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Stanford kicks off ESPN-sponsored national title campaign with six points at Northwestern

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A small setback but the future national champions of college football are well on their way.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

We here at California Golden Blogs will be covering the important developing story that is the 2016 Stanford Cardinal, impending national champions of college football. Desmond Howard of ESPN was the first to break this early news last week.

Here is his impeccable reasoning.

"I think it is wide open. To pick these teams now, I do not want to just go the easy route that can you just pick Ohio State and Alabama. So I picked Stanford. Why not? I think they have a good shot to win the Pac-12 and have as good a shot as anybody to get into the four-team playoff. Look at Ohio State last year, and they ended up winning it all. I like to go off the grid sometimes and take a risk. So I picked Stanford."

"I like to go off the grid sometimes and take a risk." Well said, Desmond, well said. Nothing spells "off the grid" quite like "two losses in three years" Ohio State winning a title. Certainly a Stanford team that won three games in a row to end last season has proved the exact same things.

And just like Ohio State, Stanford has produced a baffling early season non-conference loss. Glendale, here the Cardinal come!

Stanford marched down the field and landed the mightiest of early blows: The short field goal.

Stanford did a good job studying the tactics of great SEC offense, and produced this grandiose display of offensive firepower after the first drive.

3 plays, 18 yards (15 on penalty yards), three-and-out, punt

3 plays, -2 yards, three-and-out, punt

6 plays, 7 yards, punt

2 plays, 10 yards, fumble

3 plays, 5 yards, punt

4 plays, 32 yards (27 yards on one play), punt

5 plays, 7 yards, punt

3 plays, 4 yards, punt

That's 81 yards at home if you're counting. Kevin Hogan (as ESPN noted, he completed 76% of his passes in his last three games, which totally carries over from nine months ago) didn't throw a completion more than 16 yards once in this game.  Revolutionary strategy by Stanford to sit on a 3-0 lead and park the bus for 40 minutes, and to also stop moving the football to allow better room for the punt team. Many Stanford wide receivers assisted by letting the ball drop to the turf to give the Cardinal the real estate to boom those punts deep.

The good news is Stanford has an impeccable, immense, nasty defense that can definitely slow down the speediest of Pac-12 teams and will have no trouble keeping slow and stodgy Northwestern out of the end zone--

So Stanford took three points into the fourth quarter and believed they were in position to win the football game. Let’s keep in mind by this point last year, Cal had scored 31 points on a similarly salty Northwestern defense. It takes unshakeable confidence by the Cardinal to believe that three points is all you need to win a football game. That national title grit is on full display.

Also, let’s frame this particularly playcall by David Shaw as a hallmark of masterful coaching.

Stanford playcall

Can't think of many college coaches that wouldn't make a gutsy call like trying to sit on a seven point deficit. Can't think of any way better to rally your offense than to say, "Yeah, don't think you can get those 5 yards" and to rally your defense like "I don't know if you can guard a 63 yard field." With decisions like this, Shaw will be on an NFL sideline in no time, so it's a good thing he has this championship in the bag.

When Stanford realized Northwestern actually had 13 points on the board with around 12 minutes left and did some brief mathematics, they decided it might be time to flex that national title muscle. Down the field they went, driving for the first of what were clearly four field goals to win the game. If there were such a thing as fifth quarters, the Cardinal would definitely have cut that lead to four by now.

Again, more GOAT playcalling here from Shaw down ten with nine minutes left, milking that clock so Northwestern couldn't win by a touchdown.

Stanford playcall 2

The Cardinal finished the game with 240 yards of total offense. Cal had 272 yards of offense in Evanston in the first 24 minutes last season.

Stanford is now 0-1 on their national title quest and will clearly use this six point performance as motivation for the rest of the season. The Cardinal only lost by ten points, so they're not too far off from finding the winning formula that will carry them the rest of the season.

This is the part of the story where everyone counts them out. The good news is that they play their next game at home and they play half their games there this season! Crucial.

Finetuning a strategy of winning with ten points or less takes time, and we all have to be absolutely patient. Process is key with the Cardinal, and you have to feel confident that if they can go toe-to-toe with previously 5-7 Northwestern, they will learn how to find ways to beat teams on the rest of their schedule, and most definitely in the Oculus Rift.

Stanford will definitely win the national championship in one of these realities. We will keep you updated on any future developments.