Stanford Impresses

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Behind quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal could be the best one-loss team in college football.

Behind quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal could be the best one-loss team in college football.

You have to wonder if Stanford would like another shot at the mighty Oregon Ducks. Granted, no team in its right mind would relish the chance to play the Ducks right now. Oregon is a machine, thoroughly steamrolling any opponent that gets in its way. But Stanford is approaching that level. The Cardinal emphatically demonstrated that they were the second-best team in the Pac-10 with a dominating 42–17 win over Arizona.

Stanford and Arizona entered the game tied for second place and were considered the next level of elite teams after Oregon. But the Wildcats weren’t even in the same class as the Cardinal. Stanford outmanned and outschemed Arizona, especially on offense where it piled up 510 yards. The Wildcats entered the night ranked 10th nationally in total defense.

While Stanford has been able to score points all season, its defense is also improving. Arizona has one of the most balanced, potent offenses in the Pac-10 but could never consistently get anything going against the Cardinal. Quarterback Nick Foles, returning from a two-game absence due to a dislocated kneecap, was 28-of-48 for 248 yards but was under a good amount of pressure from Stanford’s defensive front for most of the night.

The Cardinal’s only loss this season is at Oregon, and even in that game Stanford had the Ducks on the ropes in the first quarter when it raced out to a 21–3 lead. Oregon’s unstoppable offense proved to be just that, and the Ducks eventually won, 52–31. The only other game this season in which Stanford has been tested came against USC, when it took a Nate Whitaker field goal as time expired to notch a 37–35 win.

So the Cardinal keep rolling along, seemingly headed for a second-place finish in the Pac-10. The Cardinal’s final three games are at Arizona State, at Cal and at home against Oregon State. Stanford should be favored in all three of those games.

Stanford probably won’t catch Oregon. The Ducks look unbeatable and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cardinal. It would be a heck of a lot of fun to see Stanford get another shot at the Ducks. Instead, the Cardinal can hope for a Rose Bowl berth if Oregon makes it to the BCS championship game.

Scoreboard

Oregon 53, Washington 16
California 20, Washington State 13
UCLA 17, Oregon State 14
Stanford 42, Arizona 17
USC 34, Arizona State 33

Unpredictable

Saying the Pac-10 has parity is nothing more than an eye-rolling cliché, but it’s hard to ignore the curiousness of UCLA’s victory over Oregon State. The Bruins had been completely uninspiring lately, losing three in a row, including blowout defeats to Cal and Oregon. The Beavers, meanwhile, looked as though maybe they had recovered from the hangover of wide receiver James Rodgers’ season-ending knee injury when they throttled Cal, 35–7.

Instead, Oregon State went to Pasadena and put on a completely disappointing performance, letting the Bruins hang around enough for All-America kicker Kai Forbath to drill a 51-yard field goal as time expired for a 17–14 win.

Even without Rodgers, the Pac-10’s top receiver, the Beavers appear to be substantially better than the Bruins. They still have dynamic running back Jacquizz Rodgers, dominating defensive tackle Stephen Paea and arguably the best coaching staff in the Pac-10. UCLA, meanwhile, is maddeningly inconsistent and has lost starting quarterback Kevin Prince for the season.

That didn’t matter Saturday, especially after the replay official put one second back on the clock to allow Forbath to attempt his game-winner. Time originally expired after wide receiver Randall Carroll stepped out of bounds following a catch. But UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel challenged the ruling, and it was determined there was still one second remaining when Carroll stepped out.

The Beavers have been one of the most competitive teams in the conference in recent years, but suddenly they are in danger of missing a bowl game. Oregon State needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible but still must play No. 1 Oregon, No. 7 Stanford and USC. The Beavers host Washington State this weekend.

Looking Forward

Oregon and Oregon State are the first losers in the new Pac-12. The conference released its first schedule for 2011 and neither Oregon school will visit USC or UCLA next season.

One of the stumbling blocks in aligning the new Pac-12 was determining how it would affect teams’ opportunities to play games in the Los Angeles area. Teams want to visit Southern California as much as possible because of recruiting implications.

The conference ultimately split the 12 teams into two divisions — North and South. Teams only play four of the six teams in the opposite division each season. In 2011, neither Oregon nor Oregon State plays at USC or UCLA.

When the Pac-12 released the 2011 schedule last week, it also announced scheduling would be done in two-year blocks, meaning teams would have the same opponents in back-to-back years, only at the opposite venue. The first-ever Pac-12 championship game will be held Dec. 3, at the site of the division winner with the best overall conference record.
 

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You have to wonder if Stanford would like another shot at the mighty Oregon Ducks. Granted, no team in its right mind would relish the chance to play the Ducks right now. Oregon is a machine, thoroughly steamrolling any opponent that gets in its way. But Stanford is approaching that level.