Stanford can keep hopes alive vs. Irish

A topsy-turvy weekend in the BCS has given Stanford some new life.

The fourth-ranked Cardinal look to keep their hopes of playing for a national championship alive when they try for a third consecutive victory over surging No. 22 Notre Dame on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Stanford as a seven-point home favorite, with the total set at 58.

It seemed Stanford’s chances of playing for a BCS title were over when it lost 53-30 to then-No. 6 Oregon two weeks ago. However, the Cardinal (10-1) bounced back with a 31-28 victory over California last Saturday and experienced a BCS revival thanks to losses by the Ducks, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Clemson.

Though Stanford would need Oregon to fall to lowly Oregon State on Saturday to earn a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, it can still play for a BCS title if things fall into place. The Cardinal rank sixth in the BCS and likely need second-ranked Alabama to lose at Auburn this weekend and Oklahoma State to fall to Oklahoma next week to earn more consideration.

“All we talked about is there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in college football,” coach David Shaw said. “All we can do is go out and play our game and win on our field. That’s all we can control is what happens on our field.”

Stanford should be in for a challenge in its regular-season finale against Notre Dame (8-3), which has won eight of nine since opening with consecutive losses to South Florida and Michigan.

Though the Irish’s four-game winning streak has come against teams with a combined 15-29 record, they are playing with confidence. The Cardinal also seem like a much more confident group after rebounding from the Oregon loss by holding off the Golden Bears last week.

“I think we’re looser as a team,” Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said. “We’re playing like a team with nothing to lose, because we don’t. We’re a team fighting for a BCS bowl.”

After he threw two interceptions and was sacked three times against Oregon, Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck was 20 of 30 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Cal.

The senior has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 436 yards with a TD and two interceptions while winning both of his starts versus Notre Dame. Though the Irish have managed to prevent Luck from going off the last two seasons, coach Brian Kelly is well aware that he always has the potential for a big game.

Luck threw for 238 yards with the TD and both interceptions during last season’s 37-14 win at Notre Dame.

“It’s a matter of us doing a really good job in play-action and knowing when he’s going to throw it,” Kelly said. “Putting him in those positions when he has to throw the football is the most important thing. First and second down are very crucial for us.”

Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor was held to 45 yards on 17 carries versus Cal, but he had 108 on 28 rushes against the Irish last season.

“We know they’re going to get their yardage, they’re going to run the football, they’re an outstanding football team,” Kelly said. “But (we must) keep the points down and give us an opportunity offensively to run our offense and not get into a state where we have to play catch up.”

Though Stanford has allowed an average of 35.5 points during its last four contests, the Irish offense was dealt a major blow when senior running back Jonas Gray suffered a season-ending knee injury in last Saturday’s 16-14 home win over Boston College.

Gray, who rushed for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, and Cierre Wood were on track to become Notre Dame’s first pair of 1,000-yard rushers.

Wood, who ran 26 times for 94 yards against the Eagles, has 1,001 yards.

Michael Floyd topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark (1,014) for the second straight season after catching 10 balls for 92 yards versus Boston College. Floyd has 19 receptions for 310 yards and three TDs in three games against Stanford. He caught six passes for 85 yards and two scores in a 45-38 road loss to the Cardinal in 2009.

Notre Dame has not won five in a row since an eight-game run in 2006.

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