STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — 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's 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 newcomer Cody Vaz and the No. 13 Beavers on Saturday 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, throwing 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'd be making his first 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 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 throw 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 non-injury related — in a pressure-packed environment at Stanford Stadium, where the Cardinal have won seven straight and 18 of the last 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 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 its "Senior Day" celebrations before kickoff in an effort to maintain routine given the magnitude of the matchup.
Of course, things will hardly be routine under center.
For the first time all season, Nunes no longer is the starter. The redshirt junior struggled to progress this season, and his flaws only stood out more in contrast to the massive marks left by Luck, the No. 1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts and early favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year after starting 6-3.
Nunes, however, played spectacularly in the second half to upset then-No. 2 Southern California and rallied the Cardinal from a two-touchdown deficit for a 54-48 overtime win against Arizona earlier this season. But he also looked lost for long stretches in losses at Washington and Notre Dame, and Hogan's emergence — an added athleticism — made Shaw's decision relatively easy.
How Hogan fares on a grander stage is still unknown.
On top of the Pac-12 implications riding on the outcome, both teams' postseason destination might also be at stake. Should Oregon win out and earn a spot in the BCS championship game in Miami, the Oregon State-Stanford winner will be a strong candidate — especially a two-loss Beavers team — to fill the Ducks' spot in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford plays at Oregon next week before finishing the season at UCLA. Oregon State hosts California and then Oregon in its last two games.
"These are definitely important games for what we want to do in winning the Pac-12 championship," Stanford linebacker Jarek Lancaster said. "They're necessities."