Stanford is thrilled to be in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl and had another fantastic college football season under Coach David Shaw.
The Cardinal won its second straight Pac-12 Conference title, will be making its fourth consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl appearance and is playing a top-five opponent in Michigan State.
It has to frustrate some Stanford players and fans, though, to know how close the Cardinal was from playing in the Jan. 6 BCS title game, also at the Rose Bowl.
Stanford lost two games by a total of nine points. A win against either USC or Utah probably would have put the Cardinal into the BCS title game against Florida State.
"You can look back and look at the what-ifs, but you can't change the past," Stanford guard David Yankey said Friday.
Stanford lost to 10-win USC by a field goal, but the game that will haunt the Cardinal is a six-point defeat suffered Oct. 12 at unheralded Utah.
Stanford lost when it failed twice on third-and-two at the Utah six-yard line. The Cardinal, a power run team, elected to pass twice in that situation.
"I don't live with regrets," Shaw said this week. "I know there's going to be bumps in the road and a whole bunch of games where they're on the edge of a knife."
College football may boast the sharpest knife in all sports.
Two plays for Auburn led to two miracle wins and a berth in the BCS title game. Two plays for Stanford cost the Cardinal a championship chance.
"That's why people love college football," Yankey said. "A game in August and September can change your season."
The loss to USC, on Nov. 16, snapped a four-game Cardinal winning streak against the Trojans and knocked Stanford out of the BCS title picture for good. At the end, USC fans stormed the field at the Coliseum after the biggest win of the Trojans' season ended all remaining Stanford hopes.
"It was hard to accept," Cardinal receiver Ty Montgomery said. "But just like anything, any time a curve ball is thrown at you in life, you've got to be able to sit on it and wait on it and handle it the best way you can."
Mike Bloomgren, Stanford's offensive coordinator, said there will be a time, in the off-season, when the staff will dissect the season. "We spend a lot of time on self-analysis," he said.
For now, the focus is on Michigan State.
Shaw says you have to look at the big picture.
"We play a lot of tight, close games and sometimes you can't win them all," he said. "But as long as you win more than you lose, and end up in a place like this, all's good."
It's hard to argue with that call.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times