Stanford coach David Shaw often points to last year’s Notre Dame game as a turning point for his program.
You might recall the rainy, overtime ending steeped in controversy that fueled the Cardinal’s us-versus-the-world mentality following the 20-13 loss. It was the kick in the bark that propelled Stanford to eight straight wins and a Rose Bowl victory to close out the year.
And when the Irish roll into Palo Alto this weekend for the regular-season finale for both teams, Shaw knows this much: Last year’s game has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s.
“The replay official said we didn’t cross the line so the game was over. It’s on Stanford’s football team from last year for not getting it done and Notre Dame for getting it done. That’s what happened last year.
“ … A football season has highs and lows and the good teams bounce back because you can’t have a season of all highs. When things don’t go your way you regroup and you retool and you go back after it again. That’s what we did last year after the Notre Dame game. That’s what we did this year after the USC game. This is going to be a great game that’s not going to hinge at all on what happened last year.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by his players.
“That was a long time ago,” Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said. “I think last year’s game doesn’t really have any carryover into this season. It’s a new team and a new year … [but] there is always something to learn from.”
Added quarterback Kevin Hogan: “We can’t treat this like a revenge game. It’s over. We have a new team, they have a completely new team.”
Saturday’s game has zero bearing on the outcome of the Pac-12 standings. The Cardinal have already locked up the Pac-12 North Division and will be playing in the championship game for the second straight year. Home field advantage isn’t even an issue for the title game, because it all hinges on what happens between Arizona and Arizona State. If the Sun Devils win, they’ll host the title game in Tempe. If not, it will be in Palo Alto again.
But that’s not to say the Cardinal still don’t have plenty of motivation. They are riding a 15-game home winning streak, second longest in the nation behind South Carolina, and since 2009 they are 12-1 against teams ranked in either the AP or coaches poll. Notre Dame is 25th in the BCS and AP polls.
To say nothing of the roller coaster that has been the 2013 Stanford season. Touted early on as a national champion contender, the Cardinal lost on the road to Utah, but bounced back strong with their second-straight win over Oregon. Then a loss to USC essentially wrapped up the conference crown for the Ducks. But Arizona had different thoughts.
Now, the Cardinal are back in the championship game. According to Shaw, that wackiness is just par for the course in the Pac-12.
“It’s college football,” Shaw said. “And I remind people that we don’t go through all the ups and downs that maybe the media and even the fans go through because we’ve got more games to play. If we win a big game they don’t cancel the next week and if we lose a game they don’t cancel the next week. During the week when people are lamenting and calling me names and the sky is falling when we lose and when people are exalting us and telling us how wonderful we are when we win, those things can’t ever affect the football team or the coaches because we move on and play the next week.”
And this week’s opportunity offers the Cardinal a chance to snap Notre Dame’s 2013 stranglehold on the Pac-12. The Irish have already knocked off ASU, the South Division champs, and USC. So there is plenty of reason from a national perspective for the Cardinal not to look over the horizon to Arizona State in next week’s title game.
“One of our team goals is going 1-0 every week and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Murphy said. “We got into Cal week and we had to go 1-0, keep the Axe and it was a big game for us. Now we’re facing Notre Dame and it’s the biggest game for us and we need this victory.”