Stanford-Oregon St. Preview
The Beavers' longest winning streak in nearly 13 years should do it.
The No. 8 Cardinal face another tough test Saturday night when they try to beat surging Oregon State for a fourth straight meeting.
Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) is the highest ranked one-loss team in both the AP Poll and the BCS, appearing at No. 6 in this season's first installment.
"Nothing ever surprises me on that stuff," coach David Shaw said. "I don't know what to say about it. It's so early. I wish they'd come out with one (poll) at the end of the season and say who's playing. We know what it's for. It's for the TV shows, it's for the rankings, it's for the conversation, it's for everybody that doesn't play or coach football."
Oregon State (6-1, 4-0), though, may not share that sentiment after coming 38 votes shy of being ranked this week. A win over the Cardinal would surely be enough to get the Beavers back among the elite for the first time since appearing at No. 25 in the preseason poll.
The Beavers fell out of the rankings following a season-opening 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, but rebounded by winning six straight. They haven't put together a seven-game streak since ending the 2000 season with a win over No. 10 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Matching that run would likely mean another big performance from their high-powered offense, led by quarterback Sean Mannion.
Mannion leads the nation with 2,992 passing yards and is second with 29 touchdowns while tossing just three interceptions. He was 35 of 45 for 481 yards with four scores in last weekend's 49-17 win over California.
His favorite target is Brandin Cooks, who leads the country with 76 catches and 1,176 yards to go with 12 touchdowns. The wide receiver is also a serious threat running the ball, gaining 116 yards on 18 carries while adding two more touchdowns.
Mannion and Cooks, though, will be challenged by a Stanford defense that limits opponents to average of 247.1 yards through the air.
The unit came up big last Saturday, holding then-No. 9 UCLA to 266 yards of offense - 192 passing - en route to a 24-10 victory, a week after falling 27-21 at Utah.
The Cardinal defense has been thriving despite the continued absence of defensive end Henry Anderson (knee), who is expected to miss a sixth straight game before potentially returning next week against second-ranked Oregon.
Even without Anderson, Stanford has collected 15 sacks and held opponents to an average of 98.0 rushing yards over the past five games.
Shaw is confident in the Cardinal's depth.
"That's always been the goal in recruiting is to recruit smart, tough players and to recruit enough of them so if somebody gets hurts we can still play our style of football," Shaw said.
It would have been easier for Shaw's team to continue its style if wide receiver Devon Cajuste could go Saturday, but he'll sit out after suffering a bruised right knee when his leg bent awkwardly on a tackle against UCLA.
"I was right there when it happened and just heard the pain when he grabbed his knee. That's tough to watch when Devon's not just a teammate but a friend," fellow receiver Jordan Pratt said. "I kind of had to tell myself, 'All right, can't think about it. You've got to go out and you've got a job to do.'"
His job will be to start against the Beavers, but his only catch on the season was a 13-yarder last weekend. Kodi Whitfield and Michael Rector also will play more as reserves.
Cajuste won't be the only starter sidelined in Corvallis. Kicker Jordan Williamson will miss his second straight game with a leg injury. Freshman Conrad Ukropina went 1 for 2 in his place against the Bruins, connecting for a 31-yarder and missing a 46-yard attempt.
Stanford pulled out a 27-23 victory at home on Nov. 10, 2012, its third consecutive win against Oregon State.