PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Player’s voices, David Shaw’s words.
As the list of teams vying for one of the two coveted spots in the BCS national championship game starts to take shape, the Stanford Cardinal find themselves right back where they started at the beginning of the season -- at No. 7 in the AP rankings.
Despite the blowout wins and the elite defense. Despite having the Heisman favorite and presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Despite having the best tight end corps in the nation and one of the most balanced attacks in the country, the Cardinal have failed to garner any national respect.
“I didn’t even know [we were at No. 7],” said Stanford tight end Coby Fleener.
Didn’t know? Or didn’t care?
“We can only control what we can control,” Fleener said. “My looking at so-and-so dot.com to see what their opinion is really doesn’t affect how we’re going to approach the game … we’re going to focus on what we can control.”
And what they can control is winning. Sure, it would be great if USC, Oregon and Notre Dame keep winning. It would bolster Stanford’s strength of schedule and, should they win the head-to-head matchups, make the victories look more impressive.
But even running the table might not land them where they want to be at the end of the season.
“That’s why we concentrate on what we can do in our conference,” Shaw said. “Everything else is up to us. At some point it goes to voters and computers. The moment you try to do things to impress people -- I don’t’ know what you do to impress a computer -- but it distracts you from what you need to do to win football games. You look at Boise last year. They played great, then had the one hiccup. Look at other teams that have gone undefeated, TCU, whatever. When it’s in someone else’s hands you can’t worry about it. All you can do is concentrate on the game you have to play that week.”
That sounds great in theory. But how do you convince a group of 18- to 22-year-olds that they might not be able to play for a national title -- even if they run the table.
“For us, it’s about our environment,” Shaw said. “The environment we’ve established here is one that is pretty self-contained. We worry about how we feel about us.
“… We’ve got enough guys on our team that have lost enough games, that have been nowhere in the rankings, that have not been on good teams,” Shaw said. “Those guys don’t let the other guys lose sight of it. Sometimes they sense it before I do and they jump on it. We’ve got a good self-policing mechanism right now.”
The time will come when the Cardinal will likely need help -- be it from a conference opponent or an out-of-conference team knocking off one of the six teams ahead of the Cardinal. But above all, they have to keep winning.
“We can’t win and just be satisfied with that,” said defensive lineman Terrence Stephens. “There is always something we’re going to have motivation to do. It starts this week. A Pac-12 opponent and we need to make sure that we handle business the way we do.”
Shaw said there will be a time when he will start looking at the polls. But it’s not today, next week or next month.
“When the season is over,” Shaw said. “It’s the only poll that matters. And good teams know that. The good teams don’t get caught up in it. They don’t get caught up in the emotional roller coaster based on how people feel about you. The good teams just show up and play. When the season is over, they look up and get to see what bowl game they get to go to.”