Opponent Watch: Week Five

Stanford would be fifth if the BCS were to be released today… and No. 1 in the computers. With the Cardinal nationally relevant for yet another season, we look at the projected BCS, the fact that San Jose State [ed: David Shaw was right!] is receiving top-25 votes, and more in this week's Opponent Watch.

BCS Standings
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, LSU and Stanford are your top five in that order. No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 13 USC and No. 17 Oregon State are other ranked opponents in the simulated standings. Apparently, the computers love the Pac-12 this year, and no team more than your Cardinal. The five computers that have released numbers rank the Cardinal an average of third, good for tops in the nation.

No. 2 to the computers: Notre Dame. No. 3: Oregon. Suffice it to say that Stanford should stay sky-high in the computers if they keep winning. Looking at how dominant Stanford's opponents have been, it's easy to see why.

Duke (3-1, Sagarin predictor: 89)

Sean Renfree threw for 314 yards and four TDs as the Devils downed winless Memphis (0-4), 38-14, in a game that wasn't even that close. With Wake Forest and Virginia on deck, a 5-1 start is possible. Alas, an equally putrid finish is likely in order, judging by the Devils' computer rank and last four opponents: Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami.

San Jose State (3-1, 59)

The Spartans turned heads last week in doubling up Mountain West foe Colorado State, 40-20. This week, San Jose State continued to punch above their weight class. The squad hails from the lesser Western Athletic Conference, but yet again knocked out a decent Mountain West foe. This time the victim was host San Diego State, 38-34, thanks to a last-minute touchdown.

Looking ahead, the Spartans are in a three-team race in the WAC. Louisiana Tech, Utah State and the Spartans have Sagarin rankings in the 50s, while New Mexico State, Texas State, Idaho and Texas-San Antonio each have rankings north of 140. With those creampuffs ahead, bowl eligibility is all but assured and a 9-3 finish doesn't seem out of the question. Like Duke, SJSU should represent another boost to Stanford's ratings (or at worst, prove neutral), despite being expected to be one of the weakest teams on the 2012 schedule.

USC (3-1, 1-1, 15)
California (1-3, 0-1, 58)

The host Trojans downed the Bears last weekend, 27-9. It was a grind-it-out game, with USC holding Cal to 250 total yards while rushing for 296. Both teams threw two interceptions on the day, but USC hung on thanks to Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd each cracking the century mark, and Marqise Lee adding on 94 receiving yards and two scores.

Arrow up on the USC rush attack, and transitively, Stanford's front seven; arrow down on Cal's rush D. Conversely, arrow down on Cal's offense, arrow up on USC's D, and maybe Stanford's offensive performance against the Trojans wasn't as bad as we thought.

USC had to be happy with the Oregon State/UCLA result, as the Trojans miss the Beavers this year, and no longer look vulnerable in the Pac-12 South. They'll play Utah and then Washington on the road after a bye this week. Cal hosts Arizona State and UCLA and visits Washington State, in that order, before the Oct. 20 Big Game. The Bears have to finish 5-3 to reach six wins and bowl eligibility, and with Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State still on deck, that looks like a tall task.

Washington (2-1, 62) had a bye before their Thursday night tilt with Stanford.

Oregon (4-0, 1-0, 2)
Arizona (3-1, 0-1, 37)

The Ducks' defense led the way in Eugene, returning two fourth-quarter interceptions for scores in a 49-0 win. It was just 13-0 at halftime of a sloppy game that featured eight turnovers. But Oregon won the ground battle with 228 yards to Arizona's 89, and that would prove enough in an otherwise relatively close contest. Oregon had 495 total yards versus 332 for Arizona, and was 10-of-21 on third- and fourth-down conversions, versus 6-of-21 for Arizona, so certainly the Ducks should have won, but probably by a third of the final margin.

The Ducks, who have scored at least 42 in each contest, visit Wazzu before hosting Washington. With Arizona State and Colorado to follow, the Ducks should be 8-0 heading into USC November 3. Arizona hosts Oregon State this weekend and visits Stanford next Saturday, so it's a make-or-break stretch for them.

Notre Dame (4-0, 10)

Notre Dame: returning to glory since 1993. The Irish downed Michigan, 13-6, to climb back into the top 10 in a misleading game. First, this isn't your daddy's Michigan. The Big Ten stinks and Michigan is still not back to what it used to be. Second, Michigan threw interceptions on five consecutive passes - which has to be an NCAA first - in a game that saw the Notre Dame offense do nothing. The Irish finished with 239 yards and, despite the turnovers, all of 26:41 in possession as the middle of their offense line failed time and again to generate any push. The Irish were so desperate that they benched starting freshman quarterback Everett Gholson mid-game for Tommy Rees, last year's starter who played poorly enough to lose his job to a true freshman in the first place. When you have two quarterbacks, you really have none, the aphorism goes. The Irish compound that problem with little running game (94 rush yards on 31 carries) to speak of. Defensively, no one Notre Dame has played has had the quarterback to exploit a vulnerable secondary. So teams have played to their strength, the front seven.

The Cardinal's ability to exploit the Irish secondary remains to be seen, but I think this is the high-water mark for Notre Dame. Miami is on deck after a bye, and if they don't end the fairy tale, Stanford should in the next game. The Cardinal's front seven are going to have a USC-like game against the Irish. In the meantime, these paper tigers should look great. An over-inflated Notre Dame: all the better for Stanford.

Colorado (1-3, 1-0, 141)
Washington State (2-2, 0-1, 108)

Host Wazzu led 31-14 with just over seven minutes left before "Couging" it. Nick Kasa's 70-yard reception and Tony Jones' 84-yard run brought the Buffs to within 31-28. Washington State added a field goal, but Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb converted on a fourth-and-goal bootleg scramble in the final seconds to complete the comeback, 35-34. Washington State probably assured itself of a bowl-less December with the loss, as they'll be significant underdogs in their remaining games, starting with a visit Saturday from Oregon. Colorado hosts UCLA and Arizona State before a USC/Oregon/Stanford block.

Oregon State (2-0, 1-0, 31)
UCLA (3-1, 0-1, 29)

Oregon State won 27-20 in the Rose Bowl last weekend in a game surprisingly reflective of the final score. The offenses were average to good, Oregon State led narrowly throughout, and the Beavers used 122 rushing yards to help offset their two turnovers. UCLA's Brett Hundley (27 of 42, 372 yards) and OSU's Sean Mannion (24 of 35, 379 yards) each had good days, but UCLA could run for only 2.6 yards per carry and had just 25:24 of possession [Ed: and Johnathan Franklin was a Heisman contender before this game, how?].

If Oregon State can win in Tuscon this weekend, they could find themselves 7-0, as Washington State, BYU and Utah follow. Four of UCLA's next six are on the road, meanwhile, starting with visits to Colorado and Cal these next two weekends.

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