Stanford hosts Oregon State in early Pac-10 season opener

STANFORD, Calif. &

When the 2007 season started, Lyle Moevao and Tavita Pritchard were both backup quarterbacks waiting for their first chance to play in college.

Injuries gave Moevao that opportunity at Oregon State and Pritchard his chance at Stanford. Now the two head into this season with the starting jobs when the Beavers visit the Cardinal in the season opener tonight.

Their coaches already see a big difference in their play based on the experience the two gained a year ago.

"Tavita's a lot better in year two in the system than he was in year one," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I expect him to be even better a month from now, four months from now and a year from now. Tavita has an excellent grasp of the offense."

Pritchard started seven games a year ago, including the memorable 24-23 upset at No. 2 Southern California. He engineered a late drive for the winning score, connecting on a 10-yard pass on fourth down to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left.

Pritchard had less success after that, winning only one more game in his final six starts. He completed 50 percent of his passes last season for 1,114 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Moevao led the Beavers to three straight wins last season after starter Sean Canfield went down with a torn labrum. Moevao got hurt himself in the Emerald Bowl win over Maryland but is healthy now and a much better quarterback than he was a year ago when he completed 77 of 147 passes for two touchdowns and six interceptions.

"The number one thing you would have to say is the difference in Lyle from this year to last year is confidence," coach Mike Riley said. "That then relates right into speed of play and decision-making, understanding and the ability to take something that has happened and transform it into a positive."

One big advantage Moevao has this season is the return of receiver Sammie Stroughter, who had 74 catches in 2006 before being limited to just three games last year because of a kidney injury. He was granted a medical hardship to come back.

"Ever since we found out he was granted his redshirt year we've been doing great things," Moevao said. "He's been able to help me help him out and the rest of the offense. He's doing a great job of being one of the leaders out there and having him back in the offense is something special."

The Beavers have placed a priority on starting fast this season. They have started the season 2-3 the past two seasons, only to lose once more the rest of the way to post the second most wins in the conference to Southern California.

The start this season won't be easy, as Oregon State is the only BCS conference school to begin 2008 with consecutive road games. After visiting the Cardinal, the Beavers travel to No. 22 Penn State next weekend.

Riley says he doesn't like the idea of opening against a conference team, especially one with a new defensive coordinator in Ron Lynn and no game film to prepare for his schemes.

"It's probably coaches paranoia a little bit," Riley said. "With Stanford, they have a new defensive coordinator. We'd like to see them play before we play them. We can't do that. In some ways it's a little bit of a mystery going in and it's a conference opponent. You put all that stuff together and it makes for a very interesting start."

The beginning of the season will be very important for the Cardinal as well if they are to achieve Harbaugh's goal of making a bowl game.

Stanford follows up this game with another conference tilt, on the road against No. 15 Arizona State next weekend.

The Cardinal figure to be a deeper team this year and hope for more consistency than they had in Harbaugh's first season. They beat USC and California, but also lost to Washington, Washington State and Notre Dame.

"Last year we had some big wins but we're no way satisfied," safety Bo McNally said. "Those games only showed the potential we have. We're all confident that we can be one of the top teams in the Pac-10. We can build on what it feels like to win big games. Beating Cal was big to drive off of and look forward."

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