For the third week in a row, Stanford football is set to face a ranked opponent. The Cardinal (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) defeated No. 3 Oregon in overtime last week, and now — just six days later in a rare Friday matchup — Stanford is scheduled to play No. 23 Arizona State (4-1, 3-0 Pac-12). The Sun Devils currently sit atop the Pac-12 South rankings after beating No. 20 UCLA last weekend. A statement win for the Cardinal on the road win thus has the potential to push Stanford to near the top of the conference, behind only Oregon State — who is yet to play a ranked opponent.
But the road to a victory in Tempe will not be easy. The Cardinal will be missing multiple key players — namely senior wide receiver Brycen Tremayne, who went down with a gruesome ankle injury versus the Ducks.
Daniel Wu, Jibriel Taha and Ells Boone explore Stanford’s lack of ranking, key pieces on the Cardinal offense, ASU’s play makers, and Stanford’s prospects for the remainder of the season.
Cybele Zhang [CZ]: Despite having beaten two ranked teams (then-No. 14 USC and then-No. 3 Oregon), the Cardinal are still unranked. Do they deserve more than 11 votes in the AP Poll? Where would you personally place Stanford?
Daniel Wu [DW]: At this point in the season, no, not yet. Don’t get me wrong — Stanford is a good team that earned its marquee wins (sorry, Oregon fans complaining about bad calls: check back to the first half when the Cardinal had an Austin Jones touchdown and a fumble recovery taken away by the refs, too). But if we’re talking AP rankings, the comfortable losses to Kansas State and UCLA hurt too much. Stanford has to do a little more to prove it’s consistent enough to join the cream of the college football crop. It’ll get the chance to, thanks to the ridiculous schedule.
Jibriel Taha (JT): I’d like to add the quarterback sneak by McKee that was ruled short of the first down to the list of controversial calls that went Oregon’s way. But to answer the question, I think the AP has it right. Looking at where the teams Stanford has played stand now, Stanford has a win against the No. 8 team in the nation, two wins against teams not in the poll and two losses to teams receiving votes. That isn’t a top-25 resume, but a road win against Arizona State would make it one.
Ells Boone (EB): Beating the No. 3 team in the country normally does call for the victorious side to be ranked the next week, but in this case, I do not know who gets knocked out in favor of the Cardinal. Talent-wise, Stanford is a top-25 team — as evidenced by its No. 25 ranking in 247sports’s 2021 College Football Team Talent Composite, a metric that averages together each school’s players’ rating out of high school. At the end of the day, Stanford just needs to win games, and the AP Poll will take care of itself.
CZ: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee has been playing lights out. Clutch throws versus Oregon won Stanford the game. Other than McKee’s performance this season, what’s been going right for the Cardinal offense, and how do they keep the momentum going in Arizona? How will the absence of Tremayne, who leads the team in touchdowns with five, change Stanford’s game plan and/or execution?
DW: Brycen Tremayne isn’t just one of Stanford’s best players — he feels like the heart of the team. It hurts to see such an injury put his incredible story on pause for now, but Tremayne will be back. In the meantime, Stanford has plenty of towering pass-catchers to continue its signature passing attack. Sophomore John Humphreys and junior Elijah Higgins were lights out to finish the game against Oregon. Besides the receivers, it’s very encouraging that tight ends sophomore Benjamin Yurosek and junior Bradley Archer made big plays on the final drive too. Stanford’s offense sorely lacked a consistent pass-catching tight end in 2020 and Yurosek finally looks ready to assume Kaden Smith and Colby Parksinson’s mantle. With the run game much improved against Oregon too, that’s more than enough firepower to keep up with the Sun Devils.
JT: With the effectiveness of the Cardinal running game varying wildly, McKee and the wide receiver core have been fantastic so far. The loss of Tremayne hurts, especially with senior Michael Wilson still sidelined, but I do not think the game plan will change that much. Sophomore Bryce Farell is the next man up, and he was explosive against UCLA, recording 80 yards on two receptions with a touchdown.
EB: Other than McKee, the wide receivers have been a bright spot for the offense. It almost seems like whoever is thrown out on the field produces. With Tremayne now out, and Wilson still recovering from his injury, Higgins and Humphreys are more than capable of carrying the load. Farrell has also impressed, showcasing his speed as a deep threat. We will see who steps in now as the fourth guy, but there is no doubt that Stanford has the horses to stay in any race — even with the injured players it has. The run game is also closer to full strength now, with sophomore Casey Filkins and junior Austin Jones returning against the Ducks. That pair, along with junior Nathaniel Peat, can do some damage behind a functioning offensive line.
