Stanford focused on winning, not bowl eligibility

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Even after all the recent setbacks and the roadblocks that remain, David Shaw is still talking about what bowl Stanford could go to - not if his team will make a bowl.

Say this about the Cardinal coach's confidence: it hasn't wavered yet. It will, however, likely be tested again.

That's just the kind of year it has been on The Farm.

Stanford (5-4, 3-3) started the season coming off back-to-back Pac-12 championships and as the only team in the country with four straight BCS bowl berths. Now the Cardinal are just trying to become bowl-eligible - and, despite Shaw's self-assurance, even that's no longer a sure thing.

Stanford hosts No. 25 Utah (6-3, 3-3) on Saturday before finishing the season at improved rival California (5-4, 3-4) and rejuvenated No. 14 UCLA (8-2, 5-2). The Cardinal need to win one of those games to become bowl-eligible.

''We put ourselves in this position and who knows what bowl game we have a chance to go to?'' Shaw said. ''It's hard to go through the matrix because you have no idea what other people are going to do. Our conference is still extremely turbulent, so who knows where we could finish up as far as what bowl game that will put us in? For us, we have football to play and we're still trying to play our best. And the challenge for us is still out there: to play our best complete game to date.''

Stanford lost 45-16 at Oregon before last week's bye gave the Cardinal extra time to absorb their new reality.

The Cardinal haven't missed a bowl game since Jim Harbaugh's second year as coach in 2008, when they also started 5-4 but lost their final three games. If Stanford can win at least one more game this season, its most likely postseason destination would be the Las Vegas Bowl, Sun Bowl or Cactus Bowl.

Any of those would be a major step down for a program whose last four landing spots include the Rose Bowl (loss), Rose Bowl (win), Fiesta Bowl (loss) and Orange Bowl (win).

At this point, players say they're trying to focus on saving the season and not worrying about where it ends. Saturday is Senior Day, after all, when many of those who have helped build the program into a national contender will be playing their last game at Stanford Stadium.

Fifth-year senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley said it's always been about the competition. He said ''no matter what the record is, no matter if there's people watching or not, I want to win.''

Redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Hogan, who declined to discuss whether this week would be his final home game at Stanford, said the team is trying to rally around the outgoing seniors and ''play for each other.''

Center Graham Shuler said life at Stanford goes beyond football for most players at the prestigious university. But, he said, each team wants to leave a positive legacy, and this year is no different.

''I think this group's excited about salvaging three games and winning three games and making a season that we can be proud of,'' Shuler said.

Stanford has shown an ability to rebound during its recent run of success. The Cardinal are 10-0 after a loss under Shaw and haven't dropped consecutive games since October 2009.

Stanford lost 27-21 at Utah last season, a setback that shattered an undefeated run and national-championship hopes. Shaw said that loss played no part in his message to players, and neither has his team's record.

''I've told our guys, `Win, lose or draw, beginning of season, end of season, I'm not the motivator,''' Shaw said. ''It's their job to get motivated. I just play the guys that are motivated. We have a lot of motivated guys.''

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Notes: Stanford FB/RB Patrick Skov will not play against Utah because of an undisclosed injury. Shaw said Skov could play against Cal and should definitely be back for UCLA.

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