jwilner@mercurynews.com

STANFORD -- Whether it proves to be Stanford's final home game or not, Saturday's tussle with Notre Dame and the surrounding events will carry an emotional wallop.

The festivities begin just before the 4 p.m. kickoff, when Stanford honors a senior class that has averaged 11 wins per year.

Six hours later, the Cardinal will find out if it's the home team or road team next week for the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State.

In between, eighth-ranked Stanford will look to avenge last year's controversial loss to the Irish, although the players say they are taking a more detached approach.

"We can't treat it like a revenge game; that's over," quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "It's still a rivalry, and we're playing for a trophy" -- the Legends Trophy, made of Irish crystal and California Redwood -- "but we can't look to last year for motivation."

The bitter overtime defeat in South Bend featured a whistle from the stands that confused the Cardinal in the red zone and an errant spotting of the ball that cost Stanford several yards on a critical drive.

But the game is best remembered for its chaotic finish: Officials ruled Stanford tailback Stepfan Taylor had been stopped inches short of the tying touchdown despite video evidence to the contrary.

It was the Cardinal's second -- and last -- loss of the season.


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Did it prevent Stanford from playing for the national championship? That's unknowable.

Did it provide fuel for the ensuing 13-game winning streak, which spanned two seasons and included a Rose Bowl victory? That's undeniable.

"We felt there were a lot of problems and knew there was a need for changes," guard David Yankey said earlier this week. "There was definitely a carry-over."

The Irish (8-3) aren't as good as they were last year and recently lost one of their top players, nose tackle Louis Nix, for the remainder of the season. But they're happy to engage Stanford in four quarters (and more) of ground-and-pound football.

"You look at (them) as a spread team, and then you watch them," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "They're big up front; they run three running backs at you. They're a good, physical team that plays with a similar mentality as we do."

The outcome has no bearing on the Cardinal's position in the conference race, but it could factor into Stanford's postseason fate.

If the Cardinal beats Arizona State, it would head to the 100th Rose Bowl to face Ohio State, Michigan State or Wisconsin.

If Stanford loses to Arizona State, it would compete against Oregon, USC and UCLA for berths in the second-tier bowl games.

In that situation, the Notre Dame result could serve to bolster or undermine the Cardinal's profile.

"A loss to Notre Dame would impact Stanford's brand," said a bowl official who requested anonymity.

The best way for the Cardinal to avoid the Sun or Las Vegas bowls is to forget the postseason permutations, forget the controversial finish in South Bend, forget vengeance, forget Senior Day -- and win.

"We're pretty good about taking it one week at a time and not looking at the season as a whole," linebacker Trent Murphy said.

"But it's challenging to not get emotionally invested."

Especially this week, against this opponent.

  • Notre Dame safeties Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate did not travel with the team because of a team rules violation, the school announced Friday.