CZ: Who is a player on Arizona State’s team — offense, defense or special teams — to watch and why?
JT: Junior quarterback Jayden Daniels — Yes, the Cardinal will face yet another dual-threat quarterback. Daniels is listed at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and was No. 4 in Mel Kiper’s 2022 preseason NFL Draft rankings. In the mid-week press conference, David Shaw compared Daniels with UCLA senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson: “Jayden Daniels is probably the better pure passer of the two, but man, he can run as well, he’s athletic.” Daniels is the face of the ASU squad and stopping him is a tall task for the Stanford defense, as DTR walked out of Stanford Stadium with a win a few weeks ago.
EB: Since Jibriel took Jayden Daniels, I’ll go with running back Rachaad White. White’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season, and he also is a threat in the passing game, having recorded 23 receptions for 225 yards. The pairing of Daniels and White is a dangerous one, especially when ASU runs a read-option, so the Cardinal defense will need to be on their toes, ready to contain both the quarterback and running back.
DW: I should go with someone on defense, but I have to highlight wide receiver Ricky Pearshall, who absolutely torched the Bruins last week with 132 yards and two touchdowns on just four passes. Oregon and UCLA took control of their games against Stanford with an explosive passing play, and ASU is better than both of those teams at stretching the field. The Cardinal cannot afford to let Pearshall or any of the other Sun Devil receivers run amok. Also, shout out to grad transfer Henry Hattis ‘20, who’s starting at right guard for ASU. Here’s to hoping he didn’t take the Stanford playbook with him.
CZ: Zooming out more broadly, it feels like the Cardinal have survived their most challenging part of the season (UCLA and Oregon back-to-back). Can Stanford finish the season with only two losses? Will Notre Dame or another team (or teams) destroy the Cardinal’s postseason prospects? Is a New Year’s Six game in our future?
DW: Stanford is definitely a bowl team right now, but it’s hard to say how high that ceiling is, and I don’t want to get caught looking too far ahead. With the win over Oregon, the Cardinal have a path to the Pac-12 championship. But the team has to navigate the usual Pac-12 chaos and a few more top-tier teams to get there. Besides ASU and Notre Dame, don’t be surprised if Oregon State — currently on top of the Pac-12 North after beating Washington and replicating Stanford’s thumping of USC — sneaks into the Top 25 by the time the Cardinal head to Corvallis.
JT: Two losses as a Pac-12 team means that the College Football Playoff is out of the question for the Cardinal barring some miracle, but a Rose Bowl appearance is certainly in play. The Cardinal control their own destiny to the conference title game. Since the division standings (North and South) are determined by conference record overall, Stanford is at a disadvantage because it does not face Arizona or Colorado — games that would hypothetically yield wins. Meanwhile, Oregon faces both of these squads, while avoiding USC and Arizona State — both more challenging opponents. Thus, given how inconsistent the Cardinal have been this year, winning the Pac-12 seems unlikely at the moment. Nevertheless, no one in the division looks particularly great, but Oregon still is the favorite given its talent and remaining schedule. I’d give the Cardinal about a 20% chance of winning the division as of right now.
EB: If Stanford can get out of Tempe with a win, I think there is a very solid chance that the team does not lose again until its regular season finale against Notre Dame. That obviously would be considered a very successful season for a Cardinal team that was only projected to win four games this year. However, it does not do us any good to try to project out that far. There is a lot of football to play to determine postseason chances and the like, and injuries still remain a concern for the team. A healthy Stanford team can go 10-2 or 9-3 though in my opinion.
CZ: Can the Cardinal spoil another team’s hopes? Score predictions for Friday’s match up in Arizona?
JT: Arizona State 31, Stanford 27 — The Sun Devils top Stanford in Tempe during a short week. I think this one is close to a toss-up in a neutral site, but, given its location, I have Arizona State in a tight one. The double-digit spread, however, is borderline disrespectful given what the Cardinal did last week.
EB: Stanford 38, Arizona State 28 — I also think the double digit spread is disrespectful, and I think the Cardinal win. ASU is the current favorite for the Pac-12 South title, and they are not accustomed to being in that position, so I think they will fold under the pressure. As long as Stanford’s defense can contain another dual-threat quarterback, I think the Cardinal get the win on Friday night.
DW: Stanford 35, Arizona State 31 — After how my prediction last week went, I see no reason to start picking against the Cardinal now. This is a tough matchup, and Stanford is playing on a short week while battered with injuries. But crucial pieces of the Cardinal team were clicking against Oregon — the linebacker play, the run game and McKee’s connection with his receivers — and that should give Stanford enough momentum and confidence to pull this off.