EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's Darron Thomas are two very different quarterbacks, indeed two very different people, yet they share an enduring bond as high school competitors.
Both played prep football for opposing teams in Houston, where Luck grew up and his dad, Oliver Luck, once played for the Oilers.
"Oh yeah, that's my boy," Thomas said.
The two face off for the first time as college athletes on Saturday when the No. 4 Ducks host the No. 9 Cardinal in a game that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has called "monumental."
While Stanford (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) is fighting for national stature after several down years, Oregon (4-0, 1-0) is looking to prove it belongs among the elite after several oh-so-close seasons. Thomas and Luck will be at the center of the storm at Autzen Stadium.
There was definitely some mutual admiration being tossed about between the two as both teams prepared this week.
"There have been some very good quarterbacks to come out of Houston and Darron Thomas is definitely one of them," Luck said.
Luck started at Stratford High School, where he was also class valedictorian, while Thomas played at Aldine High School.
The last time the two met on the field was on Oct. 5, 2007. Luck's Spartans defeated Aldine 34-24. Thomas, a dual-threat quarterback who originally committed to LSU before switching to Oregon, completed 14 of 25 passes for 168 yards and he ran for another 101 yards.
Luck, a pro-style quarterback, completed 13 of 25 passes for 149 yards.
"We played three years against each other on varsity. We'd see each other at Houston recruiting functions and things like that," Luck said this week. "He's a great guy, a great competitor and a heck of a quarterback. He's definitely exceeded expectations in the first four games with Oregon."
While Luck is cerebral (he's studying architectural design at Stanford) with a "natural humility," as Harbaugh once said, Thomas is brash and confident.
Thomas took over as starter for the Ducks this season after winning the job over fifth-year senior Nate Costa in fall camp. Last season's starter, Jeremiah Masoli, was dismissed from the team after offseason legal trouble.
Thomas has exceeded expectations so far, throwing for 10 touchdowns in Oregon's first four games. He put together a complete game in Oregon's 42-31 victory over Arizona State last weekend, passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for a score.
Coach Chip Kelly said he's "excited" about where Thomas is at. And Kelly knows his quarterbacks: he developed Dennis Dixon while serving as Oregon's offensive coordinator and helped Masoli thrive in the team's innovative spread-option offense.
"I think Darron is managing the game very well. I think he's playing with great poise," Kelly said. "We've been down 10 at Tennessee, we were down 10 at Arizona State, and there's no panic from the quarterback. I think other players on the offensive thrive off that."
Luck made his splash last season, when Stanford relied heavily on powerful running back and Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. This season Stanford looks to Luck.
Luck has completed 64 of 102 passes for 912 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He leads the Pac-10 and is ranked 11th nationally in passing efficiency (169.5). He's also shown some scrambling ability -- he ran 52 yards for a score in Stanford's 68-24 victory over Wake Forest two weeks ago.
"The guy can pass," said Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Bair. "He's got an unbelievable arm and he's just an awesome quarterback. He's going to be a challenge for us and we have to make sure we handle it well."
Last year the Ducks were ranked No. 7 when they visited Palo Alto and lost 51-42. Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three touchdowns, while Luck passed for 251 yards and two scores.
This season the game couldn't get any bigger, nationally televised Saturday evening after an early morning visit from ESPN's Game Day.
A win would mean so much more than last season, Harbaugh said, because of Oregon's status as the defending Pac-10 champions.
"They're the champs," he said. "As one of the great philosophers of the 20th century, one of my favorite philosophers of the 20th century, Ric Flair would say, 'If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man."'