Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 10:54 AM
The undefeated Stanford Cardinal currently sits at the number six spot in the BCS rankings as they prepare for a road challenge at USC Saturday Night in a marquee TV matchup. It would seem from that position that they might need some help if they want to play for a national championship this year. Their strength of schedule has been horrible...and there's only a current guarantee that one team in front of them is going to lose a game.
In fact, this year's Stanford team is much like the Boise State team of the past (Boise is currently #4 in the BCS rankings). Great record. Big victory margins. Such a horrible schedule that it's hard to truly evaluate where they stand in the big picture.
Here's a look at who Stanford has played so far in their undefeated run...
STANFORD'S 2011 SCHEDULE (Opponent's Sagarin Rankings)
San Jose State (96th)
Washington State (106th)
Just abysmal. The first two non-conference games were against cupcakes. Arizona collapsed this year, at least before firing their head coach. UCLA is probably worse than 73rd, particularly in terms of how they execute vs. anyone who's better than they are. The TOUGHEST test has come against Washington, who may or may not be properly pegged as a top 40 team by the USA Today computers.
Were that to continue (which is what happens to Boise State...first in the weak WAC, and even now with their move to the struggling Mountain West), then Stanford was looking at a best case scenario of representing the Pac 10 in the Rose Bowl. They wouldn't be playing the SEC champ for the national championship.
Luckily for them, their resume is about to have some real names on it.
We're not as fond of the Trojans as Sagarin is at USA Today...but they sure impressed us last week at Notre Dame. What had been a struggling offensive line blew the Irish off the point of attack. USC was just the sharper side all night in almost every facet of play. Since this is a road game for Stanford, and Washington was at home...this would have to grade out as the Cardinal's toughest test so far.
Oregon State (103rd)
Notre Dame (30th)
Probably Arizona State in Pac 12 Championship (17th)
The big one everyone is waiting for is that Oregon game. The Ducks represented the Pac 10 in the national championship game last year against Auburn. An impressive win for Stanford over Oregon could easily lift them up to within striking distance of the top two spots. Even if Oklahoma State, Boise State, and Clemson are still undefeated then...Stanford will be standing strong in that grouping. And, Oklahoma State and Clemson would still have their toughest tests ahead.
An upset loss to USC Saturday Night...and Stanford's probably out of the BCS championship picture no matter what happens later. A loss in a few weeks to Oregon, same thing. But, the strength of schedule does close strong...giving Stanford a chance to make a legitimate case if they run the table. If the last two images in pollsters minds are impressive wins over Notre Dame and Arizona State in the Pac 12 championship...how are you going to deny a potential future NFL star (Andrew Luck) his shot at college glory?
Normally in these previews we like to give you a statistical sense of how the focus team is performing. That's tough because Stanford has played few real opponents. They're going to look FANTASTIC in the numbers because they've been steamrollering non-entities. Let's take a look at their performance last week against semi-dangerous Washington...
STANFORD 65, WASHINGTON 21
Total Yardage: Washington 430, Stanford 615
Rushing Yardage: Washington 172, Stanford 446
Passing Stats: Washington 24-38-2-258, Stanford 16-22-0-169
Turnovers: Washington 3, Stanford 0
Third Downs: Washington 46%, Stanford 67%
Yards-Per-Play: Washington 7.2, Stanford 9.3
The first thing that should jump out at you is the rushing yardage. Normally, when a college quarterback is getting this much NFL hype...it's because he's passing for 300 or 400 yards a game as the single dominant force on his team. Luck only threw 22 passes, which is fairly normal for a Stanford blowout. He's not worried about statistical glory. Get the win and let his teammates have some fun. Stanford ran roughshod over Washington at the line of scrimmage, posting nearly 450 rushing yards in a game that had a lot of garbage time.
Note the very high yards-per-play and third down totals for Stanford. They're A MACHINE when it coes to moving the ball. We talked about Clemson's great performance on third downs yesterday. They were doing that on much fewer yards-per-play in the games we looked at (which were admittedly against tougher teams than Stanford has faced so far).
For a better read on Stanford in big games, let's go back to last year's Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. That was the last time Stanford played a major conference power. Even though there's been a coaching change since then (with Jim Harbaugh moving to San Francisco to instantly turn that franchise around), and some graduation influences...this will still give you a good sense of what to look for from Stanford in their final month of action.
STANFORD 40, VIRGINIA TECH 12
Total Yardage: Virginia Tech 288, Stanford 534
Rushing Yardage: Virginia Tech 66, Stanford 247
Passing Stats: Virginia Tech 16-31-1-222, Stanford 18-23-1-287
Turnovers: Virginia Tech 1, Stanford 2
Third Downs: Virginia Tech 36%, Stanford 55%
Yards-Per-Play: Virginia Tech 4.4, Stanford 9.9
Still very big numbers up and down the board. It's astonishing to have that kind of yards-per-play against a Frank Beamer defense. Turnovers did creep up though, which could be an issue if the team plays one sloppy game in the next month. Once again you see a smaller number of passes than you'd expect from a 'next big thing'quarterback. Huge edge on the ground. And, if you watched the game...you'll recall it was a thing of beauty. Stanford played smart and physical, truly outclassing their opponent at a spread of just -3.5 points.
Will we see THAT Stanford team tonight at USC? Or, will the team have some nerves playing their first tough opponent of the season? Maybe USC has improved significantly over the course of this season too. The Trojans performance at Notre Dame sure suggested that (or the Irish are just MUCH worse than everyone was thinking). For now, the game has a chance to be very interesting...which isn't something many were thinking a few weeks ago when USC struggled so badly at Arizona State.
Here in the NOTEBOOK we're focusing on the most important teams in the BCS race rather than previewing games that are certain to be picks for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. We want to protect that information for clients of course. We know YOU will be handicapping the marquee games involving the marquee teams...so we consider it our job to give you food for thought as you try to make intelligent decisions.
We can tell you that Stanford/USC is certainly a nominee for our popular TV Triple Crown. Here's a list of the most likely possibilities:
Michigan State at Nebraska on ESPN
Missouri at Texas A&M on FX
Baylor at Oklahoma State on ABC regional
Oklahoma at Kansas State on ESPN
Georgia vs. Florida on CBS
Navy at Notre Dame on NBC
Clemson at Georgia Tech on ABC regional in prime time (previewed yesterday)
Stanford at USC on ABC regional in prime time
Wisconsin at Ohio State on ESPN
Our top play will be a 'Bill Collector's Special' to finish out the month of October in the colleges. We like it even better than last Saturday's 'Blockbuster of the Week'winner. You can purchase all of our plays here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about seasonal service, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453.
Back Sunday to preview the Dallas Cowboys/Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday Night Football that could turn out to be something special. Be sure you're with us in the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what's really happening in the world of sports!