BCS Standings 2011: Mapping out Stanford Cardinal's Path to the National Title
Palo Alto must have a lot of astronomy majors these days, because the stars are starting to align for the Stanford Cardinal to sneak into the BCS championship game. The Cardinal are still undefeated and currently sixth in the BCS rankings.
They’ll need some specific things to happen if they want to end up in the title game (they must go undefeated, for starters). But it may be easier for Stanford to realize their dreams than they think.
Here’s how and why they can maneuver their way into the BCS National Championship Game.
They're Built to Beat the Spread
The Pac-12 is a conference where many teams implement a spread offense, led by Oregon’s famous Quack Attack (that's what I like to call it), along with the likes of Cal and Arizona State, among others. With so many spread attacks to deal with, several Pac-12 defenses have tried combating this with smaller, more finesse defenses.
This is where Stanford has found a loophole. With a big, burly offensive line and physical running backs and tight ends, Stanford has the perfect offense to counter the many smaller defenses they’re facing in conference play.
Stanford’s effective power running game (they racked up over 400 yards on the ground against Washington) allows them the ability to wear down their opponents on a weekly basis. It’s a formula they’ve used successfully before, and this year, they just may ground and pound their way to a BCS title game appearance.
They Avoid the Upset Bug
Stanford’s undefeated so far, but they still have some tough tests remaining on their schedule. It starts this weekend, as the Cardinal travel to Southern Cal for a big primetime matchup with the Trojans on Saturday night.
While many people will focus on the star-studded matchup of the game’s two best NFL-ready quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley, this game very well could be decided on the ground. Stanford’s last game saw them grind up Washington to the tune of a staggering 446 rushing yards.
They may have their hands full against the Trojans, however, as Southern Cal outrushed Notre Dame by a 219-41 margin on the ground in their victory. Even if Stanford does get past underdog USC, they’ll have to remain focused in order to avoid getting upset by opponents like Oregon State and the aforementioned Notre Dame, who could be capable of shocking Stanford.
They Beat Oregon
If the Cardinal get past Southern Cal, the last team possibly standing between them and a BCS title game appearance is Oregon. It’s a matchup that Pac-12 fans have been salivating over for weeks, and they likely won’t be disappointed by it.
The only ones disappointed by it could be Duck fans. I know we’re still a few weeks away from this showdown, but if I had to choose a winner right now, I’d pick Stanford for a few reasons.
They Beat Oregon (continued)
While Autzen Stadium can be an intimidating stadium to play in, Andrew Luck and company won’t have to worry about that, as they get the Ducks as home this year. Also, Oregon struggled to contain LSU’s power running game in its 40-27 defeat to the Tigers on opening weekend. I envision a similar result when the Ducks are forced to deal with the physicality of Stanford’s rushing attack.
Finally, Oregon could be at a disadvantage if LaMichael James and Darron Thomas don’t return entirely healthy for this game. While their replacements—Kenjon Barner and Bryan Bennett, respectively—have filled in nicely they may be hard-pressed to sustain their success against Stanford.
When you combine these factors, it has the potential to add up to a critical win for Stanford on its road to a national championship.
They're More Than a One-Man Show
Anyone looking for a reason to discredit what Stanford has done this season has tried arguing that outside of stud quarterback Andrew Luck, they’re not a very formidable team. Slowly but surely, the Cardinal are proving those prognosticators wrong.
No more was that the case than against Washington. In a 65-21 romp over a ranked Huskies team, Stanford pounded Washington for an incredible 446 rushing yards.
In essence, Luck could’ve missed the entire game, and Stanford still would’ve easily triumphed; that’s how effective their running game was. The Cardinal are led on the ground by the punishing duo of Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, while through the air, Luck has two very reliable receiving targets in Chris Owusu and Griff Whalen.
It must be nice for Stanford head coach David Shaw to know that if and when Luck ever struggles, he can turn to his bruising running game to guide them to victory.
They Have Andrew Luck
I do say if and when Andrew Luck struggles, but it’s looking more and more like that’s a very big if. Luck entered the 2011 season as the projected top pick in next year’s NFL draft and the Heisman Trophy front-runner, and he’s done nothing to change his standing in either regard.
