
“It’s a difficult thing to be in, trying to choose between two good guys and two good players," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “I think both guys can win for our team and we’re thankful for the situation. But it’s difficult for the guy, obviously, that isn’t getting to play."
Both quarterbacks will be tested in ways neither has been so far this season.
Stanford and Oregon State are the two stingiest scoring defenses in the Pac-12, allowing 16.6 points and 18.1 points per game, respectively. The Cardinal also lead the nation in rushing defense (55.5 yards), in large part because they also lead the country in sacks (4.4) and tackles for loss (9.22) per game.
The Beavers, who rank 10th in the conference with 114.6 yards rushing, will likely have to get something going on the ground to ease the pressure on Vaz and slow Stanford’s relentless rush.
“They’re a great football team. We all know that," Vaz said. “They do a lot of great things defensively, so it will be a battle and we’re going to have to be ready for it."
The timing of the quarterback turnover is especially odd for the home team.
It will be the final home game of the regular season for Stanford in what is usually a festive atmosphere, no more so than last year when the program honored Andrew Luck and an elite class of outgoing seniors. This year, Shaw said he plans to tone down the “Senior Day" celebrations before kickoff in an effort to maintain routine given the magnitude of the matchup.