David Shaw's football team kicks the fun off with Stanford's
inaugural appearance in the Pac-12 title game at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The Cardinal's No. 2 women's volleyball team will then begin
its NCAA Tournament quest versus Jackson State at 8 o'clock -- before the gridiron gang is even through with UCLA next door.
Meanwhile, the top-ranked Stanford's women's soccer team will be
kicking off its College Cup Final Four match against powerhouse
North Carolina in San Diego.
Tara VanDerveer's top-ranked women's basketball squad also gets in
on the action, though their Friday 7:00 p.m. PT game at UC Davis
will be relegated to fourth place on the Stanford importance list at
the time. That's because, at 8 p.m. on Friday, Stanford football, volleyball, and
soccer will all simultaneously be playing championship elimination
A Clear-Cut Objective
In contrast to the past two seasons, Stanford enters its last game before a bowl with cut-and-dry postseason options. A win sends the Farm Boys on a return trip to Pasadena
for the January 1 Rose Bowl. A loss means a flight to San Antonio
for the December 29 Alamo Bowl.
"It's good to control our own destiny," Chase Thomas said. "In
previous years, we didn't know if we were going to get an at-large
[BCS] bid or end up in El Paso again."
Speaking of El Paso, the Sun Bowl is a possible destination for
once-mighty USC, which stumbled to a 7-5 record after being upended
by Stanford in week three.
Obviously, the Cardinal are again favored at home this week after pounding the very
same UCLA team 35-17 on the road Saturday. This means that the
Farm Boys will almost certainly also be favored in their bowl game,
whether it be against Nebraska or Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl
or an equal to lesser opponent in the Alamo Bowl. If the Farm Boys do
indeed punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl Friday, they'll be in
position to match the 2010 Orange Bowl team's program-record 12 wins
and finish as one of the top five teams in the country.
Of course, no top-five finish would be complete without watching Stanford's preseason
doubters eat a healthy load of crow. Many predicted the Cardinal
would win only seven games, while some picked Shaw's squad to play
"It was the same thing when Toby left, the same thing when Harbaugh
left, the same thing when Andrew left," Thomas said. "People out
there just don't get it."
Stanford's stalwart outside linebacker, named
First Team Pac-12 on Monday, took particular joy in the fact that his
team's success has given him one more career home game via this
Friday's championship bout. Even Shaw, after all, admitted to thinking the Cardinal seniors wouldn't be back in Stanford Stadium
"I'm going to have to change the date of the Last Walk T-shirt,"
Thomas smiled. "Tape it over or something."
Record and Statistics Watch
Following his 142-yard effort against UCLA, Stepfan Taylor finds
himself 35 yards short of Darrin Nelson's all-time Stanford rushing
record of 4,169 yards. Interestingly, at
UCLA, No. 33 surpassed Nelson's mark of 4,033, which had stood in the Stanford record books for years. However, last week Stanford announced that they were now
counting Nelson's bowl-game yardage, so Taylor's
number to break jumped by 36 yards entering the battle with the
Bruins. Now, at long last, the senior is potentially one rush away
from school history, and he'll likely break the mark at home.
Meanwhile, Stanford's front seven shattered the school sack record
(48) previously held by the 1999 Rose Bowl team. Following seven
more quarterback takedowns, the Cardinal have established a lofty
new mark of 53 with two games remaining. Fittingly,
defensive end Ben Gardner, who wears No. 49, posted the record-breaking
49th sack on Saturday night.
The Farm Boys lead the nation by wide margins in sacks, tackles for
loss (111), and rushing defense (2.36 yards/carry). Remarkably, they have
done so without a single player posting a double-digit sack total. Trent Murphy leads the way with 9.5, and
that's good for only 25th in the nation. Shayne Skov, meanwhile, has
accounted for only 2.5 of the Cardinal's 53 sacks. That's not a
reflection of poor play, as he leads the team with 63 tackles); rather, it is an
excellent sign of just how star-studded this Stanford lineup is.
The Farm Boys' secondary has certainly benefited from improved front
seven play and an influx of young talent. They have 13 interceptions this year, after managing just seven in 2011.
Meanwhile, Stanford tight end Zach Ertz has already set a school
record for tight end receptions (63) and yards (818). An 80-catch,
1,000-yard receiving season is attainable. This Friday's game is
Ertz's last chance to make a case for the Mackey Award, awarded to
the nation's best tight end. He is one of three finalists for that
Coach of the Year
Monday, Pac-12 coaches voted David Shaw their Coach of the Year for
the second straight season. His body of work down the stretch
has been excellent, with his ability to adapt to Stanford's early season
struggles particularly impressive. Offensive ineptitude surfaced its ugly head in the first two months of the season, resulting in losses at Washington and Notre Dame and disaster-averted
squeakers over Washington State and San Jose State. Shaw's
move to Kevin Hogan eventually lifted the team to another level.
"There are a lot of guys in this conference who I respect very,
very highly," Shaw said. "And for those guys to vote for me, it's
Fans and media, this site's included, criticized Shaw for allowing Josh Nunes to struggle for so
long. But that saga is water under the bridge now, overshadowed by
the excellent job he has done in preparing Stanford for the season's biggest game. Along with strength and conditioning
guru Shannon Turley, the
head coach also gets credit as his Stanford teams seem to grow stronger, tougher and more physical by the season.
Now, moving forward, Shaw is particularly excited about the
challenge presented by playing UCLA twice in a row.
"We know this team," he said of UCLA. "But we don't know everything about
Ertz, Murphy, Ed Reynolds, and Thomas were named to the All-Pac-12
First Team. The full list of Stanford players named to
all-conference squads can be found here.
One notable absence from the first team is running back
Stepfan Taylor, as over-aggressive
defenses hindered his statistics before Hogan took over at quarterback. No. 33's recent
spectacular play, though, suggests that he may well be the league's
Shaw said that injured punter Daniel Zychlinski, who left the
Rose Bowl in a sling, likely won't play Friday. Ben Rhyne is his
replacement. Nose tackle Terrence Stephens, who missed the regular
season finale for a personal reason, also may not be back
Drew Terrell, meanwhile, is questionable. More updates are expected
as the week progresses.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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