There was fear of a let down coming off the big win over Cal in Big Game. There was concern about Stephen Paea and the OSU defensive line, one of the stronger units in the Pac-10. There was talk about Beaver running back Jacquizz Rodgers, the speedy back who burned the Cardinal for 189 yards rushing in 2009. Finally, there was lots of hand wringing about possible bowl destinations for the Cardinal. Even if they were to win, an 11-1 Stanford team could still end up in a second-tier game like the Alamo or Holiday Bowl.
As it turned out, not a single one of those issues is worth discussing anymore. Andrew Luck and company dismissed each one, checking them off one item at a time.
After the defense stopped the Beavers and forced a punt to the Stanford nine, the offense picked up right where they left off, again driving the length of the field for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Luck did throw an incomplete pass on this drive, but his numbers were still sparkling: 3 of 4 for 67 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown to our man Doug Baldwin.
It wasn't technically over at this point, but I don't think too many Cardinal fans were worried about a Beaver comeback. Even though Oregon State appeared to have superior athletes at the skill positions and showed signs of life in isolated bursts, they were outplayed in every phase and every second of the game. Stanford's dominance resulted in a 38-0 final score.
The obvious difference between the two teams, of course, was Andrew Luck. He would finish the game 21 of 30 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns in what could have been his final game in Stanford Stadium. (It saddens me to type that sentence, but I can't ignore the possibility of Luck's departure.) Luck's four touchdowns gave him a total of 28 on the season, topping the former Stanford mark of 27 shared by John Elway and Steve Stenstrom. He also brought his total offense to 3,489 yards on the season, another Stanford record. The top line of his Heisman résumé, though, is another Stanford record which probably means more to Luck than any of those other numbers: 11 wins.
Afterwards Harbaugh reflected on Luck's place in the game. "He's the best player, the most valuable player on maybe the best team in the country. He's thrown for 28 touchdowns. That's incredible when you think about all the quarterbacks that have played at Stanford. He's really done it all. He plays on one of the best offenses in the country. He's done everything a guy can do in a season. It's touch to make a case for anyone other than Andrew Luck. I feel Andrew's head and shoulders above them all."
But it wasn't just about the offense. The Stanford defense came to play on Saturday night and pitched their third shutout of the season. The last time a Stanford team did that? A long time ago -- 1953. And now that the regular season is complete, we can take a look at how much this unit has improved from last year to this, one game at a time. (Sacramento State and San Jose State are the only schools that weren't on the both the '09 and '10 schedules, but since they're kind of the same, the comparison is still valid.)
Individually, there were as many standouts on the defense as on the offense. It started with outside linebackers Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser, who wrecked havoc in the backfield for much of the evening and caused a key turnover early in the second quarter when Chase sacked OSU quarterback Ryan Katz and Keiser recovered the fumble. Richard Sherman ended one scoring threat with an interception at the goal line on the last play of the first half, and saftey Delano Howell did the same with a spectacular interception in the end zone midway through the third quarter.
Those are all names you're used to hearing, but there was another, true freshman cornerback Barry Browning, who drew his first career start. Browning was matched up with Oregon State's best receiver, Markus Wheaton, for much of the night, and played well. He broke up two passes and intercepted another, showing again that the young talent coming up on that side of the ball has much to offer.
The best thing to come out of this game, of course, is that the Cardinal will likely climb to the fourth spot in Sunday's BCS rankings. Should that happen, and should they maintain that ranking in next week's final poll, the Mighty Card would be guaranteed a BCS bowl invitation. I'll have much more to say about that in the next few days, but here's what you need to know in a nutshell: if Auburn wins the SEC Championship game and Oregon beats Oregon State in the Civil War, those two teams would advance to the BCS Championship game. TCU would play in the Rose Bowl, and Stanford would get a spot in either the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl (though the Fiesta Bowl is also possible). If Auburn loses, TCU would jump up to the national championship game, and Stanford would fill the empty spot in the Rose Bowl.
All of that will be determined next weekend, but for now there's one thing we know for sure. The Stanford Cardinal is 11-1. Pinch me.