Here are five stats that have defined Stanford football’s season — and could very well define the upcoming Rose Bowl. Check back later this week for a similar take on Wisconsin.
3: Stanford’s opponents have won 85 games against FBS teams this season — the highest figure in the nation — and that has a lot to do with the Cardinal’s out-of-conference schedule. Stanford faced bowl-eligible teams in each of its three out-of-conference games: against No. 24 San Jose State (10-2), Duke (6-6) and No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0). Every other school traveling to a bowl this season has played at least one out-of-conference game against a non-bowl-eligible opponent. Rose Bowl adversary Wisconsin played just one of its three nonconference games against such a cupcake, UTEP.
In fact, only two other FBS schools (bowl-eligible or otherwise) faced bowl teams in all of their nonconference games: Conference-USA doormats Southern Miss (0-12) and Tulane (2-10). The Golden Eagles and Green Wave went a combined 0-8 in those out-of-conference contests.
Neither Stanford’s loss to the Irish nor the strength-of-schedule boost provided by a ranked Spartan team changed the fact that the Pac-12 champion Cardinal would play in the Rose Bowl. But those tough, nonconference tests have paid dividends in close games ever since. Speaking of which…
11: Stanford’s 11-point average margin of victory is down from 21.3 points a year ago. The Cardinal has escaped in several close games this season, winning seven games by a touchdown or less: against San Jose State, USC, Arizona, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA.
The No. 6 Cardinal’s point advantage is good for just 31st in the nation and is second-worst amongst the 10 teams playing in BCS bowls. The only such team with a lower average margin of victory is No. 21 Louisville (7.2), which won five games by less than a touchdown and was blown out in one of its only two losses of the season.
Stanford has also fallen into the habit of playing into overtime, entering the extra session in five of its last 19 games dating back to last year.
1,442: Stepfan Taylor’s electric, 1,442-yard senior season has buoyed a Cardinal offense that lost Andrew Luck to the NFL and accordingly saw its number of passing touchdowns cut in half, from 38 in 2011 to 19 in 2012. And Taylor’s done it behind an offensive line that began the season as one of the least experienced in the nation, ranking 103rd in the FBS with 37 combined career starts before this year.
Taylor and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball will enter the Rose Bowl as the two most experienced starting backs to face each other in the game’s storied history. Taylor has already outrushed three other teams’ elite backs, winning the ground battle (in yards) with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey 148-136, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner 169-76 and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin 147-68.
Franklin did have the upper hand in the Pac-12 Championship Game, outrushing Taylor 203-82 in the Cardinal tailback’s first performance below 100 yards since Stanford’s Nov. 3 blowout win against Colorado. The Cardinal will need a big game from its star on New Year’s Day.
4: Kevin Hogan’s four wins — all against ranked teams — as Stanford’s starting quarterback secured a Rose Bowl berth that seemed all but impossible in early November. Hogan’s primary assets were supposed to be his athleticism and ability to run the ball, but he went on to complete nearly 73 percent of his passes, up from 53 percent under Josh Nunes.
Stanford’s success with a late-season quarterback switch is unusual to say the least. Only five of the 70 bowl-eligible teams entered the postseason with two quarterbacks who had thrown at least 125 passes: Stanford, Oregon State, Northwestern, Purdue and Oklahoma State. Of those teams’ “secondary” quarterbacks — that is to say, their passer with fewer attempts this season — Hogan is the only one who has not lost a game.
The only quarterback in Hogan’s situation who had comparable success was San Diego State’s Adam Dingwell, who also went 4-0 in the final games of the regular season (but only had 115 attempts). Dingwell, who is a year older than Hogan, had a terrible showing in the Aztecs’ Poinsettia Bowl loss to BYU, completing just 12 of his 29 passes and throwing three picks. So there’s no guarantee that Hogan’s magic touch will survive the month-long break between the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.
30: No stat sums up the dominance of Stanford’s defense as well as the 30 points the Cardinal has scored this season without the ball. That’s up from 14 points (two touchdowns and a safety) in 2011 and 12 points in 2010.
Two of those five touchdowns have come from linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas; Murphy blocked and caught a pass against Washington, while Thomas pounced on a fumble in the endzone against Notre Dame. But three have come from the versatile Ed Reynolds, who was controversially ruled just a yard short from claiming a fourth score — and the NCAA record for return yards in a season (302) — in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Had Reynolds been granted that extra yard, Stanford’s defenders would have scored as many touchdowns as its wide receivers (seven) this season.
In 2012 Wisconsin has lost only 11 turnovers, good for fourth-best in the nation. But the Badgers play in a Big Ten conference that does not boast a single team that ranks in the top 25 in the country in turnovers forced, so the Cardinal will be a new challenge for Wisconsin.