STANFORD (AP) — When Stanford steps on the field to take on No. 9 Notre Dame, it would be understandable if the 20th-ranked Cardinal also paid close attention to what was happening several hundred miles north of the Bay Area.
Because as much as it would mean for Stanford (8-3, No. 21 CFP) to beat the Fighting Irish (9-2, No. 8), the result in the Apple Cup in Seattle between Washington State and Washington will have a much bigger impact on the Cardinal’s future.
A Huskies win would give Stanford the Pac-12 North title and a spot in the conference championship game next week against Southern California. The Cougars would earn that spot if they win, based on taking the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cardinal with a win earlier this month.
“We have one of the top teams in the nation coming in this week in Notre Dame,” coach David Shaw said. “We can’t spend too much effort on somebody else’s game. We have to get ready to play one heck of a football team.”
Shaw said there have been discussions about whether to give updates on the Apple Cup at Stanford Stadium. He said while the score won’t be constantly rolling on the message boards, he expects periodic updates to be given over the public address system and knows many in the stadium will be following the game.
He’s not concerned about it taking away from Stanford’s focus.
“I don’t mind if our guys have an idea of what’s going on someplace else,” he said. “They’re always hearing scores. If the score is going the way we want, ‘Hey great but its third-and-6, let’s go back out and make a play.’”
Notre Dame also could have an eye on games happening elsewhere because the Irish would remain in the hunt for a playoff berth with a win, as long as they get some help. Notre Dame is ranked eighth in the latest playoff rankings and could be positioned as one of the top two-loss teams for one of the four playoff berths if things break the right way.
No matter what happens elsewhere, the Irish should be positioned well for a New Year’s Six berth with a 10th win.
“If you’re not playing for a national championship here at Notre Dame, you should be looking with your eye toward playing in New Year’s Six,” coach Brian Kelly said. “I think that means that all is right in the world, in the Notre Dame football world, if that’s happening.”
Here are some other things to watch:
LOVE’S HEALTH: The bigger concern for the Cardinal is the health of big-play back Bryce Love. Love has been slowed by an injured ankle for more than a month and missed most of the fourth quarter in last week’s win at Cal. Shaw called Love “day to day” but Love said he expects to play. That will be a major factor considering he leads the nation with 172.3 yards rushing per game and has an FBS-record 11 runs of at least 50 yards this season.
“He’s obviously an incredible player, gets a lot of attention, and it’s well-deserved,” Notre Dame rover Drue Tranquill said. “We’ll have to contain him and be aware.”
BIG-PLAY BACKS: Love is not the only explosive runner in this game. Notre Dame’s Josh Adams is nearly as dangerous. He leads the nation with seven runs of at least 60 yards and is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Adams’ breakout game as a freshman came at Stanford when he had 168 yards, including a 62-yard TD run in a 38-36 loss.
“We were introduced to him two years ago here,” Shaw said. “Full speed, big, physical guy, he runs through contact. He’s one of those guys in the backfield who can break a run at any time.”
ROAD WOES: The Irish have struggled on the road against top teams. Notre Dame has lost eight straight road games against teams ranked in the top 20 since beating Oklahoma in 2012. That includes a 41-8 loss at Miami two weeks ago.
“It’s hard to win on the road, and if you’re playing top-20 teams on the road, it’s even more difficult,” Kelly said.
K.J.’S CONFIDENCE: After struggling in the loss at Washington State when he completed 9 of 20 passes for 105 yards and an interception, freshman quarterback K.J. Costello has improved the last two weeks for the Cardinal. He threw for 211 yards in a win over Washington and then completed 17 of 26 passes for 195 yards and the TD that gave Stanford the lead for good in the Big Game against California last week.
“He has a confidence about him,” Love said. “It’s amazing to see from a guy that age.”
AP freelancer John Fineran in South Bend, Indiana, contributed to this report.
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