STANFORD — For the second time in three years, Stanford is trying to wipe away a wet and windy October loss at Notre Dame and turn around its spiraling season.
The Cardinal can only hope it ends the same way this time.
In 2012, Stanford already had lost at Washington before a devastating defeat in overtime by the Fighting Irish. The Cardinal came back to win the final eight games, including the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl.
After a frustrating 17-14 loss at Notre Dame last weekend, No. 25 Stanford (3-2, 1-1) will likely need another improbable run to three-peat as conference champion. The Cardinal finish the season with eight games against Pac-12 opponents, starting with Connor Halliday and pass-happy Washington State (2-4, 1-2) on Friday night.
“New year, new team, but I think our previous experiences have to lend us some guidelines and have to teach us something,” center Graham Shuler said Tuesday. “All those guys that came before us and have done all that they did playing, we've got to learn from those teams that Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy and all those guys led. But the climate's way different, the team's way different, but what hasn't changed is there's a Pac-12 title out there we're hunting.”
Stanford actually gained ground in the Pac-12 race last week. The loss to Notre Dame came out of conference and had no bearing on the Pac-12 standings.
Arizona's victory over Oregon â€” which has been the Cardinal's biggest road block the past five years â€” gave every team in the North Division at least one league loss. Stanford coach David Shaw reminded his players that the only goal he sets for them each season â€” winning the Pac-12 title â€” is still in their control.
“We see where the conference is right now. Who knows where we'll be next week? Who knows where we'll be two weeks after that? It's crazy,” Shaw said. “We've been saying it since the beginning, all of us coaches felt it, we talked about it in spring â€” this conference is crazy right now. Everybody's good. It's going to be a wild finish to this season. We're right in the thick of it with everybody else.”
Stanford has shown an ability to bounce back during Shaw's tenure. The Cardinal are 8-0 after losses since he was promoted to head coach before the 2011 season, and they haven't dropped consecutive games since October 2009.
Stanford has endured two of the tightest and toughest losses in the country to Southern California and Notre Dame, perhaps the reason the program is the only two-loss team ranked in The Associated Press poll.
But the road ahead is still filled with more hurdles.
Four of Stanford's last seven games are away from home, including at Arizona State, Oregon, California and UCLA. And as if that wasn't enough, quarterback Kevin Hogan is nursing a minor leg injury that will limit his time in practice this week but is not expected to sideline him for Washington State.
“It's just full steam ahead,” safety Jordan Richards said. “You can't pity yourself at this point. What's done is done.”
The Cardinal have little time to look back, anyway. Not only is there a tight turnaround between games, Stanford is facing the hottest quarterback in college football.
Halliday threw for an NCAA-record 734 yards in Washington State's 60-59 loss to California on Saturday. He completed 49 of 70 passes with six touchdowns.
Shaw said his players were over the Notre Dame loss and focused on stopping the “Air Raid” offense by the time the team plane landed back in California over the weekend, so he doesn't expect any kind of hangover.
“They're fired up. They're energized,” Shaw said. “It's me reminding other people, 'Yeah, everybody jumped off the bandwagon last year, everybody jumped off the bandwagon two years ago, everybody jumped off the bandwagon three years ago when we lost to Oregon at home. Players don't jump off the bandwagon. Players don't live and die every week like other people do. Players play football.'”