Peterson: What if Hogan played against Washington, Notre Dame in 2012?

Sept. 21, 2014, 9:17 p.m.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we’re going to find out a lot about the 2014 Stanford football team.

This weekend, Stanford travels to the noisy Husky Stadium to take on an undefeated Washington Huskies team that has given Stanford fits in each of the last two seasons. After that, the Card travel to South Bend to take on what will likely be a top-10 team in Notre Dame, another team that always seems to bring out the worst in Stanford.

But, as much as we will learn about this year’s team from these two weeks, it’s hard not to think about how much we will learn about what the 2012 Stanford football team could have been.

For those unfamiliar with the 2012 season, the Card cruised to a 12-2 record, a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl win — a phenomenal, program-defining season.

And yet, could it have been even better?

Those two marks in the loss column came in road contests against Washington and Notre Dame in eerily similar scenarios to what is shaping up this year.

Exactly two years ago this Saturday, when Stanford plays Washington in Seattle, the No. 8 Cardinal also played an unranked Huskies team in Washington, losing 17-13 after holding a 10-point lead late in the third quarter. Two weeks later, No. 17 Stanford lost 20-13 in overtime against a top-10 Notre Dame team in South Bend.

If the scorelines don’t provide enough of an indicator, those two games were really close. Like one-yard-away-from-tying-the-game-in-overtime close. (At least against Notre Dame. Against Washington it was 30 yards more for the win.)

Though two years change a lot in college football, the relative talent levels of Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame all appear to be about the same as two years ago, according to each team’s ranking. Stanford still makes a living off of a stifling defense and a methodical offense, like Notre Dame, while Washington may have undergone the biggest changes due to a coaching switch.

So, it only seems fair that we can ask the question and maybe finally have it answered: Could Kevin Hogan have made the difference between a Rose Bowl appearance and, dare I say, a national championship matchup against Alabama in 2012?

Then-senior Josh Nunes quarterbacked the Card in each of their two losses — though, to his credit, he also provided a huge spark in Stanford’s upset of USC — and in the first eight games of the season before ceding the majority of playing time at quarterback to Hogan in the ninth game against Colorado.

In the first narrow defeat to Washington, Nunes went 18-for-37 (49 percent completion rate) with 170 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He failed to ignite a Stanford offense that didn’t record an offensive touchdown in the game. Stanford went 5-of-18 on third downs and on the game’s biggest play, a fourth-and-4 with two minutes on the clock and Stanford trailing, he overthrew Levine Toilolo, who had over half a foot in height on his defender, for an interception.

The loss was by no means on Nunes’ shoulders, as the entire offense notably struggled, but even just a slight improvement from the quarterback might have been enough to provide the difference in that tight game.

Against Notre Dame, Nunes finished 12-for-25 (48 percent completion rate) with 125 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Card managed only three points in four red-zone trips. Safe to say, the offense was the culprit in the loss, not just Nunes. But again, it’s possible that a slightly better performance from the quarterback position could have brought about a win.

At that time, Kevin Hogan was only a redshirt freshman whose playing time experience consisted of time as an option quarterback in change-of-pace formations for the Card. Nearly a month passed between when Stanford lost to Notre Dame and when Hogan made his first start against Oregon State. Hogan might not have been ready to play a month prior to when he did and he could have been worse than Nunes against Washington and Notre Dame.

Still…what if?

In the first three games that Hogan played significant time (he replaced Nunes after two series against Colorado and made his first start the following week), he had a 74 percent completion rate and averaged 216 yards passing, 2.3 total touchdowns, 45 yards rushing and one interception, against Colorado, No. 13 Oregon State and No. 2 Oregon, no less. Those numbers give him 52 more yards passing, 38 more yards rushing, 1.0 more total touchdowns and 21 percent more passes completed per game than Nunes, according to Nunes’ season averages.

In games that were as close as Stanford-Washington and Stanford-Notre Dame, that improvement might have been more than enough to secure a victory.

Though the numbers argue that Stanford could have won with Hogan at quarterback, we’ll get to see firsthand over the next two weeks how Stanford does against Washington and Notre Dame with Hogan. Even though many things have changed, the eerie similarities between the teams and the games from two years ago will give us somewhat of a look at how Hogan could have been in those scenarios.

Maybe soon we will have a better idea as to whether the 2012 team under Hogan could have given Alabama a run for its money in the title game.

Michael Peterson is too quick to forget that without Josh Nunes at the helm, Stanford would not have beaten a high-flying, Matt Scott-led Arizona team in overtime at home behind a sparkling quarterback performance. Remind him of your favorite Josh Nunes memories 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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