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Stanford's aggressive scheduling separates it from other contenders

Life could get crazy this weekend for the College Football Playoff committee. If No. 1 Clemson or No. 2 Alabama were to lose their respective championship games and if Stanford were to beat USC decidedly, the committee could have a chance to show how important a conference championship really is in this age of college football.

Those are two big "if's," we realize. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the national perspective of teams was completely shaken up after single day of football.

And, if all this happens, here are a few things that Stanford has going for itself that the other schools in front of the Cardinal in the most recent rankings don’t:

1. The Cardinal didn’t play an FCS team this season.

Get out of here with your Charleston Southerns (Alabama) and your Woffords (Clemson). David Shaw knows you scheduled Illinois State (Iowa) and he isn’t thrilled. Like Stanford, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 5 Michigan State and No. 6 Ohio State didn’t play an FCS school.

Stanford’s non-conference schedule was Northwestern, UCF and Notre Dame. According to most rankings, the Cardinal were in the top five in non-conference scheduling even though they only have three non-conference games instead of the four that most teams have.

2. Played two Power 5 schools or a Power 5 school and an independent during the non-conference schedule.

Even with just three games to schedule out of conference, Stanford played more Power 5 teams than Alabama (just one -- Wisconsin), Oklahoma (just one -- Tennessee), Michigan State (just one -- Oregon) and Ohio State (just one -- Virginia Tech).

The only two teams ahead of the Cardinal that scheduled two Power 5 or independents in their non-conference slate were Clemson (Notre Dame and South Carolina) and Iowa (Iowa State and Pitt).

3. Played nine conference games.

The Pac-12 is the only conference that plays nine regular-season conference games and has a conference championship game. The Big 12 also plays nine conference games, but is without a title game. All of the teams in front of Stanford in the most recent ranking will have played one fewer conference game than the Cardinal.

This is something that Shaw will gladly speak about when asked.

Last May he said this:

“I've been saying this for three years now: I think if we're going to go into a playoff and feed into one playoff system, we all need to play by the same rules. Play your conference. Don't back down from playing your own conference. It's one thing to back down from playing somebody else. But don't back down from playing your own conference."

Though Stanford has lost more games than every team ahead of it in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, it has also scheduled far more aggressively than any of those teams. If the Cardinal can pull off a big win this weekend and others that are ahead stumble, the committee could have a big choice to make about how important strength of schedule and conference championships truly are in the playoff era.