Peterson: Football’s schedule brutal, but could be worse

Aug. 26, 2014, 11:41 p.m.

According to the “experts,” it’s the reason why Stanford shouldn’t be considered a national title contender this season. For the voters in the Associated Press poll, it might be the reason why Stanford ranks 11th, behind No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 UCLA, despite having beaten Oregon in each of the past two seasons and UCLA in six straight meetings.

At this point, Stanford’s schedule – which includes road dates with No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA, No. 17 Notre Dame, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington and a home matchup against No. 15 USC – has been discussed almost as much as the team itself.

It’s daunting. It’s ridiculously difficult. It might be the toughest schedule this side of the Mississippi. But we knew it was coming after Stanford faced each of its five ranked road opponents at home last year.

And honestly, Stanford caught a big break with the layout of the schedule itself.

Over the past two seasons, Stanford’s ultimate undoing came after arguably its biggest win of the season. In 2012, after taking down college football poster boy Matt Barkley and No. 2 USC, Stanford fell flat on the road against Keith Price and Washington. Then in 2013, Stanford romped No. 2 Oregon at home but imploded on the road against a motivated USC squad hungry for revenge after four years of coming up short.

Moving past a season-defining win and finding the motivation to again earn another huge win can be of the most difficult tasks in football. That lesson was learned the hard way in each of the past two seasons. But thankfully for the Card, that lesson shouldn’t be too much of an issue this time around.

This year, Stanford faces massive underdog Army after its big matchup with USC, hosts unranked Oregon State after traveling to Tempe to face Arizona State, has a bye week after battling Oregon and plays UCLA in the last game of the regular season. The only back-to-back of conference road games involves that school on the other side of the bay. Arguably Stanford’s three or four most difficult games are scattered between contests that, while they can’t be overlooked, should pose much less of a challenge.

So while Stanford’s schedule remains exceedingly difficult, it shouldn’t immediately disqualify it from playoff consideration, especially considering that Stanford largely avoided its traditional Achilles heel of back-to-back grueling matchups.

It could be a whole lot worse.

Last year, UCLA played Stanford and Oregon on the road in consecutive weeks. Later, it faced Washington, then Arizona State and then USC. And yet UCLA finished just a touchdown against Arizona State shy of a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Card play a similar caliber of opposition, but their slate looks much more manageable with important games spread nicely across the board.

The scariest part of Stanford’s schedule might not even involve Oregon or UCLA. After a September bye week, the Card travel to Washington and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks to face one squad rejuvenated by a new face and another reinforced by an old one. Chris Peterson, he of bold Statue of Liberty play calls and constant overachieving teams, takes over Washington while Everett Golson, the quarterback of Notre Dame’s runner-up team in 2012 that missed 2013 due to “poor academic judgment,” returns in hopes of returning the Irish to glory. Not only that, but Stanford lost to both these teams on the road in 2012, the last time it faced them away from the confines of Stanford Stadium.

However, Washington will be playing with a very untested squad in the midst of scheme changes while Notre Dame is still overshadowed by the suspensions of four players due to academic misconduct that could wind up costing it every victory from its 2012 season. Even this back-to-back could be worse.

Stanford will likely be underdogs in at least two games this season and four others will certainly be close. Its difficult schedule could be the reason for the end of a four-season run of 10 or more victories.

But, just as likely as it is that the schedule causes the Card’s season to collapse, it might not be as big of a deal as it has been made out to be, thanks to a fortunate layout. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Unfortunately for Michael Peterson, his projected 2014-15 courseload gives him the highest strength of schedule of any of The Daily’s sports staffers. Ask him for his analysis of Stanford’s computer science classes at mrpeters ‘at’

Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’

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