The magic had to end sooner or later for Stanford.
In their first season without Andrew Luck, everything was going perfectly for the Cardinal. Over the first four games of their season, they jumped from a No. 21 preseason ranking to a No. 8 ranking after taking down San Jose State, Duke and USC in succession.
And then, after two weeks off, they ran out of steam and dropped a huge game to unranked Washington—and dropped all the way down to No. 18 in the polls.
Now, if the Cardinal want to maintain any hope of making it to a major bowl game in 2012, they need to right the ship at home against Arizona on Saturday, and they should be up to the task. Though the Wildcats started off the season 3-0 and even knocked off then-No. 18 Oklahoma State in Week 2, they've dropped two straight—to No. 3 Oregon and to No. 18 Oregon State.
Facing the 18th-ranked team in the nation for the third time this season, how will it end for the increasingly desperate Wildcats?
Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
When: Saturday, October 6 at 3 p.m. ET
Listen: KNBR 1050 AM in Northern California, KCUB 1290 AM in Tuscon, KFNX 1100 AM in Phoenix
Live Stream: ArizonaWildcats.com
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Stanford -12
Arizona Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- OL Trace Biskin (toe) is questionable for Saturday's game
- DE Reggie Gilbert (ankle) is questionable for Saturday's game
- TE Terrence Miller (shoulder) has missed two straight games and is questionable
- OL Lene Maiava (knee) is out for the season
- LB Rob Hankins (concussion) is out for the season
- LB Greg Nwoko (hip) is out for the season
- DL Justin Washington has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules
- OL Jack Baucus (shoulder) is out for the season
- S Adam Hall (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
Stanford Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- RB Anthony Wilkerson (leg) is day-to-day but missed last week's game
- FB Geoff Meinken (knee) is out until mid-October
- T Cole Underwood (knee) is out for the season
Before the loss to Washington, Stanford had a realistic chance of making a serious run at a top-tier bowl game. Now, it still has a chance—to some extent—but certainly not as good a chance. Even a close loss to an unranked opponent on the road is going to hurt, especially when the top four or five teams in the nation have been so indisputably strong.
That being said, there is still hope for the Cardinal. If they can win out and keep climbing up the polls, they still have a realistic shot at a very good bowl. That loss to Washington is going to hurt, but it will hurt a lot less if the Cardinal can bounce back with a home win over Arizona.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, essentially destroyed any chances they had of a decent bowl game with those two consecutive losses to ranked opponents Oregon and Oregon State. If they get a win over Stanford, though—and then proceed to beat No. 23 Washington, No. 13 USC and No. 25 UCLA—Arizona could quickly redeem its season.
What They're Saying
Perhaps those two weeks off after beating USC hurt Stanford a lot more than it expected.
But should it have been a little more prepared for the lull that often comes with a week off directly following the biggest victory of the season? Probably. Stanford was riding high after knocking off then-No. 2 USC in Week 3, and it had a whole two weeks to sit around and think about how awesome it was.
Washington was the perfect opponent to overlook. It was the perfect trap game. And the Cardinal fell right in, writes ESPN.com's Kevin Gemmell.
After the loss to Washington, Stanford head coach David Shaw told Gemmell:
The bottom line is we didn’t make the plays we needed to make on the offensive side of the ball. We didn’t keep the defense off the field like we usually do. We kept putting the defense out there too long, and every team in our conference, if you give them enough shots on offense, they’re going to hurt you.
Therefore, when it faces Arizona, Stanford has to ensure that it limits the number of chances it affords to the Wildcats. And speaking of chances, Arizona is running out of them.
According to the Tucson Citizen's Scott Terrell, the Wildcats really needed to beat Oregon State in order to hold onto their hopes of making it to a bowl game, especially in light of the 49-0 beating they took from Oregon one week earlier.
Obviously, they didn't get that win. Now, the schedule only gets tougher and tougher, and as such, this team's chances of making a bowl seem slimmer and slimmer.
The fact that the Pac-12 suddenly looks like one of the toughest conferences in football is good for the conference, no doubt—but what does it mean for a team like injury-riddled Arizona?
Terrell spells it out:
A revitalized Pac-12 with half its membership in the polls is great for the conference but bad for an undermanned team trying to hold things together with athletic tape. Lots of athletic tape.
Arizona Player to Watch
There has only been one game thus far in 2012 in which Ka'Deem Carey hasn't rushed for a touchdown, and obviously, it was in the 49-0 shutout loss to No. 3 Oregon.
Other than that slip-up of a game, though, Carey has been instrumental to this offense's success. In four of five games, he has registered more than 100 yards, and in two of five games, he has rushed for two or more touchdowns.
His highlight-reel performance of the year came in Week 2 against then-No. 18 Oklahoma State, when he registered 126 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, plus another 28 yards and a touchdown in the air.
If he could do that against a Top 25 opponent before, there's no reason to believe he can't do it again. And in order for Arizona to have a chance against this Stanford offense, he'll have to make that kind of impact.
Stanford Player to Watch
Quarterback Josh Nunes was the glue that held this team together for the first few weeks of the season. Nobody expected him to be the next Andrew Luck, and yet somehow, he was.
Until last Thursday, that is. He threw for 170 yards, zero touchdowns and a pick, and although he had a perfect opportunity to lead a comeback in the waning minutes of the game, he blew it. He marched Stanford down to the Washington 34-yard line, but threw a pick on 4th-and-4 to help the Huskies seal their win.
Given what we've seen from Nunes thus far in 2012, this was a very un-Nunes-like game. This is also the first time he will have to bounce back from a little bit of adversity, and his ability to do just that will be crucial to Stanford's success going forward.
This week presents a big test for both teams, and both of them need to pass it in order to salvage their postseason hopes.
The situation is perhaps more dire for Arizona, which truly cannot afford another loss to a ranked team if it wants to make a bowl game this year. A three-game losing streak is tough to come back from, especially if you still have three games against ranked teams coming up.
Who's your pick to win?
This is an equally critical juncture for Stanford, which will be tested as it attempts to rebound from its first loss under Nunes. This is the moment where either the season unravels for the Cardinal, or Nunes gets this team back on track against yet another team it should beat.
Things don't get any easier for Stanford from here. After Arizona, it takes on No. 9 Notre Dame, and a few weeks down the road, it ends the season with three straight games against ranked opponents. The loss to Washington should have served as a wake-up call, and the Cardinal can't afford to have another one.
Prediction: Stanford Wins
Picking Arizona is tempting. This team was on the verge of upsetting Oregon State last week, and it looked very good for the first few weeks of the season. But the Wildcats are also entering a demoralizing stretch of the season, and it's easy to see how things could continue to unravel for them—especially on the road, with all of their injuries, against yet another ranked opponent that is out for blood.