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The Number Four: How Stanford Handles The Hype

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It’s hard hitters like Ben Gardner who have coaches scared of Stanford. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images.
It’s hard hitters like Ben Gardner who have coaches scared of Stanford. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images.

Stanford never has been ranked in the coach’s poll Top 5 to start a season. They are No. 4 in the country, but year-in and year-out, teams stumble, fall, weep, etc. … For one reason or another teams do not meet the nation’s expectations. With this in mind, Stanford’s high ranking begs the question: Do they deserve it?

The immediate answer is yes — but.

Stanford has Top-5 talent, but they have one of the hardest schedules of the Top 10 teams. It’s certainly one of the hardest in the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 has two qualities that conferences not rhyming with mouth keystern shmonfernce don’t have: parity and strength. Oregon is dominant. USC looks to have bounced back from their suspensions. Washington, ASU, and UCLA have elite quarterbacks. Notre Dame — a team that isn’t in the Pac-12, but is on Stanford’s schedule — just came off their national championship loss. All of those teams will either start in the Top 25 or (by my estimation) will make an appearance during the season. However, Stanford will have the home field advantage against all of these teams except USC.

Circle back to the No. 4 ranking and why they deserve it. Tough schedule withstanding, the Cardinal could finish there. They have just as much going for them as they did in 2011, when Andrew Luck’s team matched its preseason rank of seventh in the final poll.

The best coach in the Pac-12, David Shaw, will keep Cardinal fans hopeful. He will prove doubters wrong about the offense, because where there is a plethora of maturity on defense, there is just as much immaturity on offense. Shaw knows just how to test this group of youngsters. He is pushing Kevin Hogan, who has not started a full season, yet Shaw intentionally is overloading him with information prior to the season. I promise that’s a good sign.

What's more, they will not have their two stabilizing forces on offense in Zach Ertz and Stephen Taylor, but read my previous articles and see that replacing those players may not be as hard as you might think. You don’t try to replace them. You try something new like using young wide receivers and running the ball by committee.

One common malady for preseason flops is a reliance on a high-scoring offense like the 2011 Oklahoma Sooners and Matt Barkley’s 2012 USC team. Stanford does not rely on an explosive offense to win games. They use the consistency on defense they showed every game last year. Barring huge injuries, Stanford’s defense should always keep them in the mix to win games.

The final reason: the Tunnel Workers Union. Yes, this offensive line is so darn good they have a nickname. One phrase that never caught on is “offensive lines win championships.” It’s not a sexy phrase, but it’s true. Stanford consistently has one of the best offensive line recruiting classes. The Cardinal linemen learn behind stud linemen. Then when the guy ahead of him goes to the NFL, the next guy in line shows he’s just as good. The player that touches the ball on every play is the center. Not the quarterback.

So does Stanford belong in the Top 5? You better believe they do, but I’d be hard pressed to say they will be ranked that high come November.