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November 25, 2012At Pac-12 Media Day, Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas noticed a trend: No one was giving Stanford much love.
To an extent he understood it. Stanford lost a lot of players to the NFL, including Andrew Luck, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin who all left early.
Thomas remembers trying to convince people that Stanford wasn't ready to take a step back.
"I told them it was the same thing when Toby (Gerhart) left, it was the same thing when (coach Jim) Harbaugh left and it was the same thing when Andrew left," Thomas said. "I guess people out there don't get it. They don't understand what type of guys we have on this team, what type of coaches we have.
"We're not going away, we're not a one person team. We never have been. People can say what they want, but we know this team is going to be around for awhile."
Not only did Stanford not take a step back, it can be argued the Cardinal took a step forward as it prepares to host the Pac-12 Football Championship Friday against UCLA.
"If you would have told me that I would go to a Pac-12 championship game without Andrew Luck and David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, those guys," Thomas said, "I'd say that's a tough challenge, if we couldn't do it with those guys."
Yet that's what happened. The Cardinal needed to beat three top-20 teams in the final three games, including a road game at No. 1-ranked Oregon, and did. If not for road losses to Washington and Notre Dame - both games where Stanford held fourth-quarter leads - Friday's game would be for a berth in the National Championship.
Instead, it'll be the Irish against the winner of the SEC Championship. Rest assured, there was no love lost by part of the Cardinal when it comes to Notre Dame.
"I won't be rooting for them," said Thomas, who flirted with the idea of leaving early himself.
With just six days separating their regular-season finale at UCLA and Friday's rematch, preparing presents a new dynamic.
"It's good in that at least it's six days and playing the same team as opposed to six days and playing someone you haven't played before," coach David Shaw said. "That's the positive side of it."
"Our challenge is that we don't outsmart ourselves, but at the same time we need to make sure that we are as diverse as we can be to make sure that the things that we did positively we got to know that UCLA will come back and have answers for," Shaw said. "The things they did positively, we got to make sure that we fix those things that hurt us, in particular (TE Joseph Fauria), who made plays."
All things considered, Stanford was dominant in its win against UCLA on Friday. QB Kevin Hogan did enough to be effective, Stepfan Taylor was brilliant, running for 142 yards on 20 carries and TE Zach Ertz showed why he was a finalist for the John Mackey Award with five catches for 71 yards.
A repeat effort, at home, earns the team a trip the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1999 and would represent the third straight BCS bowl game for the program. Only Oregon can claim the same.
Shaw likes home-site setup: The Pac-12 could have decided to hold its football championship at a neutral site like San Diego, but chose to award a home game to the conference's best team. Shaw's a fan and not just this year because Stanford is the beneficiary.
"I like playing at a home site," Shaw said. "I think the neutral site takes a little pizzazz out of it. It's a positive thing. It puts it in the hands of the teams, if you play well enough you get to have a home game."
Taylor well rested: Stepfan Taylor's 20th and final carry of the game Saturday was a 1-yard touchdown with 9:33 left in the third quarter. Usua Amanam returned a fumble for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to make it 35-10 Stanford and the game was pretty much out of reach.
At that point, Shaw decided to rest Taylor and let Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright, Ricky Seale and Kelsey Young carry the ball the rest of the way.
"We have great depth on this team and it's nice seeing them go on the field, especially the running back group," Taylor said. "It's nice to see Ricky, Remound and Anthony go out there and get some carries. I rested up because it's a quick turnaround."
P Zychlinski doubtful: Punter Daniel Zychlinski is not expected to play against UCLA.
"I'll let you know hopefully by (Monday) if that changes at all," Shaw said. "I'm not counting on him."
Zychlinski was injured against UCLA and Ben Ryhne replaced him. Rhyne punted three times for 117 yards.
DT Stephens' status unknown: Shaw was vague when asked about the status of DT Terrence Stephens, who did not play Saturday for what was referred to as personal reasons. Shaw said more information about his status would be ready on Monday.