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No. 7 Stanford motivated to earn national respect

By Antonio Gonzalez

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 5:28 p.m. MDT

Stanford running back Michael Spanos (4) is tackled by UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

STANFORD, Calif. — Any chance Stanford coach David Shaw might've had of facing a letdown from his players faded when the latest rankings came out.

Despite four blowout victories and Andrew Luck piling up highlights for his Heisman Trophy campaign, the Cardinal are back where they started the season, at No. 7 in the AP poll. So there's hardly a reason to relax.

With Pac-12 newcomer Colorado (1-4, 0-1) coming to The Farm on Saturday, style points might matter just as much during this stretch of relatively weaker opponents. Stanford (4-0, 2-0) has beaten San Jose State, Duke, Arizona and UCLA by a combined score of 183-46 and yet has failed to gain ground in the rankings through five weeks.

Don't think players haven't noticed.

"One of the biggest reasons that I came to Stanford was because Stanford was the underdog, was always known as the underdog," said defensive tackle Terrence Stephens, who entered the program a year after the Cardinal went 4-8 in Jim Harbaugh's first season in 2007. "Nobody expected Stanford University to even be in the AP poll, to be even talked about in the AP poll. But we expected ourselves to make sure that we got there. So there's a lot of motivation within the team, but it's nothing that we need to talk about because everybody sees it."

Forgive players if they feel a bit disrespected.

The Cardinal have committed the fewest turnovers (1) in the nation, have the sixth best scoring defense (11.5 points per game) and have the presumptive No. 1 overall pick (Luck) in the NFL draft shredding opponents so much his coach is letting him call his own plays. Outside of the season-ending injury to inside linebacker and leading tackler Shayne Skov at Arizona, it has been a near-perfect start.

"That's why we concentrate on what we can do in our own conference, because everything else is up to somebody else," Shaw said. "At some point, it goes to voters and computers. The moment you try to do things to impress people, I don't know what you do to impress a computer, it distracts you from what it takes to win football games."

The chatter around campus is far from simmering now.

Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, started the same way last year. After a loss at Oregon in November shattered the Cardinal's national championship dreams and sent them tumbling down the rankings, only then did the coach start to voice his opinion that Stanford should make a BCS bowl — eventually earning a trip to the Orange Bowl and beating Virginia Tech 40-12.

Shaw doesn't expect to do any lobbying this season. He said he only checks the polls one time every year.

"When the season is over. It's the only poll that matters," Shaw said. "And the good teams know that. The good teams don't get caught up in it. The good teams don't go on an emotional roller coaster based on how other people feel about you. The good teams just show up and play, and when the season is over, they look and see what bowl game they get a chance to go to."

The Cardinal moved as high as No. 5 in the AP poll this year only to fall back a spot each of the last two weeks. They are fourth in the coaches poll, which factors into the BCS rankings. LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Boise State and Oklahoma State are all ranked ahead of Stanford in the AP poll.

The BCS formula, long lambasted by those who want a playoff system, is based on three components that count one-third: the Harris poll, coaches poll and the average of six computer rankings. The first BCS poll will be released Oct. 16.

Hurting the Cardinal more than anything so far has been the schedule.

Besides the late starts on the West Coast, other Pac-12 schools had a rough go against non-conference opponents. But there is still time to rally.

Washington has a chance to be ranked by the time the Huskies come to Stanford on Oct. 22 and Southern California could jump back into the AP Top 25 when the Cardinal head to the Coliseum on Oct. 29. And, of course, November matchups against Oregon and Notre Dame — not to mention a possible Pac-12 championship game berth in December — could give Stanford that much-needed boost to put the Cardinal over the top.

Then again, maybe not.

"We can only control what we can control," tight end Coby Fleener said. "Unfortunately, people's opinions actually do matter when it comes to the end."

Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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