So far this season, Luck has thrown for almost 1,900 yards, 20 touchdown and only three interceptions through the first seven games, all easy Stanford victories. Teams facing Stanford’s offense face quite the dilemma.
If they focus on trying to contain Luck, he can adjust by leaning on a ground game that’s really starting to find its groove. And if they put eight defenders in the box to try and neutralize the ground game, Luck has no problem going over the top of almost any defense.
Stanford’s offensive balance makes them a tough nut to crack, and by the time defenses finally do, it’s usually too late.
Either LSU or Alabama Will Be Eliminated
Many people are labeling the epic Nov. 5 showdown between top-ranked LSU and second-ranked Alabama the de facto national title game. While that’s up for debate, there’s no debating that the loser of that game will be eliminated from the national title picture, giving Stanford one less team to hurdle in the BCS standings.
While some have argued that the Tigers and Crimson Tide could have a rematch in the national title game, I don’t see that coming to fruition for two reasons.
Either LSU or Alabama Will Be Eliminated (continued)
First, the loser of the original meeting will have to make the championship game, despite not having even won its own conference title. That’s never happened in the BCS era, and I don’t see it happening this year. Second, the scenario just mentioned was possible in recent seasons when the SEC was far and away the nation’s premier conference.
You can’t declare that this year. There are plenty of God-awful teams in the SEC this year, from Florida and Tennessee, to the Mississippi teams and Vanderbilt. Therefore, the loser of LSU-‘Bama will be one less speed bump standing in Stanford’s road to the BCS title game.
Oklahoma State Loses
Before this past weekend transpired, I was certain we were heading towards a Bedlam meeting featuring two undefeated teams in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Then, Texas Tech shocked the college football world by ending the Sooners’ 39-game home winning streak with an improbable 41-38 victory. Oklahoma State better hope they avoid the same fate.
The Cowboys still have to make a trip to Lubbock that suddenly won’t be as easy as originally anticipated, especially after the Red Raiders’ upset win. And before that, they may have their hands full dealing with a potentially undefeated Kansas State team and the Baylor Bears, led by the electrifying Robert Griffin III.
To cap it all off, State will face Oklahoma on Dec. 3, and it’s likely to be a Sooner team with little to lose, considering they’re now out of the national title picture. If I’m a Stanford fan, I’m feeling confident that one of these tough aforementioned opponents can step up and knock off Oklahoma State.
Another team Stanford will be duking it out with for a potential spot in the BCS title game is Clemson. Given the shaky way the Tigers have been playing defense recently, Clemson’s national championship dreams may be dashed real soon.
They’ve surrendered a combined 83 points in their last two games. Luckily for them, quarterback Tajh Boyd has been there to bail them out with his incredible playmaking ability. But what happens if someone comes along and slows down Clemson’s potent offense? Will head coach Dabo Swinney’s defense shake off two straight weeks of questionable play?
The Tigers defense could have a tough time stopping Georgia Tech’s triple option attack or South Carolina if new quarterback Connor Shaw can find a groove. If their defense can’t get on track, a loss may be coming soon, leaving one less contender standing in Stanford’s way.
Boise State Is Snubbed
Two things are likely to happen to the Boise State Broncos in their own chase for a national title this year. They’re either going to lose a game (like last year against Nevada), or they’re going to go unbeaten and be denied a seat at the grown-ups' table.
Given how Boise’s remaining schedule is not very intimidating (although TCU could be pose a challenge) it’s likely that the latter is destined to happen. That means yet another national title contender will be eliminated. That’s good news for Stanford fans, should their team run the table.
Boise State Is Snubbed (continued)
If the Broncos end the regular season unbeaten, I don’t know if they have a case over other unbeaten teams from more prestigious conferences regarding the national title picture. The Mountain West simply can’t hold a candle to the likes of the “power” conferences when it comes to stiff competition.
Outside of Georgia and TCU (both with two losses), the Broncos won’t play anyone that’s considered an elite team. So even if their record is unblemished, they’ll probably be denied a BCS title game spot due to their weak schedule. That’s good news for Stanford, as they’ll get the benefit of the doubt for playing in a tougher conference in the Pac-12.