Only nine days after Stanford’s magical 2012 football season ended with a Rose Bowl victory, it’s time to turn the page to 2013. Over the next eight months, coaches, fans and media alike will break down this schedule head to toe, but here are the first things that immediately jump off the page.
Thursday Night Showdown For The Ages:
Oregon comes down to the farm for a Thursday night battle on Nov. 7, in a game that will most likely decide the Pac-12 north division champion once again. Oregon State and Washington could be factors, but Stanford and Oregon will be heavy favorites to not only win the north division, but also potentially represent the Pac-12 in the BCS National Championship Game.
The game is a chance for both Stanford and Oregon to avenge bitter defeats last year. In Stanford’s last Thursday night game, the Cardinal suffered a big letdown, losing at Washington in front of a raucous crowd. As for Oregon, the home loss to Stanford kept the Ducks out of the BCS National Championship Game – and based on how Notre Dame looked, probably cost the Ducks the title.
Back-loaded Schedule Again:
If you thought Stanford’s 2012 schedule was back-loaded – Stanford finished with games against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA – just wait until 2013. Stanford’s last six games feature, in order, vs. UCLA, at Oregon State, vs. Oregon, at USC, vs. Cal, and vs. Notre Dame. To win the national championship, Stanford could have to go undefeated, and sweeping that six game stretch won’t be easy.
The toughest part of that six-game stretch looks to be the first half. UCLA proved to be a very talented football team in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and returns quarterback Brett Hundley on offense and star linebacker Anthony Barr on defense. Like UCLA, Oregon State gave Stanford a run for its money in Palo Alto in 2012. In 2013, having to travel to Corvallis will be a tough test, as Beaver fans can create a hostile environment. Lastly, Oregon, which should continue to be the toughest test Stanford faces each year.
Stanford had two losses in 2012: an overtime loss to eventual nation champion runner-up Notre Dame and a trap game loss at Washington. The Notre Dame loss is understandable, but the Washington loss was much harder to understand. It was one of those games that Andrew Luck-led Stanford teams never lost. In 2013, unfortunately for Stanford, a man not named Andrew Luck will again quarterback the Card. Though Kevin Hogan has shown flashes of greatness, his streakiness makes me worry about the potential of a trap game knocking Stanford off its path towards Pasadena.
To some extent, every road game in the Pac-12 – well maybe just Pac-10 – is a bit of a trap game. I think the first potential trap game for Stanford could be its road trip up to Pullman to face Washington State on September 28. Washington State improved throughout the season, and in Mike Leach’s second year, don’t be shocked if the Cougars pull off a big upset against one of the Pac-12’s better teams.
The biggest trap game on the schedule, however, is Oregon State. Oregon State has a similar amount of talent to last year’s Washington team as well as a similar football environment – though I’m not sure any stadium is truly as loud as CenturyLink Field was on that Thursday night last fall. The biggest key to this being a trap game, however, is that it falls between UCLA and Oregon, who I expect to be Stanford’s two toughest home tests all season. If Stanford’s focus slips, the Beavers could very well be the team that takes down the Cardinal.
Oddly enough, I think the Oregon State game actually becomes more dangerous the worse that Oregon State does early in the season. If the Beavers are undefeated and ranked highly, there’s a much smaller chance that Stanford looks past them. But, if Oregon State loses two or three games early on and falls out of the rankings, it could become much tougher for Stanford to focus.
I know it’s absurdly early to throw out a prediction for Stanford Football’s season, but it’s just too much fun to pass up. To be fair, I reserve the right to change this many times before September rolls around, depending on injuries, recruiting and the occasional crazy event.
This schedule is tough; there’s simply no other way of putting it. The final six games, plus the potential Pac-12 Championship Game, will be one of the most brutal stretches any team will face all year. However, this Stanford team is literally built to handle a stretch like that.
The team and training staff work tremendously hard to stay healthy and in shape, the team has shown an ability to stay focused on each game and the toughest games – Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame – are at home. Stanford also has a few extra days of preparation for Oregon, a gift that Stanford has consistently utilized better than almost any team in the country.
This is going to be a special season. Chase Thomas and Sam Schwartzstein came back for 2012 to win a Rose Bowl. Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner are coming back for 2013 to win a national championship. The 2014 BCS National Championship Game will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena — same venue, different date, different trophy same champion. Let me be the first of many to predict that Stanford finishes at 14-0 as BCS National Champions.