Stanford and Notre Dame renew their rivalry when the two meet on Saturday night.
Heading into the game, the 9-2 Cardinal are opening up as heavy favorites against the 8-3 Fighting Irish. According to Vegas Insider, they favored by -14.
It's not difficult to see why they get the edge, either.
Stanford is the eighth-ranked team in the country, having beaten Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State. Its two losses have come on the road by a combined nine points. Notre Dame does have wins against the Sun Devils and Michigan State, but it has also lost to Michigan and Pittsburgh.
Regardless, it should still be an interesting game, with plenty of compelling storylines to follow throughout the action.
Which Tommy Rees Will Show up?
In Notre Dame's three losses, Tommy Rees has completed less than half of his passes and thrown six touchdowns to seven interceptions. In the Fighting Irish's eight wins, he's hitting 57.1 percent of his passes and has a TD-INT ratio of 19-4.
Suffice it to say that Rees' performance will have a large bearing on how this game unfolds. He can't win the game single-handedly, but he can lose it by throwing picks that kill Notre Dame's offensive momentum and give the Cardinal great field position.
Stanford is giving up 259 yards a game and ranks 53rd in passing efficiency defense. In addition, the Cardinal have intercepted 10 passes in their 11 games, good enough for only 68th.
Rees should have some success Saturday, which would be a boost for Notre Dame.
Will Stanford Dig Itself into an Early Hole?
In the loss to Utah, Stanford found itself down 21-14 at half, a lead which grew to 24-14 in the third quarter and then 27-14 in the fourth. The Cardinal made a late push, but it wasn't enough to undo all the bad things they had done earlier in the game.
It was a similar story in the upset at the hands of USC. The Trojans got a 17-7 lead in the second quarter and were able to keep the Cardinal at bay long enough to allow Andre Heidari to kick what would be the game-winning field goal with 19 seconds to go.
The longer Stanford takes to get into the game, the more it leaves itself open to the upset.
It's no coincidence that in the wins over Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA, the Cardinal got up early and were able to control the game in the second half.
Can the Cardinal Strike that Offensive Balance?
Stanford is at its best when it can run and pass the ball with equal success. The runs up the middle help to suck in the defense and make it vulnerable to the big play over the top. That, in turn, causes the secondary to back up, and it opens holes for the running back and allows short throws over the middle.
In their nine wins, the Cardinal are averaging 209.8 yards on the ground and 202.8 yards through the air. When Stanford has lost, those averages swing ever so slightly toward the passing game, at 176.5 and 186.5, respectively.
As long as neither Kevin Hogan nor Tyler Gaffney are tasked with shouldering the load alone offensively, the Cardinal should be able to stave off any upset bid.
Note: All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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