No. 7 Stanford closes regular season vs Oregon St.
When Sione Fua first arrived at Stanford, he spent this time of year just waiting for the season to end.
Enduring a 1-11 season on a campus full of sports teams competing for championships just added to the frustration. As he prepares four years later for his final home game, the football team is as dominant as many of the school's other sports - a remarkable turnaround.
''It was definitely the hardest thing,'' said Fua, who was a freshman defensive lineman in 2006. ''All the work you put in, all the time, all the hours, all the meetings. It's a long season when you only have one win. You don't really have that desire to play anymore. You just come in and look at the clock the whole time and can't wait for the practice to be over.''
Instead of playing out the string, No. 7 Stanford (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) has plenty on the line going into its regular season finale on Saturday against Oregon State (5-5, 4-3). The Cardinal likely need a win to keep alive their hopes to make it to the Rose Bowl or another BCS game.
Few outside of Stanford would have predicted such a turnaround. But coach Jim Harbaugh came in after that season talking about Rose Bowls and national titles and the players quickly bought in to what he was selling.
''The more you play, the more you know it's possible,'' said cornerback Richard Sherman, who was also a freshman in 2006. ''Coach Harbaugh came in here and changed the mindset of all the players and coaches and general public and people started believing you can win these games regardless of recruiting or things people believed held Stanford back in the past. He overlooked that and said it was an excuse and forced people to start believe we could win.''
The progress has been steady ever since. The Cardinal won four games the following year, including the memorable upset at No. 2 Southern California and a home win over California in the Big Game.
Stanford won five games in 2008, falling just short of making it to a bowl, but finally broke through last season. Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal won eight games and made it to the Sun Bowl for the school's first bowl bid since 2001.
With Gerhart gone, some expected the Cardinal to take a step back this season. But led by quarterback Andrew Luck, Stanford has put together one of the best seasons in school history.
The Cardinal can set a school record for wins on Saturday and stay in position for a possible BCS bid.
''You always hope for this,'' Sherman said. ''To be in the position we're in now is an amazing position but it's nothing unless we win this upcoming game. If we go 10-2 and go to a bowl game it's really kind of Mr. Irrelevant. You want to enjoy it, but you can't enjoy it until it's over.''
This game has big meaning for the Beavers, who are hoping to become bowl eligible for a school-record fifth straight season.
A home loss two weeks ago to Pac-10 doormat Washington State appeared to end those chances, but Oregon State responded with a 36-7 victory over USC last week and now needs to beat either Stanford or No. 1 Oregon in the regular season finale at home next week to make it back to a bowl.
''We're coming off a nice win where we played better football, and hopefully we can build on that and play our best game,'' coach Mike Riley said. ''That's what it's going to take.''
Stanford has handily avenged losses already this season against Wake Forest, Arizona and California - outscoring those three teams 118-45 a year after losing to them. The last team left on the schedule that beat the Cardinal a year ago is the Beavers.
Oregon State jumped out to a 31-7 halftime lead that game before holding on for a 38-28 victory that handed Stanford its first conference loss. The memories from that defeat are still fresh.
''Them just whipping our butt every which way it could be whipped I guess,'' Luck said when asked about memories from the game. ''They really took it to us up in Corvallis.''
The toughest task will be controlling Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran for 189 yards and four touchdowns against the Cardinal a year ago.
The 5-foot-7 back presents all sorts of challenges as he is difficult to spot behind the offensive line, has the strength and low center of gravity to break through tackles and the speed to break a play open.
''Stopping him is going to take the whole defense, 11 guys swarming to the ball every play,'' Fua said. ''He can take any play and reverse it all the way outside and with his speed and athleticism make people miss and turn any play into a touchdown play. The key to stopping Oregon State is stopping Jacquizz.''