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Stanford sits atop Pac-10


COUGARS

We’ve got some thoughts on today’s practice … OK, most of the thoughts will be from Jeff Tuel, who stood before the television cameras today and shared his feelings about starting – and getting hurt. But before we put that up, we’re going to give you the unedited version of our Pac-10 notebook and game of the week. Read on.

••••••••••

• Here’s the notebook …

PULLMAN – Take a quick look at the Pac-10 football standings after five weeks of the season. Atop the list sits the Stanford Cardinal, the only 3-0 team in conference play and sporting as good an overall record as anyone.

But then check out the national rankings.

There’s USC, a game behind the Cardinals in the conference, seventh in both polls. Oregon, a half-game back, ranked 13th by the Associated Press, 17th by the coaches.

No Stanford.

Sure, the Cardinal are receiving votes in both, but the top 25 is still out of reach despite trailing for only two seconds all season until UCLA jumped ahead 3-0 last week.

Of course, those two seconds were the final ones at Wake Forest and accounted for Stanford’s lone loss.

For his part, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh says such things as rankings don’t matter to his team.

“I’ll put it this way, it’s irrelevant to us,” said Harbaugh, who has tried to cultivate a tough, hard-working persona for the Cardinal since arriving from the University of San Diego three years ago.

“We take a very humble approach. … We’re a blue-collar team. Blue-collar teams don’t need to be ranked right now.”

But others around the conference think the Cardinal are being dissed.

“I really don’t understand what you have to do to get into the top 25,” said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose previously undefeated Bruins lost 24-16 to Stanford. “I think they are a very good football team. I know I voted them in.”

So why aren’t the Cardinal ranked? Is it some sort of conspiracy? Or laziness?

Neuheisel votes for the latter.

“I just think it has to do with people just not studying,” he said. “The votes are sometimes just, ‘let’s just get it done.’ As a voter you have to have it in there by 8:30 Sunday morning and a lot of games aren’t finished on the West Coast (until late).

“So I think some times you just start moving chess pieces around instead of really studying and taking into account who really deserves it.”

If the voters did take the time to study the Cardinal resume, they would see a team that is second in the Pac-10 in rushing and leads in passing efficiency. And, though middle of the road in most defensive statistics, the Cardinal is fourth in scoring defense despite being tied for last in the conference in turnover margin.

“They should be ranked to me, when you look at the fact their only loss was to a good program at Wake Forest in a great football game that went down to the last seconds,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said this week.

In Riley’s eyes, the play of running back Toby Gerhart, leading the conference with 130 rushing yards per game, should get Stanford some recognition all by itself.

“He should get all the attention he certainly deserves,” said Riley, whose team hosts the Cardinal this week.

Just like the team he plays for.

“It will all shake out in the end,” Neuheisel said. “The good teams will rise above because they are going to have more of a resume.”

•••

Game of the Week

Oregon (4-1, 2-0 in Pac-10) at UCLA (3-1, 0-1)

12:30 p.m. Saturday; ABC

There should be some questions answered for both teams after this one, but before they get to the Rose Bowl, each will have to answer some questions of their own. Who will be the Ducks quarterback, usual-starter Jeremiah Masoli, injured against WSU and still not practicing, or oft-injured Nate Costa? How about Oregon’s other injuries, especially in the secondary, with three starters possibly missing? And UCLA, how will Kevin Prince practice this week coming off a broken jaw? When those questions are answered and the game decided we should know if Oregon’s four-game winning streak was built more by playing at home or by better play. And whether the Bruins will be a Pac-10 afterthought or contender.

•••

• That’s it for now. We’ll be back soon with Tuel’s thoughts and some practice notes. Until then …


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