Believe it or not, but No. 20 Stanford’s push for a potential College Football Playoff spot starts Thursday night in Corvallis against Oregon State. The Beavers may just be 1-6 overall and winless (0-4) in the Pac-12, but the Cardinal (5-2, 4-1) cannot afford to look past their seemingly overmatched opponent if they have any hope of playing for a national title.
The Pac-12 is already fighting somewhat of an uphill battle when it comes to putting a team in college football’s version of the final four, thanks to some upsets two weeks ago as well as USC’s blowout loss at Notre Dame this past Saturday. But Stanford’s schedule sets up nicely for not only a potential North Division title, it also provides the Cardinal with three opportunities to impress the selection committee by season’s end. But first, David Shaw and company must take care of business on the road against a team whose only win thus far has come against an FCS opponent.
Stanford at Oregon State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 26 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Stanford -23
Three Things to Watch
1. Stanford’s opening statement?
With two losses already, the Cardinal seem like a long shot to get into the College Football Playoff. However, they still have games at No. 15 Washington State, home dates with No. 12 Washington and Cal, and end the regular season against No. 9 Notre Dame. Beat both the Cougars and the Huskies and at worst Stanford is the Pac-12 North Division champion and headed to Santa Clara, California, on Dec. 1 to play for another conference title.
However, combine that with a win over a top-10 ranked Fighting Irish team and should the Cardinal win out (including the Pac-12 title game), and Stanford has one impressive resume, even for a two-loss team. Is that still enough to get the Cardinal into the playoff? Only time will tell, but none of this will matter if they don’t take care of the first thing on the to-do list – beat Oregon State, and handily, on Thursday night.
2. Beavers peaking at the right time?
It’s hard to qualify a team that’s 1-6 as “peaking,” but Oregon State is coming off of its best performance of the season, albeit in a losing effort. Following the unexpected resignation of head coach Gary Andersen, the Beavers gave Colorado all it could handle and then some, before falling 36-33 at home in interim head coach Cory Hall’s debut two weeks ago. Oregon State actually led 33-29 with a little more than four minutes remaining but the Buffaloes answered with a touchdown and Jordan Choukair’s potential game-tying, 52-yard field goal came up short with just 10 seconds left.
In the loss, Oregon State posted a season-best 569 yards of offense, including 280 on the ground, while averaging nearly seven yards (6.9) per play. The Beavers’ previous high for yards was 456 in the opener against Colorado State. Their previous best effort in terms of rushing yards was 155 at Washington State back on Sept. 16. The defense also got in on the act, limiting the Buffaloes to 385 total yards and 5.8 yards per play. Consider that prior to this game, Oregon State had been giving up 494 yards per game and 6.6 yards per play over its first six contests.
The Beavers have had an extra week to build on what they did right against Colorado as well as prepare for Stanford. As we have already seen on multiple occasions this season upsets can happen anytime and anywhere. Is it Oregon State’s turn?
3. Run, run and run some more
Stanford running back Bryce Love didn’t even play last week (because Cardinal were on bye) and he’s still the nation’s leading rusher – and it’s not even close. Love, a junior, has already run for 1,387 yards in seven games (198.1 ypg). He’s more than 200 yards clear of the No. 2 rusher, Navy quarterback Zach Abey. But he’s also nursing an ankle injury and it was announced a few hours before game time that he will not play against Oregon State.
In Love’s absence, Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights figure to share the workload. Scarlett, a junior, is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has six rushing touchdowns. Speights, a sophomore, has 62 rushing yards in limited action (10 carries in four games). The good news for both is that the Beavers are yielding 200 rushing yards per game.
For Oregon State, Ryan Nall (above, right) is sixth in the Pac-12 in rushing at 85.5 yards per game, but he’s coming off of his best effort of the season. Nall, who did not play against USC because of an ankle injury, ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries (7.2 ypc) in the 36-33 loss to Colorado. Not only were the yards and touchdowns season bests, but the 24 carries also were the most he’s had in a game, surpassing the 16 vs. Portland State back on Sept. 2. Nall is critical to the Beavers’ offense’s success and he should be able to find some running room against a Stanford defense that ranks 10th in the Pac-12 (195.4 rushing ypg allowed).
So even with no Love tonight, between the defenses’ inability to stop the run as well as get off of the field on third down (Stanford ranks 107th in the FBS, Oregon State 128th in opponent third-down conversions), don’t be surprised if both teams stay grounded Thursday night.
On paper, this has all the makings of a mismatch, especially with Stanford boasting the nation’s top rusher in Bryce Love. However, Oregon State is at home and seems to be building some momentum under interim head coach Cory Hall. Besides, it’s not like this season hasn’t already had its share of seemingly improbable upsets.
However, the Cardinal know what’s at stake on Thursday night, as they still have a potential path to getting into the College Football Playoff. Even without Bryce Love playing, Stanford simply has too much talent for a fired-up Beavers team to overcome.