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STANFORD, Calif. – 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) Saturday in a nonconference 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," Stanford 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. During the week, when people are lamenting and calling me names and the sky is falling when we lose and when people are exalting us and telling us how wonderful we are when we win, those things can't ever affect the football team or coaches because we move on and play 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. And with Oregon's surprising loss at Arizona last Saturday, 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 in the win over 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 will have 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 for a program that 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.
"The hardest thing is parents and fans and media, things like that, as far as the Internet and Twitter. It's challenging to not get emotionally invested and things like that," outside linebacker Trent Murphy said. "The biggest thing is just focusing on what we can control, which is usually our attitude and effort on the practice field. That's kind of where our attention is."
What happened last year in South Bend should actually serve as more motivation.
Stanford's overtime loss to Notre Dame 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."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP