All eyes are on Stanford’s primetime showdown with Pac-12 North foe Oregon on Nov. 7, but the Cardinal has 11 other games to worry about as well. Last year, after all, Stanford lost a trap game to unranked Washington and barely squeaked by a team it was accustomed to blowing out, San Jose State. With the Spartans coming to the Farm on Saturday, we asked Daily football beat writers Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Sam Fisher: Which non-Oregon opponent is most likely to beat Stanford this season?
George Chen: When Stanford’s 2013 schedule was released back in January, I felt that other than Oregon, Oregon State had the best chance to beat the Cardinal. I still stand by that belief, as crazy as that might sound. Yes, I know the Beavers were upset by Eastern Washington, an FCS school, at home last Saturday. And yes, I know the Beavers gave up 625 yards to EWU’s offense.
But there are two reasons why Oregon State will still be dangerous: The Beavers don’t play Stanford for another two months, and Mike Riley is too good of a coach to not overcome the season-opening loss. When Oct. 26 arrives, it won’t matter that Oregon State lost to EWU back in August. The Beavers enjoy a fairly easy schedule all the way until they play Stanford at home, so there’s a good chance they’ll regain their confidence with a 6-1 record going into the contest.
As poorly as the Beavers defense played last week, quarterback Sean Mannion had an outstanding game and appears to be back to his dominant form from early 2012, when he was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the conference. If he continues to stay accurate and make smart decisions throughout the season, he should be able to help the Beavers stay close with the Cardinal. As for the Beavers defense, I have no doubt that Riley will be able to turn his unit around in the next few weeks. The team lost a bunch of starters, but Stanford should see a pretty stout Beavers run defense again this season. One thing is for sure: The Oregon State team that shows up on Oct. 26 will be much better than the team that lost to Eastern Washington in week one.
Oregon State isn’t a trap game in the sense that the Cardinal will underestimate the Beavers, but it is in the sense that Corvallis is a tough place to place and that the game is sandwiched between UCLA and Oregon, two huge contests.
Joseph Beyda: Oh, George. I told you before the season that Oregon State was overrated, and after last weekend’s embarrassing loss, you still insist that the Beavers can take down the Cardinal. Chomp on wood, that won’t be the case.
For this one, I’m on the fence between Washington and UCLA. Both won impressively in their season openers, with the Huskies trouncing No. 19 Boise State 38-6 and the No. 21 Bruins steamrolling Nevada 58-20. But each of those games were won at home, and this year, Washington and UCLA are playing on the Farm.
What, then, happened the last time those two opponents came to Stanford? The Cardinal put together one of the most impressive home wins in school history against the Huskies in 2011, rushing for a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 victory. By contrast, Stanford barely escaped UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season. That’s why I’m going with UCLA.
You might counter that the Huskies beat the Cardinal in 2012, while the Bruins failed to do so twice. But Washington’s upset win was in the all-too-friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. An electric atmosphere was also on Washington’s side in last weekend’s win over the Broncos, which was the first game in the renovated Husky Stadium. So I’ll stick with UCLA, which returns one of the most underrated quarterbacks in football, fields arguably the Pac-12’s third-best defense (behind Stanford’s and ASU’s) and has seemingly found a replacement for tailback Jonathan Franklin in Jordon James.
Sam Fisher: Like George, I also thought the road trip to Oregon State would be the toughest non-Duck test on the Stanford schedule. However, unlike George, the Beavers’ loss to Eastern Washington changed my mind.
Then, like Mr. Beyda, I thought of UCLA and Washington. The Bruins impressed me in the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Huskies put on a show against Boise State, but I can’t pick either of those teams. See, I don’t see anyone beating Stanford, outside of Oregon. I think that the Cardinal would have to lose a game, and I don’t think you’ll see that at home or against any big-time foe.
So though my choices are limited by Stanford’s weak road schedule, I think the most likely Stanford loss outside of Oregon is Utah.
Go ahead, laugh; I’m aware that the Utes haven’t impressed anyone in their two-plus years in the Pac-12. But this road trip scares me. The game comes between home dates with Washington and UCLA, so Stanford could easily overlook its trip to Salt Lake City, and any time you play at altitude, weird things can happen. Add to that a rabid fanbase, and this game could get tricky.
Also, though Utah certainly won’t be nearly as talented as many teams on Stanford’s schedule, the Utes showed they won’t be a walkover with their nice win against Utah State this past weekend. If Utah pulls off an upset of Stanford, look for it to be in the mold of Washington last season — capitalizing off an ugly offensive performance, a few big plays and an inspired crowd to steal a victory. I think the Utes have enough to do just that, if Stanford slips up badly, and that’s why the Salt Lake City road trip has me scared.
George Chen and Sam Fisher began the season as Beaver believers, but now they’re split on Oregon State. Share your opinion with them at gchen15 “at” stanford.edu and safisher “at” stanford.edu. Oh, yeah, you can get in touch with Joseph at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu as well.
Last week’s Wednesday roundtable: Who is the Card’s next breakout player?