I was slightly stunned. After all, it's not often that you hear a guy named Joe Starkey complimenting Stanford. No, it wasn't that Joe Starkey…it was the Joe Starkey who co-hosts our afternoon drive show and writes columns for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
As I was driving home, I started to think about it (and I had plenty of time to think about it too, mostly because Pittsburgh traffic can be downright brutal. This is not the easiest city to drive around). Just how would No. 6 Stanford match up against the top five teams in the BCS rankings? If the Cardinal met those teams on a neutral site right now, who would win? Interesting question. And hopefully I came up with some interesting answers. Let's start with…
No. 1 Oregon. Well, I think we've seen this movie before, and I don't think much would change. I think Stanford's offense could definitely give the Oregon defense problems again. And don't forget, when these two teams met on October 2, the Cardinal didn't have Chris Owusu for the entire game, and they didn't have Ryan Whalen at all. Jim Harbaugh can trot out as many different wideouts, tight ends, and other eligible receivers as he wants to, but it's no secret that Stanford's offense is at its most explosive when those two are on the field at the same time.
But I also think the breakneck tempo of Oregon's offense would be the difference again. Maybe that difference wouldn't be quite as pronounced on a neutral site as it would in Autzen, but it would still be a deal-breaker for Stanford, I think. When you're trying to defense the Ducks, the best thing you can do is to force them to make mistakes early, disrupt their rhythm, try to get off to a big lead, and hold on for dear life. And even then, as Stanford fans saw a month ago, sometimes it isn't enough.
#2 Auburn. Forget what you've read about him in the headlines this week. If you've seen what he can do on the field, you know full well that Cam Newton is incredible. He's like Denard Robinson, except he actually has some passing skills. And he can actually see over his offensive linemen. DT Nick Fairley is an absolute beast up front.
Auburn's offense has also run up-tempo, but they don't strike me as having as much team speed as the Ducks do. That goes for both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Stanford's physical style of play would allow them to match Auburn punch for punch. That also goes for both sides of the ball.
Bottom line here: if they played ten times at a neutral site, I think Auburn would beat Stanford six times. Maybe seven. But I also think Stanford would be in it from start to finish in all ten games. This would be a fun and physical matchup.
#3 TCU. As I've mentioned before, I think Andy Dalton is the best college quarterback that no one is talking about. Will he make for a good pro prospect? Unless he has an arm replacement between now and the Scouting Combine, no. But he's smart, he's savvy, he's a leader, and he knows how to move the chains. In college, that's all you need.
I like their defense. They allowed 24 points in a relatively close call to SMU back in September. They've allowed a total of 23 points in six games since. If Gary Patterson is coaching your team, you can almost guarantee that you'll have a defense that gets after it.
I really like how they showed no mercy and demolished Utah in front of the Utes' own fans. As of now, that result might be the most impressive outcome of any big game this year. I was in Salt Lake City for Utah's season opener back in September, and trust me, you do not want to be the road team heading into that stadium.
And, thanks to FOX's cameras showing them nonstop during last year's Fiesta Bowl, I'm a very big fan of TCU's dance team.
So there's a lot that I like about TCU right now. Does that mean I wouldn't like Stanford's chances against them if they met? No. Not at all. The best way to combat a quick, active defense is to confuse them and force them to think. Change up the personnel groupings. Mix up the tempo. Throw in some misdirection. Leave them completely guessing.
Sound familiar? It should…we just saw Stanford do that last week against Arizona!
Also, don't forget that these two teams met in 2007 and 2008 (then again, given the results on those respective days, I wouldn't blame you if you did). Can you see Stanford losing a third straight game against the same team? I can't. I think Stanford would beat TCU if they played right now.
#4 Boise State. I go back to their opening game against Virginia Tech, and what impressed me most that night was their speed on defense. If you have a speedy defense, you can accomplish a lot of things. But would they be physical enough to handle Stanford, especially up front? My gut says no.
While the Broncos would come out all jacked up and ready to go, I think Stanford's offensive line would eventually extinguish the Bronco defense. In fact, I think the Cardinal offensive braintrust would attack Boise State much like they would TCU.
And while Kellen Moore is a capable QB, I think the Stanford defense plays physically enough and has enough speed to limit the Broncos on offense. So yes, neutral site, I think Stanford wins.
#5 LSU. The Tigers aren't 8-1 because they dominate people. Their largest margin of victory this year is just 24 points, and they've won five games by six points or less.
While I'm not impressed with their offense at all, their defense arrives fast and angry. Stanford's offense would have a tough time cracking the Tiger defense, I think. Overall, I would have more faith that Stanford could execute the little things. But LSU is proving that little things mean nothing when you have luck on your side. Even so, I'll say that I think Stanford could beat LSU right now.
So there it is. I think Stanford is better than TCU, Boise State, and LSU right now. Now, all of that being said, none of this means anything if Arizona State is better than Stanford this Saturday.
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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS
Now, don't get me wrong here, because I'm not complaining. But why did it take until the third quarter for Arizona to realize that spreading out Stanford's defense and turning up the tempo would give the Card fits?
If I'm a bowl committee president, if I saw the opening crowd shots of the Arizona-Stanford broadcast, and the Cardinal are on my list of potential teams, I'm asking myself, "how can I be sure that Stanford will sell out all of its tickets—and make my bowl as much money as possible—if they can't even sell out their own stadium for a national primetime game?" And to be honest, I think that's a very fair question…
Don't be fooled by the 53-16 final score. Oregon didn't beat Washington because their offense was running at peak efficiency. Far from it. Instead, the Ducks' special teams saved Oregon's bacon with huge returns and kept their sputtering offense in scoring range. Good teams always find new ways to win games…
Keep an eye on Washington DT Alameda Ta'amu. I thought he did a very nice job for the Huskies while they were stifling the Quack Attack…
You know what I hate most about Oregon's uniforms? It's nearly impossible to make out the numbers. When you're watching from the press box or on TV, this is a huge issue…
Jacquizz Rodgers takes a lot of hits. One shot he took at UCLA last week knocked his helmet clean off. With James Rodgers out of the picture, and no other playmakers emerging for the Beavers, I'm starting to worry if all those hits are starting to add up…
Anyone who was surprised to see cal losing at the half at Washington State clearly hasn't been paying attention…
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… I'm not going to lie to you…even though I'm a Denver Bronco fan, it was nice to see a sold-out Oakland Coliseum again. The Raiders are officially frisky…
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… how come nobody told me that last Saturday was National Nachos Day?
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… is anyone else as sick of those iPad commercials as I am?
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
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Washington State @ Oregon State. Even though my faith in Oregon State is decreasing by the week, there still shouldn't be too much to say here. I like Oregon State by 25.
Oregon @ cal. If cal plays like they usually do at home, this will not be easy. Heck, I'll be honest: I'm crazy enough to admit that it would not surprise me too much if the Bears win this game somehow. That said, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid. I like Oregon by 16.
U$C @ Arizona. Unless Wildcat fans gave up and are already getting set for basketball season, this should be a hostile environment for the Trojans. And right now, U$C doesn't strike me as a team that knows how to win in a hostile environment. It's been a while since I've written that sentence, by the way. I like Arizona by 10.
Last week: 2-2 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 16-8 (straight-up), 11-13 (ATS).
Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).
Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.
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