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College Hotline - Stanford football: Grading the Week

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    We’ll know more about the big-picture impact of the loss to Oregon when the playoff selection committee’s rankings are released Tuesday. But to summarize: The situation for Stanford is dire but not hopeless.

    The Cardinal must run the table, which would mean collecting a top-five win (Notre Dame) and a Power 5 conference championship, along with the 12-2 record.

    That profile could be in play for a semifinal berth if the situation breaks right, and by that I means losses elsewhere.

    Stanford needs Clemson to lose to possibly knock the ACC out of the running.

    It probably can’t afford for Iowa to win the Big Ten at 13-0 and have Ohio State sitting there as a 12-1 runner up.

    Really, it needs carnage in the Big 12.

    (Notre Dame would be out of contention by virtue of the head-to-head loss.)

    The Cardinal needs Oklahoma State to lose, because as much as the committee appears to dislike the Big 12, an undefeated Big 12 champ will get in ahead of a two-loss Pac-12 champ.

    It needs Oklahoma to lose again, because the Sooners with only one loss and wins over Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU would be formidable.

    What of Baylor? That’s a trickier issue. If the Bears run the table, they’d finish 11-1 with two high-quality wins down the stretch, but they would also have a weak schedule compared to Stanford.

    I’m inclined to think the Cardinal stands a reasonable chance if it wins out and is competing for the final berth against a one-loss Big 12 team that’s not Oklahoma.


    Then again …

    What if Stanford loses?

    If the only loss comes to Notre Dame, the Cardinal is headed to the Rose Bowl (hello, Michigan!?!?).

    If the loss comes in league play and Stanford doesn’t win the Pac-12 title, it could tumble down the bowl lineup to the Holiday or Las Vegas.

    Result: Lost to Oregon 38-36

    Grade: C-

    Comment: The defense gave up too many big plays, and the offense made too many mistakes. Not a bad performance, but an uneven one — not good enough against a talented team rounding into form.

    Speaking of …

    I walked away wondering if the teams are headed in opposite directions: Stanford peaked in mid-October, while Oregon is peaking in mid-November.

    It’s too early to know but something to watch.

    *** Stanford is a hair closer to being 7-3 (losing to Washington State) than it is to being 9-1 (beating Oregon).

    On one hand, it was somewhat remarkable that the Cardinal nearly forced OT on Saturday after fumbling twice in Oregon territory in the fourth quarter.

    On the other, it was in position to force overtime only because of a terrible PI call by the officials — the second major error to work in Stanford’s favor in the past three games (Christian McCaffrey’s fumble at WSU being the other).

    *** The fumbled snaps remain something of a mystery because quarterback Kevin Hogan was not available for interviews after the game, and David Shaw couldn’t offer specifics without seeing the film.

    The first exchange was with Graham Shuler, the second with Johnny Caspers (it looked like the ball never got to Hogan).

    Stanford had what it wanted for the two-point conversion play: Austin Hooper with a smaller defender and an open lane for the ball, but Hogan had to deliver a beat too early because of the blitz.

    Oregon smartly sent linebacker Tyson Coleman off the right edge of Stanford’s line to disrupt timing, and he was unblocked.

    *** Larger point: It appears opponents have decoded the Hogan-to-Hooper connection.

    Hooper was the No. 1 option, especially on third down and in the red zone, from the USC game through late October. But he caught just one pass at WSU and had only four on Saturday.

    Not surprisingly, the Cardinal struggled in Pullman and only scored TDs on 50 percent of its RZ trips against the Ducks. (It was not a game for field goals.)

    Hard to envision Stanford winning out if Hooper is kept quiet. The Ducks were fine with Michael Rector catching eight passes; they weren’t going to let Hooper beat them.

    *** On the defense: As noted in previous weeks, the Cardinal was extraordinarily fortunate in that its rebuilt defense faced a series of rookie and backup quarterbacks in the first seven games.

    We’ve seen once early and twice lately that the unit is hardly dominant when facing QBs who know what they’re doing:

    USC and Cody Kessler gained 427 yards; WSU rolled up 442 yards with Luke Falk at the controls; and the Ducks ripped off 436 behind Vernon Adams.

    The 435 yard average by the Trojans, Cougars and Ducks is almost 100 more than Stanford is allowing per game for the season.

    The points allowed in those three, 32.3, is 10 more than Stanford’s average.

    That’s not to say the Cardinal defense is soft, but nor is it close to dominant. It’s solid. The opposition matters.

    *** The stats from Saturday night would lead you to conclude Stanford won handily:

    Third down conversions: 12 of 17
    Possession: 42 minutes
    Yards: 506
    Points: 36

    But factor in the turnovers and the field goals and the big plays by the Ducks, and it’s not quite enough.

    Next up: vs. Cal

    The matchup: Not as favorable as it was in 2012-14.

    Stanford not only had a sizable edge in talent during that three-year stretch, it also had matchup advantages: Its strengths were Cal’s weaknesses.

    That’s not the case this year, at least not to the same degree.

    The Bears are better on the lines of scrimmage, especially the defensive line, which held up against the power running games of Utah and USC.

    *** I’ll have more on the 118th Big Game during the week, but let’s frame it in this manner:

    Stanford’s C-game was more than good enough last year, and the year before. It’s not good enough this year.

    If the Cardinal misfires on offense, as it did against Oregon … if it gives up big plays on defense, as it did against Oregon … or if it doesn’t play with a sense of urgency because of an Oregon hangover, it could lose.

    *** Stanford is favored by 12.5 points.

    Feels like a bit much.

    xxxxxxx

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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