Remember in Back to the Future II when Biff stole Marty's copy of Grays Sports Almanac and used the DeLorean to give it to his 1955 self so that he could win every sports bet for the next fifty years? Well, here's the next best thing.
We here at Go Mighty Card have never condoned gambling, but we noticed something recently that caught our attention. Sure, it might be fun to put down some cash on an individual game, then bite your nails to the nubs for three hours before hopefully claiming your winnings, but we've always been more intrigued by the long-term bet, especially because it always looks so easy to make a fistful of money.
One of the earliest reports from Las Vegas has the over/under for the 2012 Stanford Cardinal set at 7.5 wins. On the surface, eight wins seems like a gimme, so I thought I'd take a look at things game by game, putting each match-up into one of three categories: Guaranteed Lock, Toss Up, or Likely Loss.
This is hardly scientific, and by no means a recommendation on how to spend your hard-earned money, but it gives us an excuse to analyze the schedule a bit. As always, feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section. Could it be possible that Stanford could win only seven games this fall? Let's take a look...
San Jose State -- August 31st (Friday) at Stanford
Last season the Cardinal kicked off their season in style with a 57-3 thrashing of their "rivals" from San Jose. This is probably the best time to play the Cardinal, as they'll be breaking in a new quarterback, fielding a new offensive line, and playing without the suspended Shayne Skov on defense, but it won't matter for the Spartans. The talent difference is severe, and this will be an easy Stanford win. Guaranteed Lock.
Duke -- September 8th at Stanford
There were some who worried that the Cardinal might have had trouble going cross-country to play this game in early September 2011, but it worked out fine as Stanford cruised by thirty points, 44-14. Expect more of the same this year. With a week of film study and his first official game under his belt, the Nottingham/Nunes winner will be more comfortable. The offensive line will start to gel, and the running game will be more powerful. Another big win. Guaranteed Lock.
USC -- September 15th at Stanford
I bet you remember last year's game, the 56-48 triple overtime thriller that is arguably one of the best wins in Stanford history, so there's no need to rehash it now. Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley returned to USC for his senior year because he knows he'll likely break every significant school and conference passing record en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. Like him or not, when he leaves USC he will do so as the greatest football player in school history, which is saying something. Staying in the present tense, though, he'll be throwing to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who are far and away the best wide receiver tandem in the nation, perhaps the best in history. This offense will be great.
But before you chalk this up as an automatic loss, you should know that the Trojans do have some issues. Their offensive line is young and inexperienced and will be overwhelmed by Stanford's dominant front seven. Also, David Shaw knows how to attack the USC defense, a group that's supremely talented, but young and lacking depth. There are two obvious question marks on the Stanford side (the quarterback and the offensive line), but I'm confident the o-line will be fine by Week 3. If the quarterback can manage the game and avoid big turnovers, Stanford's dominance over USC just might continue for another year. Toss Up.
Washington -- September 27th (Thursday) at Washington
I think this is the most important game of the Stanford season. Every single college football publication you look at in the next six weeks will pick Oregon to win the Pac-12 South, and most will also say that Stanford, Washington, and (inexplicably) Cal will fight it out for second place. This match-up comes at the perfect time for Stanford, as they'll have eleven days off to get past the emotions of the USC game (be they positive or negative), rest any nagging injuries, and prepare for the Huskies.
Do you think the Huskies might have this game circled on the calendar? Over the last two seasons, Stanford has outscored Washington 106-21, including last year's 65-21 woodshedding which featured a school-record 446 rushing yards.
Washington will also be coming off a bye week, and they'll almost certainly be 2-1 with wins against San Diego State and Portland State but a crushing loss in the Bayou at the hands of LSU. There are high hopes in Seattle this year, and this will be the first game of a three-week stretch that will determine whether or not those hopes are warranted. After Stanford, they travel to Oregon and host USC in consecutive weeks. Winning two of three would be huge, but the thinking here is that they might just lose all three.
Stanford is the more talented team from top to bottom, but you never know what might happen to a new quarterback in his first road test. Toss Up. (With a Stanford lean.)
Arizona -- October 6th at Stanford
Last year was supposed to be Arizona's year, but it wasn't. They pushed Stanford for a little bit, but still ended up losing 37-10. All the major players are gone from that team, and this year the Wildcats will be breaking in a new head coach (Rich Rodriguez) and a new quarterback (Mike Scott). Arizona's looking to improve on their two conference wins from last season, but they won't get one here. Guaranteed Lock.
