There was a point in mid-October when Stanford’s goal of claiming the Pac-12 crown seemed a world away. The Cardinal was coming off a tough overtime loss to Notre Dame, a result that was decided by one of the more controversial calls in college football this season. The Fighting Irish had handed the Cardinal its second loss of the year and the once vivid memory of its upset over USC back in late September was fading fast in the rearview mirror. With a host of ranked opponents still left on the grueling backend of its schedule, the outlook on Stanford’s postseason fate at the midpoint of the season was far less sunny than Pasadena.
I’m not going to pretend I’m happy that Stanford couldn’t even sell out its 50,000-seater stadium for the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday, but there is something deliciously anti-establishment in the fact that, on merit alone, a school that wouldn’t normally get picked for even one BCS bowl is going to be heading to its third in three years.
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Here’s a little recipe for success for future Stanford coaches: If you want to make it to the Rose Bowl, throw conventional wisdom out the window.
Stanford can’t focus on postseason awards just yet with No. 17 UCLA and a potential Rose Bowl berth looming at Friday’s Pac-12 Championship game, but the No. 8 Cardinal received some more national recognition on Wednesday when senior tight end Zach Ertz and junior offensive tackle David Yankey were both named to the American Football Coaches Association All-American Team.
As Stanford prepares for a rematch with UCLA, one key difference in the starting lineup has gone mostly unnoticed. Ben Rhyne, a redshirt sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., will most likely start at punter on Friday night for the first time in his Stanford career.
Despite playing a little over half the game, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after racking up 142 yards on 20 carries in the No. 8 Cardinal’s 35-17 victory over UCLA on Saturday.
A decade ago, it took three seasons for Stanford to amass ten wins. During those three miserable years, the Cardinal never finished higher than eighth out of the ten teams in the Pac-10. Nineteen losses in conference play. Twenty-three total defeats. Those were the kinds of numbers that defined the program.