When Stanford played at top-ranked Oregon in 2012, Joey Alfieri was a junior at Jesuit High in Portland. He was a guest of the Ducks, but left a fan of the Cardinal after watching it stage a 17-14 overtime win.
"That was an eye-opening game for me in terms of my interest in Stanford," he said this week. "Now I will be playing in that game."
No. 7 Stanford (8-1 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) plays host to Oregon (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m., and can clinch the Pac-12 North Division title with a win.
"I don't look at it like a big game you circle on your calendar," said Alfieri, a 6-3, 240-pound sophomore outside linebacker. "I look at every game as being the most important because it's the next game. Obviously, it will be fun to see some old teammates and play against them. So in that sense, it will be extra exciting."
Former Jesuit teammates Henry Mondeaux and Doug Brenner play for the Ducks.
"I keep in touch with them throughout the season," Alfieri said. "This week I checked in and told them good luck on Saturday and that's pretty much the extent of it."
His phone will be on silent from Friday afternoon until after the game.
"That's the plan," he said.
Alfieri started the season on special teams but became a starter in the fourth game at Oregon State when fifth-year senior and team captain Kevin Anderson from Palo Alto High was injured. An all-state running back and linebacker, Alfieri filled in capably until Anderson returned last week at Colorado.
Alfieri started five straight games and has collected 30 tackles, seventh-most of the team. He recovered a fumble against the Beavers and has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss.
"I've felt more and more comfortable each game," said Alfieri. "I try and go out there and do my job and get stops and help our team win."
Anderson helped him settle in.
"Kevin did a great job," he said. "Coach (Lance) Anderson is up in the press box during games. After a series, I come off the field and go straight to Kevin and he would give me advice. It's great to have him back."
With nine new starters on defense this season, the unit was a big question mark. But through nine games, Stanford ranks first in the Pac-12 in total defense (338.7) and second in scoring defense (20.2).
"I think we've grown every game," said Alfieri. "Experience has definitely helped. I feel like we're a different team from Game 1 until now. We've jelled so much. Our older guys have brought so much leadership and set a good example for us younger guys."
Cardinal players know the stakes. The stretch run includes Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame.
"I know it sounds cliche, but we have to take it one game at a time," Alfieri said. "We're 0-0 and Oregon is 0-0. We just have to come in and dominate for four quarters and play a complete game. We've had a lot of great halves and quarters, and I think we're getting close to playing one great, complete game."
McCaffrey and the Heisman
Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey is ranked among the top five in most Heisman Trophy polls. His accomplishments can now be tracked on WildCaff.com.
McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards (2,174) by a considerable margin and is chasing Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 3,250 set at Oklahoma State in 1988. McCaffrey averages 241.2 yards per game and has eclipsed 100 yards rushing in seven straight contests.
"He does it all," said Cardinal fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. "He's an all-around great football player. The best I've ever seen."
Teammates think so highly of McCaffrey, they accorded him the honor of carrying the American flag onto the field when the team runs out just before kickoff, a rarity for a sophomore.
McCaffrey insisted the 16-6 opening season loss at Northwestern was a turning point. Since then, Stanford has won eight consecutive games.
"That morale of our team is stronger because of that game," McCaffrey said. "It allowed us to look at ourselves in the mirror and realize who we are and what we have to do to win games."
Although Oregon no longer has 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at quarterback, the offense has continued to roll. It racked up a school-record 777 total yards against Cal last Saturday night.
Sophomore running back Royce Freeman leads the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,287 yards and averages 143.0 yards/game, while Vernon Adams Jr. has taken over behind center. The Eastern Washington transfer has thrown a touchdown pass in 32 straight games.
"It's what our honorary captain last week, Stepfan Taylor, talked about," said fifth-year senior cornerback and team captain Ronnie Harris. " 'Just go out there and make the game simple.' Those guys have a stable of backs and their offensive line does a good job of giving them creases and letting them run. So we have to stop the run and make them one-dimensional.
"They have an elusive magician back there at quarterback and he's a playmaker. We have to put some hits on him."
Hogan is No. 1
Last week, Hogan secured his 32nd career win, the most by a quarterback in Stanford history, a list that includes Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck.
"It means the world to me," Hogan said. "The tradition at quarterback is unbelievable."
Stanford and Oregon have played three common opponents this season. The Cardinal has beaten Colorado (42-10), Washington (31-14) and Washington State (30-28), while the Ducks have defeated the Buffaloes (41-24), Huskies (26-20) and Cougars in double-overtime (45-38).
Six Stanford players scored touchdowns against Colorado . . .
Senior offensive guard Joshua Garnett, selected to the Rotary Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy watch lists, recorded 64 pancake blocks the first eight games . . . Oregon has not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2006 . . . Stanford is the only school ranked in the top 10 by the Associated Press (7th), USA Today (7th) and U.S. News & World Report (4th) . . . Stanford freshman wide receiver Trenton Irwin wears more than 130 football and basketball jerseys.
"It's like improvisational jazz. He just starts moving and you don't know where he's going to go." - Stanford head coach David Shaw on Vernon Adams Jr.