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Stanford will get up early at Wake Forest

9/9/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

There was a lot to like about Stanford's win at Washington State to open the season.

But, really, the Cardinal are exactly where they were last year, only they opened with a victory over Oregon State in 2008.

And then promptly lost their next two on the road.

So if the program is going to make the next step, it needs to make a statement -- no offense to the Cougars -- against a quality team on the road.

Stanford went 1-6 on the road last year, the lone victory coming at winless Washington. Seeing that their final record of 5-7 left them one game short of bowl eligibility, an ability to win on the road could mean a lot for this season's prospects -- particularly when they also have the benefit of seven home games.

Enter Wake Forest, which is playing host the Cardinal on Saturday.

The Demon Deacons have become an unlikely ACC power under Jim Grobe, but they look vulnerable after losing their opener to Baylor.

It's a big road weekend in the Pac-10, with USC at Ohio State and UCLA at Tennessee, so the Pac-10 could make a strong statement on where it stands in the BCS conference pecking order. But teams have to learn to win on the road, which didn't happen much last year.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh didn't seem terribly excited with his game's noon kickoff, which translates to 9 a.m. PDT.

"Seems like that's the new trend in college football: If you're playing a team from the opposite coast, let's see if we can screw them on the time of kickoff," he said. "If it's a West Coast team playing on the East Coast, you play as early as possible and if it's an East Coast team playing on the West Coast, you play as late as possible."

There could be some points scored in this one. Wake Forest is rebuilding its defense after losing its top-five tacklers, including a pair of high NFL draft choices -- linebacker Aaron Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith -- but the offense welcomes back nine starters, including senior quarterback Riley Skinner.

And Grobe's offense can stress a defense with its misdirection and fast-paced tempo. "[They are] really creative with what they do offensively -- and they do it quickly," Harbaugh said.

As for his offense, Harbaugh appears to have found the explosive player at receiver -- Chris Owusu -- who can make it dangerous for a defense to key too much on running back Toby Gerhart. Owusu had a 63-yard TD reception and 85-yard kickoff return against the Cougars.

"Chris is very explosive," Harbaugh said. "We've seen it coming. He's playing tougher, more physical. We saw that in the spring. He caught a lot of balls -- almost 10,000 balls this summer on his own -- and he's really improved his catching ability."

Harbaugh also was happy with redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck's debut. Luck completed 11 of 23 for 193 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

"Andrew played very well," Harbaugh said. "He did a great job running the offense. He did a great job with the audible package. Really good in the huddle, enunciating plays. He's got a megaphone at the line of scrimmage. Throwing the ball, the receivers didn't have to go searching for the ball. For the most part, he was very accurate."

If there is a concern for the Cardinal, the defense gave up 351 yards to the Cougars, who ran the ball well at times.

Grobe's offense will be a significant step up in competition.

If the Cardinal manages to win, it should be favored to prevail in each of its next three games, which are all at home: San Jose State, Washington and UCLA.

That means they could be on the cusp of bowl eligibility by the second weekend of October, which would be quite an accomplishment for a team that hasn't played in one since 2001.