Defense wins championships; it also denies them. Stanford proved just that Saturday night, shocking Oregon in the prime time showcase, 17-14.
Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason crafted a game plan that accomplished a feat few defenses have been able to claim in the past half-decade. The 14 points the Cardinal yielded were the fewest an Oregon offense has put up since losing 44-10 at USC in October 2008. That Trojan defense was considered one of the greatest in college football history.
This Cardinal unit may not earn the same kudos, but it certainly made its mark in the annals of the game by stymieing an opponent averaging over 54 points per game, in the process taking control of its BCS championship destiny out of its own hands.
Oregon can still play for the crystal ball, but the Ducks need help. Stanford now owns the tiebreaker to represent the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game. UO needs UCLA to hand Stanford its second conference loss next week when the Cardinal visit the Rose Bowl. Oregon would then need to defeat that same Bruin team — one that hasn’t lost since Sept. 29 — and after defeating Oregon State, of course.
Oh, and the Ducks will also become avid USC fans a week from Saturday. New No. 1 Notre Dame stands as the sole unbeaten in college football, eligible for the postseason. Ohio State sits at 11-0 but is serving a one-year bowl ban.
The Irish hasn’t always won pretty. Notre Dame’s 38-0 rout of Wake Forest to move to 11-0 was a deviation from its typical MO. But the Irish has won, which at this juncture, is all that matters. Among Notre Dame’s wins is an overtime defeat of Stanford last month, giving the Fighting Irish an important leg up over Oregon beyond the superior record.
Likely to move into No. 2 now is either Alabama or Georgia. The two SEC division leaders are on course to meet in Atlanta two weeks from Saturday with the conference championship at stake. Thanks to Stanford and Baylor, a berth in the BCS championship is almost assuredly at stake, as well, ensuring a seventh consecutive title game featuring a representative of the SEC.
After twice losing the Ducks with one of the sport’s all-time great offensive players on its side, Stanford reversed course to make its third time the charm. Stanford also made a declarative statement about the state of college football. High tempo offenses built around smaller, speedier athletes are en vogue, but look who sits atop the college football world in late November.
It’s a Stanford team with a physically imposing defense. It’s Alabama with its legion of tank-like defenders, linemen and running backs. And it’s No. 1 Notre Dame, a team that has won on its defensive play all season.