Notre Dame -- October 13th at Notre Dame
For the first time in series history, Stanford has beaten Notre Dame three years in a row, including a 28-14 win last year, and I think there's a good chance the streak continues here. The Irish are still a work in progress under head coach Brian Kelly, and this year they could be playing with a true freshman at quarterback, top-ranked prospect Gunner Kiel. They're playing a hellish schedule, so by the time we get to this spot on the calendar the fires will have either forged the Irish into greatness or melted them into oblivion. After a cushy opener with a neutral site battle with Navy and a home game with Purdue, they'll play Michigan State, Michigan, and Miami in the four weeks leading up to the Stanford game. Just like the Washington game, this will be a tough road test, but the Cardinal just might surprise some people and come away with the win. Toss Up.
California -- October 20th at Cal
The only surprising thing about this game will be the fact that it will be played in October instead of November for the first time in series history. Stanford beat Cal last year, thrashed them the year before, and should win comfortably this year. Guaranteed Axe.
Washington State -- October 27th at Stanford
And so begins the soft section on the Stanford schedule. Washington State is another team in transition, as they welcome a new head coach, the contraversial Mike Leach. As difficult as it must be to recruit kids to the Palouse, I'm sure Leach will eventually find some level of success at Wassou, but not this year. Stanford beat the Cougs last year, 44-14, and they shouldn't have much more trouble this year. Guaranteed Lock.
Colorado -- November 3rd at Colorado
One of the Pac-12 newcomers, the Buffs were greeted rudely by the senior members of the conference, as they managed only two conference wins. One of their early losses came at the hands of the Cardinal in dominant fashion, 48-7. Expect more of the same. Guaranteed Lock.
Oregon State -- November 10th at Stanford
The Beavers can be a scary team in Corvallis. In fact, there were many who feared a Stanford loss there last season, but it turned out to be a comfortable 38-13 victory. Get the Beavers on the road, though, and things are much different. This should be another nice win for the Mighty Card. Guaranteed Lock.
Oregon -- November 17th at Oregon
I think we're all aware of the recent history between Stanford and Oregon. Aside from Oklahoma State in January's Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks are the only team to beat the Cardinal in the last two years, most recently in last season's 53-30 blowout in Palo Alto. If Oregon can get past Tennessee Tech (kidding), a moderate test at home against Washington, and the Pac-12 Game of the Year when they travel to USC on November 3rd, they could be sitting atop the BCS standings at 10-0 heading into this game. The Ducks will be one of the best teams in the country this year, and as much as it pains me to admit this, Stanford will be lucky to keep this one close. Likely Loss.
UCLA -- November 24th at UCLA
This Thanksgiving weekend game is one of the most interesting games on the schedule because UCLA is one of the most mysterious teams Stanford will play this year. New coach Jim Mora will have put his stamp on the program by this point in the season, but we still don't know what that stamp will be. Quarterback and annointed saviour Brett Hundley has been on campus for two years now, but we still don't know if he'll win the starting position. Even so, I like this as a Stanford win. I can't imagine it will be as lopsided as last season's 45-19 Stanford rout, but the Cardinal will still rush for north of 200 yards. Also of interest -- this could be the game when running back Stepfan Taylor passes Darrin Nelson for first place on the all-time Stanford rushing list. Guaranteed Lock.
So where does that leave the team? The twelve games break down like this:
- 8 Guaranteed Locks: San Jose State, Duke, Arizona, Cal, Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA
- 3 Toss-Ups: Notre Dame, Washington, USC
- 1 Likely Loss: Oregon
That looks like an 8-4 season, but we have to remember that there's a reason they play the games. A win at Oregon would be a huge upset, especially considering recent history, so I'm comfortable counting that as a loss. On the other hand, even though my eight guarantees look good when you analyze them one game at a time, winning all eight of them is definitely not a guaranteed lock. If we're being realistic, I think Coach Shaw would sign up right now for 7-1 in those games.
So that puts Stanford at 7-2 without considering the toss-ups. The toss-up games on any team's schedule are what eventually determine success or failure, and so it will be with the Cardinal. I'll be stunned if Stanford loses all three of these swing games, which I think is less likely than seeing them win all three. More conservatively, let's give them one of three.
So there you have it. The Stanford Cardinal will finish 8-4, with a respectable 6-3 conference record and a likely trip to the Alamo Bowl.