When the College Football Playoff rankings were updated Tuesday night, Stanford was given a spot just inside the top 10 with one regular season game and one Pac-12 championship game to play. It is crunch time for the Cardinal and time is running out to make amends for two blemishes on the regular season. If Stanford is going to stand any chance of sneaking into the College Football Playoff and carry the Pac-12 banner, it absolutely must be dominant against Notre Dame this week and either USC or UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship game next week. Otherwise, the Pac-12 will be left out of the four-team playoff this season.
Let’s be clear, Stanford needs a little bit of help even if it does win the next two games in convincing fashion. Michigan State and Oklahoma each have solid one-loss arguments to make and could have conference titles of their own by the end of the season, and each would certainly stand in the way of Stanford. Oklahoma losing to Oklahoma State would help Stanford’s chances of moving up a couple of spots, one would think. Michigan State losing would only open the door for Ohio State or Michigan, with the Buckeyes ranked one spot ahead and the Wolverines one spot behind the Cardinal entering the final week of the regular season play in the Big Ten. A one-loss Ohio State would hold the upper hand on Stanford, but Stanford may be able to stay ahead of its former coach, Jim Harbaugh, in Ann Arbor. But nothing is guaranteed.
This week, the focus will be on snapping Notre Dame’s playoff dream in resounding fashion. The Irish slipped out of the top four in the eyes of the selection committee following a narrow victory against Boston College last week. The Irish could be cracking as key injuries continue to pile up for Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame squad, and making a road trip to Palo Alto figures to be a stiff test for Notre Dame and freshman quarterback Deshone Kizer. If Stanford can get a big game out of Christian McCaffrey and a reliable effort from Kevin Hogan, Stanford should be able to score a win. The question is how impressive can they do so?
Style points matter, and Stanford needs a good amount of them this week to remain on the radar heading into championship week.
On Tap This Weekend
USC (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12) vs. No. 22 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12)
The Pac-12 South Division will be decided this week when UCLA and USC collide in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The winner will be crowned champion of the Pac-12 South and advance to play Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Bruins head coach Jim Mora will be coaching against the fourth different USC head coach in his four seasons on the job. UCLA has won all three meetings coached by Mora, including last season’s 38-20 victory.
No. 9 Stanford (9-2, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1)
This game may be important for Stanford, but it is also a big statement opportunity for Notre Dame. the Irish conclude their season against the Cardinal and need a win to remain in the playoff discussion. After slipping out last week, the Irish need a big win just as much as Stanford. Notre Dame won a tight one last season in South Bend, 17-14. Notre Dame’s last win at Stanford was in 2007, by a score of 21-14.
California (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) vs. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12)
Cal’s senior class will look to be the first to win their final game of the regular season since 2008. It has been a long time and Cal’s seniors have been through a lot since their arrival on campus. Jared Goff will have to be on target, because Arizona State can still be a dangerous team to mess with.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.