Notre Dame-Stanford Preview

The Associated Press

(AP) -- - In control of a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth one week, out of the mix the next and now back in the hunt for both entering the regular-season finale.

The past three weeks have been a weird and wild stretch for Stanford, testing the team's focus and fortitude on and off the field. This one figures to be no different.

The eighth-ranked Cardinal (9-2) host No. 25 Notre Dame (8-3) on Saturday in a game that has little more than pride at stake. No matter what happens against the Fighting Irish, Stanford will face No. 13 Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game for a spot in the "Granddaddy of Them All."

"I remind people that we don't go through all the ups and downs that maybe even the media and the fans go through because we keep our minds on our jobs," coach David Shaw said Tuesday. "If we win a big game, they don't cancel the next week. If we lose a game, they don't cancel the next week."

That worry-about-this-week-and-nothing-else approach Shaw stresses has never carried the Cardinal more than in the past three weeks.

Stanford beat previously undefeated Oregon, lost a tight game at Southern California and routed rival California 63-13 last Saturday. And with Oregon's surprising loss at Arizona last weekend, the Cardinal are the Pac-12's North Division champions again, needing to regroup and refocus for the finishing stretch.

"It's been very emotional," said wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who matched a Stanford record with five touchdowns against Cal. "You definitely learn a lot of lessons. It's kind of a blessing to experience some highs and some lows. Depending on how you look at it, you can always take something positive out of something negative. It's been a good experience to be able to learn from that and be able to fight and bounce back."

BCS bowl hopes have flickered and faded each week, but the path is clear now: the only way Stanford likely makes a fourth straight BCS bowl is by winning the Pac-12 championship Dec. 7. If Arizona State beats Arizona this week, the league title game will be played in Tempe, Ariz. Otherwise, it will be held at Stanford.

The only impact the Notre Dame game has on the Cardinal's postseason destination is if Stanford loses to Arizona State next week. In that case, a win against the Irish could be the difference between the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl - which would all be major disappointments anyway for a program that has been a BCS staple of late.

With that in mind, Shaw and his players said they won't approach the Notre Dame game any differently, and what happened last year in South Bend should actually serve as more motivation.

Stanford's 20-13 overtime loss ended when officials ruled Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line on fourth down, and a video review - which some at Stanford still dispute - was ruled inconclusive. Finishing strong became the Cardinal's mantra after that loss, and they rolled off eight straight victories, including the Pac-12 championship game and the Rose Bowl.

Shaw said he won't talk about last season's loss with his players because it has no bearing on Saturday's outcome. Instead, he will focus on what he always has following any game - effort and execution.

"We don't go back in our rooms and cry, which for some reason is what people want us to do, because that's what some people do," Shaw said. "When you have a stake in it, and you're in it, you take the lessons learned and you go forward."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly expects the game to again come down to a matter of inches, even with his team being two-touchdown underdogs. Kelly said he believes the Irish have a chance if they have an effective running game, can eliminate big plays and hold the Cardinal to no more than 20 points.

It's a stout task: Stanford is third in the nation against the run, giving up 89.5 yards a game, and averages 33.4 points. The Cardinal also have won 15 straight at home, the second-longest streak in the nation, outrushing opponents 1,268 yards to 433 yards there this season.

Last season, the Irish outrushed the Cardinal 150-147, the first time since 2006 they had the rushing advantage in the annual game. The last Irish running back to score a rushing touchdown against the Cardinal was Armando Allen in 2008. The only other rushing TD came in 2011 by backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix.

Kelly believes the Irish showed a toughness in last week's 23-13 win over BYU that should help them this week.

"We need to continue to build on that and develop that, and that's the way we've got to play this game of football," Kelly said Tuesday.

Notre Dame's last win against a top-10 opponent came last year, 30-13 at No. 8 Oklahoma. Earlier last season the Irish won 20-3 at No. 10 Michigan State. Before that, they had lost nine straight to top-10 teams, including 28-14 to No. 4 Stanford in 2011.

Stanford has won three of the last four and Kelly described it as ''a great rivalry.''

''Both teams want to be the smartest, toughest football teams in the country. Stanford right now is ranked eighth in the country. We are ranked 25th,'' he said. ''We get a chance to decide it on the football field and so last year we were able to get Stanford. Now we've got a chance to settle it again on Saturday.''

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