Stanford's eyes on prize in win over Irish

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford has long taken pride in capitalizing on any opportunity to add hardware to its trophy case.

Or as coach David Shaw calls it: “Tangible evidence of a job well done.”

Last week, Stanford retained the Stanford Axe and Saturday it reclaimed the lesser-known Legends Trophy with a 27-20 win against Notre Dame before a sold-out crowd of 50,537 at Stanford Stadium. The capacity crowd was the seventh of the year and marked the first time in Stanford history it sold out every home game of the season.

With the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State looming for the Cardinal next week, there was the train of thought that it could rest some of its starters to ensure a full bill of health headed into what amounts to a play-in for the Rose Bowl.

Shaw wasn’t in that camp. He wasn’t about to tell to his seniors No. 25 Notre Dame didn’t matter or downplay what a fourth consecutive 10-win regular-season would mean to overall state of the program.

“Puts this program amongst the elite,” he said. “You have to say it now. We are amongst the elite, to have this many 10-win seasons in a row.”

One would have been hard-pressed not to include No. 8 Stanford (10-2) on the list of the nation’s elite teams following three straight trips to BCS bowls, but before 2010 the Cardinal had just three 10-win seasons in history.

And, yes, after losing to Notre Dame a year ago, Shaw also wanted the Legends Trophy back on campus.

“First team meeting on Monday, I showed them a picture of the trophy,” said Shaw of the trophy, which is made of California Redwood and Irish Crystal. “Freshmen hadn’t seen it. It was here for three years, then it was gone. I wanted to make sure they looked at it.

“When we talk about it, people can jump on and off our bandwagon, tell us they love us, tell us they hate us. But when there is a trophy on the line, you win the trophy and all you do is point to the trophy.”

With the school’s Hall of Fame currently undergoing renovations, Shaw had an idea for where to display it: “Maybe we’ll keep it in my office.”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly expressed some frustration in his team’s inability to make a play when it need to down the stretch. The Irish trailed by seven points on all three of its fourth-quarter possessions only to have the first end in a punt and the other two on interceptions from Stanford cornerback Wayne Lyons. Lyons’ first pick extended Stanford’s streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 36 games.

“There’s no moral victories,” Kelly said. “Very disappointed we weren’t able to come up with a play and win the football game. We didn’t come down here to play a close game.”

The result will unlikely have much effect on either team’s bowl destination.

Notre Dame (8-4) still appears destined for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28 with Houston as the likely opponent, but other bowls haven’t given up hope of luring the Irish their way. The AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Shreveport, La.) sent a representative to Stanford for the Irish’s regular-season finale and the Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego) and Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas) remain as other possible destinations.

Kelly gave no update on where Notre Dame might be leaning.

“There’s a lot of schools that obviously still have an opportunity to take some of those spots that are there,” he said. “We’re in a unique situation this year. We’re appreciative of any bowl that would take a good, hard look at us.”

Stanford has its eyes on a return trip to the Rose Bowl, but if it were to lose to Arizona State next week it’s unclear where the Cardinal would go bowling. The two most likely destinations would be the Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) or Holiday Bowl (San Diego).

A year ago, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney was on the sideline rooting for the Cardinal as a fan at the Pac-12 championship game against UCLA. After running for 189 yards and a score on 33 carries against Notre Dame, he’s excited to make his debut on the conference’s biggest stage.

“Being able to play with these guys day in, day out is why I came back [from minor league baseball],” Gaffney said. “I love Stanford. This has been an unbelievable opportunity this season.”