Stanford's real season begins vs. Washington
Six down, six to go.
Only seems like so much more.
While Andrew Luck and seventh-ranked Stanford are perfect at the season's midpoint, how far they go this year will be determined in the second half. The Cardinal are finally about to get tested by a ranked opponent, starting Saturday at home against No. 22 Washington.
In many ways, the real season starts now.
''Yeah, I can say that,'' safety Michael Thomas said. ''We took care of the things we needed to take care of to be where we want to be. We haven't played our best ball yet, but we're definitely in position where we want to be, where we can control our destiny within the Pac-12 Conference.''
Stanford coach David Shaw expects top wide receiver and kick returner Chris Owusu to be cleared to play against the Huskies after suffering a mild concussion at Washington State last weekend, although he has plenty of other concerns. The Cardinal (6-0, 4-0) haven't been in a close game late this season, and Washington (5-1, 3-0) figures to be the first opponent to put pressure on the program with everything at stake in the league's north division.
The Cardinal have outscored opponents 275-67 so far this season, and most games were never close. Stanford has had a few slow starts, including last weekend in Pullman when it held a slim 10-7 halftime lead over the Cougars, only to cruise to a 44-14 victory.
Other than that, there has hardly been a hiccup on The Farm.
''As far as style of play, I would say that we are close, but we are not where we want to be,'' Shaw said. ''We would love to say we have played our best football. But we've played it in spurts - a quarter here, a half here. We haven't done it for 60 minutes. That's sort of been our rallying cry for the last few weeks, and now we're putting a sense of urgency on it. We're going to need 60 minutes.''
While Stanford rolled to a 41-0 win last year in Seattle, the Huskies have been a different team from the one Luck pounded in the Pacific Northwest. Washington is back in the AP Top 25 for the first time in two seasons and is off to the best start in a decade behind sophomore quarterback Keith Price, who is tied with Boise State's Kellen Moore for second in the country with 21 touchdown passes. Baylor's Robert Griffin III leads the country with 22 TDs passing.
Both Stanford and Washington still have home dates with No. 9 Oregon in early November that will determine the north's participant in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game. So the loser at Stanford Stadium on Saturday will need some help to get back in the race, easily making this the biggest matchup so far for each team.
''We've won all our games, so you can't complain about that,'' said Luck, who has thrown for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. ''We've obviously made some mistakes, that's the nature of the game. But I don't think guys are satisfied at this point by any means.''
Stanford also has some catching up to do.
The Cardinal debuted at No. 8 in the BCS standings released this week. Of course, that is in large part a product of a relatively soft early schedule.
Stanford will have its chance to make an argument.
Matchups against Southern California, Oregon and Notre Dame loom, and at least two - if not all three - will likely be ranked by the time those games roll around. The Cardinal also play at Oregon State and host the Big Game this year against struggling Bay Area rival California.
Although Stanford has had tough moments in the season's first half, there have been few surprises in the outcome. With the schedule flipping over to the first of several major opponents, the Cardinal's chance to climb in the polls is only just beginning.
''We expected to be undefeated,'' tight end Zach Ertz said. ''We're excited for the opportunity now.''
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