Stanford refocuses on Rose Bowl dream following loss to Oregon

Brennan Scarlett and the Cardinal will have a chance to clinch the Pac-12 North with a win over Cal next Saturday. AP Photo/Tony Avelar

STANFORD, Calif. -- For Stanford defensive lineman Brennan Scarlett, putting a positive spin on the Cardinal's 38-36 loss to Oregon may be a bit easier than it is for his teammates: The transfer from California now has a chance to clinch a Pac-12 North title against the program that he used to play for.

"We can't have our heads down too much," Scarlett said. "We're still fighting for this Pac-12 championship. And the next step comes against my former team, too."

The Cardinal's College Football Playoff hopes are dead. They would have been in excellent shape with a win over the Ducks, especially since Oklahoma knocked off No. 6 Baylor to eliminate another unbeaten team. But Stanford made too many mistakes to overcome a vintage display of Oregon explosiveness -- the Ducks averaged 9.1 yards per play while the Cardinal fumbled two snaps -- so the pinnacle is now out of reach.

That's just the way it is, and that's why left guard Joshua Garnett barked a passionate message to the somber Stanford locker room afterwards: The Cardinal's goal is now the Rose Bowl.

"We're living life in the windshield right now," coach David Shaw said. "[The playoff] is in the rearview mirror. We have one game to go the Pac-12 championship game, and that's what we're going to focus on."

Positive outlook aside, Stanford's position is certainly a painful one: The close nature of this loss is undeniably tough to swallow for it -- the outcome boiled down to a play here (see Kani Benoit running down Kevin Anderson after a fumble to prevent a Cardinal touchdown), a play there (see Joe Walker breaking up Kevin Hogan's late two-point conversion attempt), and three unforced errors over there (see the two fumbled snaps and a Christian McCaffrey drop that turned into an Oregon interception).

But such is the nature of a conference rife with parity, one which makes teams pay for its errors on a weekly basis. Stanford had avoided excessive mistakes up to this point in league play, dodging bullets effectively enough to build a two-game lead in the Pac-12 North. This stumble eliminates them from the ultimate dream scenario, but earlier successes have given the Cardinal a reprieve of sorts: They're still a game up in the standings.

"It's devastating right now," Anderson said. "But if you told me at the beginning of the season that we'd have a chance to beat Cal to win the Pac-12 North, I'd say that's awesome. So we need some perspective right now."

And that's the attitude that the Cardinal promised to adopt.

"We just have to keep our heads up," tight end Greg Taboada said. "We have a chance to sweep the California schools and get to the Pac-12 championship. You usually don't get second chances, so we have to take advantage of ours."

So while the goalposts have moved for Stanford, a prestigious finish remains in its crosshairs. Intrigue always surrounds the Cardinal's rivalry matchup with the Golden Bears, and there'll now be conference title implications surrounding the 25th anniversary of a wild 1990 Big Game finish.

The Cardinal's regular-season finale against Notre Dame has lost some luster, but that's still shaping up to be a huge game in the overall national picture -- especially if the Irish beat Boston College next week to come in at 10-1. What happens beyond that is unwritten, but much of it hinges on Stanford's performance moving forward.

"Our goal is still attainable," Anderson said. "It all comes back to refocusing."