Running back Christian McCaffrey (5), who leads the nation in all-purpose yardage, is one of many reasons Stanford can dream this season. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Suddenly Stanford smelling roses … or more

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll owe Desmond Howard an apology when all is said and done two months from now.

As you might recall, it was Howard who predicted Stanford would win the national championship a while back. No sooner did the ESPN analyst utter the last syllable than the Cardinal laid an ostrich-sized egg at Northwestern in the season opener. Uh, was that Desmond Howard or Moe Howard?

No one seems to know what got into coach David Shaw’s imposters that morning, but this much is certain: That Stanford team and this Stanford team aren’t one and the same. That was apparent on Thursday night, when Stanford didn’t just beat a good UCLA team in Palo Alto. The Cardinal annihilated the Bruins. That makes consecutive victories against UCF, USC, Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA by a combined 225-114 score.

All of a sudden, it’s not far-fetched to believe that Stanford will be part of the four-team playoff for the national title. if ever there was a season made for a one-loss champion, this is it. There is no powerhouse to speak of at the moment. Ohio State hasn’t played like a national champion, and if my Northern Illinois Huskies hadn’t let ‘em off the ropes in Columbus, no less, they’d be lucky to be a top 10 team right now. Would anyone be surprised if Harbaugh beat Urban Meyer next month? And would anyone be surprised if Stanford, leader in the Pac-12 North, knocked off Utah in the Pac-12 title game at Levi’s Stadium?

There are several unbeatens among the top 20 teams in the latest AP poll, but that won’t last long.

Meanwhile, No. 15-with-a-bullet Stanford lays in the weeds, with momentum and a favorable, home-heavy schedule on its side. Only Cal and Notre Dame look threatening, and both games are in Palo Alto.

Maybe Howard knew something, after all.

It’s just a shame Michigan lost on that crazy flubbed punt Saturday. Jim Harbaugh against Stanford in the Final Four would have been precious.

DAILY HAYNE: Could Jarryd Hayne’s chance be coming soon? Like, real soon?

Carlos Hyde is hurt. He is expected to suit up for the 49ers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens today, but his effectiveness is in doubt because of a foot injury that limited his practice time this week. As usual, the status of Reggie Bush remains doubtful because of a calf issue, which leaves Hayne and Mike Davis as the only healthy backs.

“(Hyde) has got a — I don’t even know the name of it,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “His foot’s hurt. His foot is sore, so they put an orthotic in there, and I know you’ve got to get used to wearing the orthotic, so they are doing that.”

Wednesday, Hyde sat out practice for the first time this season. That led to speculation that he had sustained a lower body injury against the New York Giants three nights earlier, when he walked off the field with a slight limp on a few occasions.

Hayne has been limited almost exclusively to punt return duties lately. The Aussie touched the ball of seven times in the last three games, but if he was frustrated, it wasn’t apparent.

“No, I’m not frustrated at all,” Hayne told Balls. “I just have to work hard and wait my turn then make the most of it.”

JUST SAYIN’: Remember when Tomsula was all bubbly and talkative at his news conferences only weeks ago?

Well, that wasn’t the same subdued coach who looked like he had taken a shower in his clothes last week.

KERR UPDATE: Steve Kerr was at the shootaround Saturday in San Diego, but he wasn’t in the arena later for the Warriors’ 85-70 preseason loss to the Lakers. The game ended with 2:16 left in the third quarter due to an unplayable court at Valley View Casino Center, where moisture spots were caused by the ice below.

It’s still uncertain when the head coach will return to full-time work as he rests a twice-surgically-repaired back complicated by a spinal-fluid leak. Until Kerr is 100-percent healed and free of headaches and discomfort, general manager Bob Myers doesn’t want him coaching.

Harrison Barnes didn’t play as he continues to nurse a bruised right knee. Klay Thompson also missed the game for family reasons. But Bill Walton was in the house, supporting son Luke as he fills in for Kerr as interim head coach. The players were just trying to get out of town without slippages and a serious injury.

DUCK, CHUCK! Comedian Charles Barkley will be here on Oct. 27 as part of the TNT coverage of the Warriors’ regular season opener at Oracle Arena.

The “Inside the NBA” studio show is scheduled to air from Pier 43, which will include a 40-foot LED basketball court and a stage for a postgame musical performance but not what Warriors fans really want — a one-way boat ride for Barkley to Alcatraz. He’ll also appear at a news conference the day before. After ripping the Warriors all those years, what’s Chuck gonna say now about the Champs?

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE: Athletics fans will never guess where their ticket money goes, except to say not in the pockets of elite free agents.

Would you believe to make Billy Beane’s grass and shrubs look greener?

A California utility lists Beane, the A’s baseball boss and part-owner, among the biggest abusers in water usage in a district east of San Francisco. A September report from the East Bay Municipal Utility District showed that he went through about 6,000 gallons daily, or about 24 times the average.

If Beane ran the A’s the way he does his yard, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Ben Zobrist and a few others would still be here instead of playing in the league championship series.

JUST ASKIN’: So how many times does Beane flush at O.co Coliseum, anyway?

THE LIST: Balls’ best bets in Week 6 of the NFL season:

Arizona Cardinals (-3 1/2) at Pittsburgh Steelers: Call it the revenge of Bruce Arians.

Cincinnati Bengals (0) at Buffalo Bills: The Bengals remain unbeaten against the counterfeit Bills.

Denver Broncos (-4 1/2) at Cleveland Browns: The Broncos don’t put up big numbers any more, but they do something better — play great defense.

New England (-6 1/2) at Indianapolis Colts: It won’t be the blowout that many predict, but it won’t be close, either.

New York Giants (+3 1/2) at Philadelphia Eagles: Difficult to pick the Iggles especially as the favorites.

Last week: 4-1. Season: 18-7 (.720).

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