The Stanford Cardinal have more than earned a trip to the BCS national title game this year.
For the second year in a row, David Shaw's team shut down an explosive Oregon offense in impressive fashion with a 26-20 win. It may also mark the second time the Cardinal are robbed of a chance to compete for college football's most prestigious prize.
No. 5 Stanford beats No. 3 Oregon 26-20. Cardinal RB Tyler Gaffney had 45 carries, 157 yards, & 1 TD.— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 8, 2013
The Cardinal entered Stanford Stadium against the nation's No. 2 offense, which had previously averaged over 55 points per game behind the arm of Heisman contender Marcus Mariota, who had accounted for over 2,500 total yards and 31 touchdowns.
Just like last season's 17-14 win, Stanford stifled the Oregon attack through physical, fundamental football.
On offense, the Cardinal converted eight of 10 third-down attempts in the first half to ultimately blow away the time-of-possession battle, as they controlled the clock for over 42 minutes in total. As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee points out, Oregon needed to do better in that regard:
Oregon doesn't care about time of possession. It should have tonight. Stanford: 45:30 Oregon: 14:30— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 8, 2013
Stanford also physically imposed its will on defense, and when the team brought five or more pass-rushers, Mariota was held in check on 4-of-10 passing. When Stanford went into prevent mode and didn't blitz late, Mariota completed 75 percent of his attempts and threw two scores.
The result was the Ducks offense being shut out in the first half for the first time since 2009, a total 3-of-10 tally on third down, 10 penalties for 81 yards and just 250 passing yards for Mariota.
Best of all, senior back Tyler Gaffney had quite a day as the Cardinal offense bullied its way to the major win:
In the win, Tyler Gaffney finished with 45 carries, broke Tommy Vardell's team record for most rushing attempts in a single game. #UOvsSTAN— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 8, 2013
So yes, the Cardinal have managed to redeem themselves for an ugly loss to unranked Utah in mid-October in which Stanford lost the time-of-possession battle in a physical outing and allowed 410 yards of total offense on the road.
While it was one of the ugliest losses possible, it came early enough in the season that Shaw's team has been able to claw its way back into the title hunt, especially after an exclamation point against Oregon.
It would have been nice if the Cardinal had prevented 20 fourth-quarter points and won in dominant 26-0 fashion, as the pollsters and computers would have been more impressed, but a win over the No. 3 team is a win over the No. 3 team.
Now, the only things standing in the way of Stanford's trip to the championship are Alabama and Florida State, but as Trey Crittenden smartly illustrates on Twitter, anything is possible in what is always a wacky November:
In keeping with November tradition, Oregon loses again to Stanford. Alabama has lost in November at least once the last 3 years. Just sayin.— Trey Crittenden (@CrittendenAU) November 8, 2013
Ohio State and Baylor may also stand in the way depending on how things shake out in the polls, but Ohio State must deal with a potential Big Ten Championship against an elite Michigan State defense as its first true test, while Baylor has two ranked opponents remaining and dates with TCU and Texas in Big 12 play.
Alabama must still move past No. 13 LSU and No. 9 Auburn, while Florida State at the very least has a trap game against Florida to close out the season and, as good as he's been, a freshman quarterback in Jameis Winston.
Does Stanford deserve a spot in the title game?
Stanford does still have a matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame, but this is a 7-2 Fighting Irish team, not the one that pulled off a shocking upset over the Cardinal in overtime last season.
Unlike any of the teams standing in the way outside of Tallahassee and Birmingham, Stanford doesn't rely on tricky tactics. It's reliable, traditional and old-school football through and through.
That showed in dominant fashion Thursday, and the consistent Cardinal have more than earned a shot at a title. All that remains is for Gaffney and Co. to keep their fingers crossed that names above them falter in the coming weeks.