Another break that goes the Cardinal's way: the coin toss. Stanford will start on D. First and second downs look like replays of many of the previous 60 minutes, as the Stanford front seven chases Marcus Mariota out of bounds. On third down, Josh Huff goes one way and Mariota the other, so, as Lady Gaga would say… it's Ale-Alejandro Maldonado. He's kicking from the 25… no good!
On Stanford's turn, a first-down run to nowhere. And on second down, who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Burned in his last game of this stature by playing for the field goal, David Shaw and the brain trust go for the glory with a play action call that, naturally, Kevin Hogan fumbles. Khalil Wilkes beats several Ducks to the ball to recover, and you know what? That was still a great call by Shaw. If we're going to blame them for being too conservative, give praise when praise is due for consistency's sake. Third down picks up a sneaky, critical five yards, and then Jordan Williamson tees it up and knocks it through from 37 to bring this one to a most unexpected close. Final: Stanford 17, Oregon 14
And now, for your traditional weekly moment of zen…
What They're Saying: Stanford 17, Oregon 14
Football is a complex game that sometimes doesn't fit neatly into a single narrative, so in no particular order, a dozen unrelated thoughts after the Second Greatest Upset Ever.
- Here's what David Shaw's saying: "You know what's funny? We cut down on turnovers, this might not be a close game." Just like players often break out in their sophomore years, this is Shaw's break out moment. For the first time I've seen, TV cameras caught him lighting into refs and now, for the first time I've seen, he's something other than soft-spoken. The play action calls on the first half fourth-and-short and the overtime second down are ballsy, probabilistically correct and, not least of all, helpful in the weeks ahead. Stanford has broken tendency and UCLA now has to respect the play action threat in short-yardage situations. Think that won't help loosen things up if we go back to Stepfan Taylor? It takes confidence to take the risks you must to win football games, and today Stanford matched fire with fire. They wouldn't have won otherwise.
- A shout out to ME97, who had several seconds of camera time on national television in the postgame fracas.
- Often in college football, a sport of decided haves and have nots, the cliche that football is a game of inches is malarkey. Texas A&M by 40 over Louisiana Tech, SMU, South Carolina State or Sam Houston State (their actual and complete 2012 non-conference schedule) is a game of nautical miles. But did those words ever ring true in Eugene. Multiple field goal attempts, makes and misses alike, came within a foot or two of the other side of the goalpost. Khalil Wilkes and/or Kevin Hogan somehow recovered a fumble Oregon appeared to have dead to rights. Zach Ertz scored his touchdown by perhaps six blades of grass, no exaggeration. As Brian Cook of the Michigan blog MGoBlog put it recently, cheering for your favorite football team can be like rooting for a random number generator at times. Two, four, six, eight – you're who we appreciate!
- Speaking of inches, where might Stanford find itself had Taylor been awarded a touchdown on the final snap in South Bend? Now, work with me and say the Cardinal find a way to win there, and Notre Dame, Oregon and Stanford each win out. Then you have a one-loss Stanford team that has given both Oregon and Notre Dame its only losses of the season. Even if the voters have Alabama, Florida, Georgia and the ghost of Robert E. Lee 1-2-3-4, every computer in the country would have Stanford at No. 1. Mathematically, we'd have to be in the national championship game, right?
- As it is though, your Cardinal find themselves in some weird circumstances. They need a win in the Rose Bowl to keep alive their dream of winning the Rose Bowl. Unless, of course, Oregon State knocks off the deflated Ducks in a noon PT kick (an underrated possibility, in my opinion, especially with the game in Corvallis), in which case Stanford has clinched the division. Then, a loss in the Rose Bowl would earn the Cardinal another game in the Rose Bowl -- for the right to ultimately go to the Rose Bowl. Hey, football gods: Abbott and Costello want their shtick back. Meanwhile, with its signature victory, Stanford helped out no one more than archrival Notre Dame, No. 1 for the first time since the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the SEC, another fan favorite around these parts. Oh, and to top matters off, most Stanford fans will now be rooting hard for, gulp, USC.
- If Oregon State beating Oregon is an underrated possibility, here's another one: Stanford loses this week or the next and gets bupkis for its defeat of Oregon. In fact, despite the understandable euphoria, it's more likely than not that Stanford falls short of the Rose Bowl. (If Vegas lines imply we're about 55 percent favorites in UCLA and then 70 percent favorites in Palo Alto given a win at ‘LA, multiply that together, account for the 15 percent chance of an Oregon State upset which makes win No. 1 redundant, and you're left with a 43 percent chance of roses. And possibly a migraine). Anyway, your boys in red are facing a situation kind of like the "Miracle on Ice" team. That U.S. hockey squad won gold only after they won a much less-publicized game the following week. Moral? Like my mom always said, it's all about what you do when no one's looking.
- Having said that, I think we match up well the rest of the way. At UCLA, vs. UCLA and Nebraska seems the most likely path if we keep winning, and good luck to either of those run-first teams against Stanford's front seven.
- Thought experiment for Stanford fans: Say you could play God and have Williamson make his kick to win the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, but Maldonado makes his two Saturday and the Ducks hang on. Would you make that trade? I would not, as only this win kept alive chances of winning the conference. Now that we won a cliffhanger off a missed field goal, I feel a lot better about that loss in Glendale.
- There is the 1-in-10,000 possibility of a national title berth still on the table, but how about another awesome outcome that's not quite as farfetched? We lose next week and still make the BCS. The most direct path involves Oregon winning out to reach the national title game, not unfathomable with a USC upset, and the Rose Bowl taking three-loss Stanford – practically guaranteed a top-14 finish given the computer numbers and thus BCS eligibility. If Oregon were to make the Rose Bowl instead, maybe Stanford snaps up a BCS at-large spot: that's how CBS projects us to land in the Fiesta. (If an all-SEC title game comes to pass, the Sugar Bowl is going to have two spots for non-Southern teams. Just sayin'…) But, if you're ready to get your mind blown, how about this one for kicks: Oregon State and Stanford both win big next week. UCLA then wins narrowly in the Pac-12 Championship and goes to the Rose Bowl. Admittedly, Stanford would have three losses to Oregon and Oregon State's two. But Oregon would have lost its last two, ask anyone east of the Rockies to name one player on Oregon State, one of Stanford's losses would have come to No. 1 Notre Dame and, of course, Stanford beat both Oregon teams.
- If it does turn up 2011 Orange, 2012 Fiesta and 2013 Rose, can we all root for Stanford football to hit for a cycle? Earning a 2014 Sugar Bowl bid is going to be a lot harder, because that bowl is a guaranteed Big 12-SEC matchup starting that year. Then again, Larry Scott might manage to envelop the Big 12 by that time. Plus, of course, if it's 2011 Orange, 2012 Fiesta and 2013 Sugar via the at-large bid discussed above, that cycle becomes much more feasible.
- One final reason these last few weeks of the season are so important? Our preseason rank for next year. Win out and Stanford finishes in the top five. After Gerhart, Harbaugh and Luck's departures, this is the first year they don't lose the face of the program. That's a likely preseason top-five ranking, which given the self-referential nature of the system, makes another BCS trip that much more probable.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!