Stanford head coach David Shaw watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Pullman, Wash. (Young Kwak/AP)

Playoff longshot Stanford needs wins — and help

Stanford is about a seven-lateral touchdown away from the four-member college football tournament, but if any team knows about comebacks this season, it’s the Cardinal.

Coach David Shaw’s squad was no better than No. 11 in the initial College Football Playoff selection committee rankings, which were released Tuesday. Stanford is the only top 10 team in the current AP poll not to be among the top 10 CFP teams, which gives you an idea what the voters think of the Pac-12 as a whole right now.

Stanford will need some breaks to earn a spot in the final four, no doubt, but stranger things happened. In fact, they took place only last year. Ohio State was 16th in the first CFP rankings, and it wasn’t until the last poll that the Buckeyes leapfrogged Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU into the No. 4 position, the first time they cracked the top four all season. Lo and behold, the Buckeyes went on to capture the national championship.

First, the Palo Alto boys have to take care of their own business.

Victories against Colorado on the road, Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame at home and presumably Utah in the Pac-12 championship game would give it 12 consecutive victories. That kind of run in a major conference would be difficult for the voters to ignore. The Cardinal also would have wins over as many as four ranked teams at the time — USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and possibly Utah. Their loss against Northwestern would be easier to overlook, especially when you consider it took place on the road in the first week of the season and the No. 21 Wildcats are ranked themselves.

That scenario could leave Stanford in a position to move past a Big Ten champion that had one loss, especially if that team was not named Ohio State. At the very least, it would receive a Rose Bowl invitation as a lovely parting gift, and that wouldn’t be so bad at all.

Granted, those are a lot of ifs and buts, but Stanford will take them right now.

GREAT AWAKENING: Cheer up, 49ers Faithful. Balls has some good news.
General manager Trent Baalke finally realizes the regular season has started already.

In a move that was only months late, the 49ers signed running back Pierre Thomas, the No. 4 rusher in New Orleans Saints history. That alone made him the most qualified back on the roster other than Carlos Hyde, who has fought injuries for weeks.

Thomas also is an accomplished pass receiver and blocker, the kind of experienced back that quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense could have used in the first half of the season.

STRIKE UP THE BAND: The eight-lateral touchdown that Miami was allowed to beat Duke last weekend prompted flashbacks of the 1982 Cal-Stanford game, which produced the wackiest finish in college football history.

Multiple infractions should have negated both touchdowns, but in the absence of a replay system back in the day, the touchdown that Cal’s Kevin Moen scored on the final play was allowed to stand, anyway. Meanwhile, the ACC suspended the officiating crew and replay official that worked the Miami-Duke game the next day.

Crazier yet, when Moen plowed into Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the end zone, it marked the bizarre start to a friendship that would remain to this day.

“Gary and I have gotten to know each other after doing numerous alumni events over the years,” Moen said per ESPN. “He has really gotten to be a good friend of mine through this whole process, and I apologize to him every time I see him.”

IN DUSTY THEY TRUSTY: Ex-Giants manager Dusty Baker and his toothpick are back again, this time in Washington, and we can only hope that doesn’t mean Barry Bonds is close behind.

Baker agreed to a two-year deal, but only after Bud Black turned down a offer that reportedly was guaranteed for only one season. Then again, Nationals ownership has consistently overpaid for on-field talent at the expense of those around them.

If the Nationals fall short of expectations next season, the team will have a lame-duck manager on its hands. And with Baker, 66, anything can happen. Eight of his teams won 90 or more games, and eight others finished below the .500 mark.

There’s no word yet as to whether Baker will allow kids on the field.

LUCKY STARS: The Dallas Stars are one of the early surprises of the NHL season, and for that, they have the Sharks to thank in part.

Last season, the Stars could put the biscuit in the basket. They also couldn’t keep it out of their own net, though, which is where defenseman Jason Demers and netminder Antti Niemi have made a considerable difference.

“I think we’re more resilient,” Demers told the Dallas Morning News after a 5-3 victory over the Sharks the other day. “We’ve really done a great job in third periods. We made some mistakes in the first two periods, but we really seemed to clamp down hard, so that’s a huge thing to be doing at the start of the year.”

It just so happens that the Sharks can use a veteran goalie and a top four D-man right now, but Balls digresses.

THE LIST: The 49ers may be a bad football team at the moment, but it will take some doing to surpass these as the worst in franchise history:

2004 (2-14): Dennis Erickson’s team darn near ran the table. Both wins came against the Arizona Cardinals by three points in overtime.

1963 (2-12): Finished dead last in yards gained, yards allowed and points scored and next-to-last in points allowed in the league.

1978 (2-14): The first and last hurrahs for Pete McCulley and Fred O’Connor as NFL head coaches. You do remember Pete McCulley and Fred O’Connor, right?

2005 (4-12): Ranked 30th in yards gained and allowed and 32nd (last) in points scored and points allowed.

1999 (4-12): Started 2-1 with Steve Young at quarterback, finished 2-11 after he left because of post-concussion syndrome.

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to pladewski@sfexaminer.com and you may get your name in the paper one day.

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