No. 4 Stanford's Pac-12, BCS title hopes rekindled

BY foxsports • November 20, 2011

Andrew Luck heard the upsets around the nation announced on the Stanford Stadium loudspeakers, each time followed by cheers because a team ahead of the Cardinal in the rankings had lost.

Oregon. Oklahoma State. Oklahoma. Clemson.

All went down.

''I hate hearing that stuff during games,'' Luck said. ''I don't think it has any bearing. I think the younger guys could get trapped into thinking in the incorrect manner. When I think about it, I just wouldn't want to hear it.''

Good luck ignoring the reshaped college football landscape.

After surviving a rain-soaked Big Game with a 31-28 victory over rival California, suddenly Stanford has a shot at a couple titles again. Luck and the Cardinal (10-1, 8-1) moved up four spots to No. 4 in the new AP poll Sunday, reigniting hopes for a Pac-12 title or even a national championship.

Stanford hosts No. 22 Notre Dame (8-3) in the regular-season finale Saturday. The Cardinal can only reach the league title game if Oregon loses at home to rival Oregon State. But even without a Pac-12 title, a chance to play for the BCS championship is still out there for Stanford.

Don't think the Cardinal haven't noticed.

''All we talked about is there's a lot of crazy stuff going on in college football,'' Cardinal coach David Shaw said. ''All we can do is go out and play our game and win on our field. That's all we can control is what happens on our field.''

In the span of about 24 hours, the Cardinal's title chase has been rekindled.

Stanford had its 17-game winning streak - at the time the longest in the nation - snapped the previous Saturday in a 53-30 loss to Oregon that seemed to dash its national championship dreams. With formerly No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 7 Clemson all falling this week, the Cardinal's chances might not seem so far-fetched anymore.

The Fighting Irish will visit The Farm on Saturday in what could be Stanford's last chance to show its worth to a national audience. A win, however, will still likely not be enough.

The Cardinal will probably need Alabama to lose to Auburn and Oklahoma State to drop its home finale against Oklahoma - both very possible - to have a real shot at a BCS title berth. Or if Oregon loses and Stanford can win the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal could have an argument that a league champion might trump a program that didn't even win its own division in the SEC West.

At the very least, the Ducks' stampede past Stanford is a distant memory.

''The best medicine, I guess, is football,'' Luck said. ''When you've lost a game, it was great to get out against a great opponent in a rivalry game and win again.''

Stanford could get a big boost if tight end Zach Ertz returns against Notre Dame after missing the last three games with a right knee injury. He has been upgraded from ''doubtful'' to ''questionable,'' Shaw said, while wide receiver Chris Owusu is still unlikely to play for the third straight game while he recovers from a series of concussions.

What Stanford needs to avoid is another shaky start.

Luck threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns against the Golden Bears to keep The Axe at Stanford for the second straight season. He completed 20 of 30 passes with one interception - coming when wide receiver Ty Montgomery slipped - and again took time to show the poise and polish of a player projected to be the NFL draft's No. 1 pick.

But unlike a week earlier against the Ducks, Luck and Stanford never crumbled under pressure. The Cardinal scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the third quarter to take a 28-13 lead and held off Cal's late push.

''I think we were looser as a team,'' defensive end Ben Gardner said. ''The nature of last week's game, the national implications. Now we're playing like a team with nothing to lose, because we don't. We're a team fighting for a BCS bowl.''

Maybe even more.

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Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP


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