Northwestern upsets No. 21 Stanford 16-6

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Nick Bromberg
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It's hard to consider Stanford a top-tier team after watching them against Northwestern as Northwestern dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage Saturday en route to a 16-6 win.

The Stanford offense returned nine starters and with senior quarterback Kevin Hogan it wasn't impossible to see the unit as one of the best in the country. It did not look like a well-oiled machine Saturday.

The Cardinal's passing game was out of sync. Hogan wasn't able to connect with his receivers down the field – one gorgeous and potentially game-changing pass to Michael Rector in the fourth quarter was dropped – so he consistently settled for short passes that the Northwestern defense keyed on. Hogan finished the game 20-35 passing for 155 yards and an interception that came in the end zone with a minute to go with Stanford trailing by 10.

Running back Christian McCaffrey, a breakout candidate in 2015, had just 12 carries for 66 yards and also had a costly first-half fumble.

Stanford's defense kept it in the game for the first 45 minutes before it started to get pushed around by Northwestern's offense in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats held on to the ball for over 31 minutes and had 54 rush attempts. On its two drives that netted field goals in the fourth quarter to create leads of 13-3 and 16-6, Northwestern ran the ball 15 times and threw it just five times.

Can Stanford recover from the loss? Sure, it's possible. It's easy to remember how bad Ohio State looked in its week 2 loss to Virginia Tech in 2014. All the Buckeyes did was win their final 12 games en route to the national championship. And Saturday's game against Northwestern doesn't impact Stanford's hopes for a Pac-12 title.

But the Pac-12 is a far deeper conference than the Big Ten. And this Stanford team doesn't look like it'll bear much resemblance to 2014 Ohio State. While the Cardinal have a favorable home conference schedule – it faces three ranked opponents at home and one, USC on September 19, on the road – it's hard to envision Stanford (or anyone) making it through the Pac-12 with an undefeated record.

And unless anarchy happens, there won't be many places for two-loss teams in the College Football Playoff. Early-season losses for very good teams aren't usually very debilitating. But Stanford's not in that category right now.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!