Are there teams out there that are better than Stanford? Probably. That’s why I’m not necessarily calling for the Cardinal to win the national title. Depends who’s on the other side of the field. I think, facing an Alabama or an Oklahoma, Stanford would have an uphill battle in the BCS National Championship.
But do I think Stanford will make the national title game? Absolutely. Why? If it’s location, location, location in real estate, in college football, it’s the schedule, the schedule, the schedule. Here goes:
1. It’s easy. You don’t have to be the best team in the land – you just have to be better than everyone you play. Oregon is No. 3, Notre Dame is No. 16 and USC is No. 25. And that’s it for top-25 opponents.
You know how Boise State gets called to the rug for a ridiculously easy schedule every year? Well, don’t look now, but the Broncos have as many games against preseason top-20 opponents (at Georgia, vs. TCU) as Stanford does.
2. The tough ones are at home. While Boise State travels to Georgia, Stanford’s within a whisker of not having to visit a single top-25 team. The one exception, USC, has served a second home to the Palo Alto boys in recent years. (Stanford is 4-2 in their last six at the Coliseum. Last trip, the Card gave USC its worst home loss since 1966, 55-21.)
Fans, us included, don’t think of Stanford Stadium in the same class as Death Valley or the Swamp or the Horseshoe or the Big House, but one could argue the signature of the Harbaugh era should be just how well Cardinal played at home. Stanford has won its last seven in the friendly confines, and lost just twice in the last three years at Stanford Stadium. (Florida, by contrast, lost three times in the Swamp last year alone.) The conference title game, of course, would be at home too should Stanford start its season 12-0.
Or, think of it like this. Stanford has five road games this year, but two are Duke and Washington State. We’re not losing to those guys. So get through Oregon State, USC and Arizona, the only bowl team Stanford visits, and all the Cardinal have to do is hold serve at home, where they’re 17-2 in their last 19.
3. The schedule is backloaded. The timing matters because much of Stanford’s top talent is young, with recent incoming recruiting classes more stacked than outgoing classes. James Vaughters, David Yankey, Cameron Flemming, Ty Montgomery and Wayne Lyons undoubtedly have NFL talent, and are each some of, if not the, the most talented players on the roster at their respective positions. They are all freshmen or true freshmen though, and so another two-plus months to adjust before the season starts in earnest (at USC, Oct. 29) should help them tons. The same principle applies to the first-year starters on both lines, positions thought to take the longest time to gel.
4. There’s a synergy effect here, with the tough games both at home and late in the season. With their backloaded schedule, Stanford could easily start 9-0, which will give them a top-three ranking, conservatively. Stanford Stadium will be packed and rocking, with a top-three team, national TV audiences, and quite possibly a College Gameday visit during the closing stretch of Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. That’s going to add up to a huge home-field edge.
5. Let’s not oversell it: the Pac-10 isn’t the WAC, and we’re not going to back our way into the national title game. Stanford will have a mighty tough game in Oregon, and probably one more against whichever team on the schedule manages to exceed expectations and string together a 10-win season. (Notre Dame, maybe? Then again, I’ve been told every August since ’93 that this is Notre Dame’s year.) Still, the schedule reminds me of Oklahoma or Texas’ most years -- 10 clearly overmatched opponents, one kinda toughie, and then the Red River shootout (or, I suppose, the Phil Knight shootout.)
Stanford doesn’t have the track record of OU or Texas, but if we’re as good as we think, it could be a one-game season. I see us as touchdown-plus favorites in at least 10 games if we keep winning, with USC and Oregon the likely exceptions. Plus, with Oregon at home, the Cardinal could be favored in all 12.
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