No doubt, Stanford head coach David Shaw is spending a great deal of time thinking about Justin Blackmon, the prolific Oklahoma State wide receiver who will be one of the biggest challenges for the Cardinal in the upcoming Fiesta Bowl.
The polished receiver, who has the size, speed and athleticism to make most defensive coordinators reach for the Pepto is unlike anything the Cardinal have seen this season. Shaw tried to compare him to some of the Pac-12 receivers Stanford has faced, but could only make the comparison by blending two of the conference's top receivers into one.
"He's not quite the size of [Cal's] Keenan Allen, but he plays big, like Keenan plays," Shaw explained. "That ball goes up, he's jumping over people. He makes the tough, acrobatic catches. He doesn't have the super speed of [USC's] Robert Woods, but he runs great routes like Robert does. He changes direction, so he's in the middle between those two guys probably."
As a former NFL assistant who spent years evaluating incoming draftees, Shaw said he knows what a can't-miss pick looks like.
"He's one of those guys that I know NFL scouts are just drooling over," Shaw said. "He's going to be an every-down, starting receiver very early in his career in the NFL."
Remember that bad rap the Cardinal kept getting about not traveling well or having complacent fans? Toss it out. Stanford sold its allotment of 17,500 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl within five days of the game being announced.
This comes on the heels of Stanford selling out six of seven home games this season.
"I think there is great enthusiasm for this team and the players who populate it," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said in an email to the San Jose Mercury News. "There is no doubt that the opportunity to see a great group of seniors play one more game was a big motivation."
STAY IN SCHOOL
Shaw said high school seniors graduating a semester early to come to college doesn't work at Stanford -- either academically or athletically. Shaw said he and former head coach Jim Harbaugh studied that scenario and how it would work at Stanford and it didn't add up.
"You have a lot of guys were getting hurt," Shaw said. "It's high school seniors playing college football in spring of their senior year, whereas, with us, those guys finished high school, start to work out and do the things we ask them to do and they get an entire summer to get bigger, faster, stronger, and there's six more months of body maturity, six more months of lifting weights, getting stronger and coming in to the fall ready to play college football."
He'd rather they complete their full high school term, participate in all of the postseason all-star games and make the most of the high school experience.
"I think [all-star games are] great," Shaw said. "I like the fact that the coaches have to stay away from them so they get to be pure. Our stance hasn't changed since we got here, which is enjoy the heck out of high school. Enjoy it. Take advantage of every opportunity. Play multiple sports. If you get into an all-star game, go play in that all-star game. You'll meet guys in an all-star game you are going to play against for the next four years and some of them in the pros as you get older. You can't pass up those opportunities when you're a high school senior. You have to take advantage of every single one of them."
With this week being finals, the Cardinal are taking it easy with just two practices before ramping up the practice schedule next week. The first few practices will focus on developing younger players with only a little bit of Oklahoma State. The additional practices are like an extra spring, Shaw said, and he's going to use that time to get younger players some live work.
"We've got to get those young quarterbacks and linemen ready and young receivers we're counting on next year," Shaw said. "They will get a lot of work."