- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2011

For the past few years, Stanford has savored the presence of Luck on its side.

On Saturday, the Cardinal very much needed it to remain in the national title chase.

Quarterback Andrew Luck threw three touchdown passes and ran for another as Stanford outlasted Southern California 56-48 in a triple overtime thriller in Los Angeles.

With Clemson and Kansas State losing, the Cardinal (8-0) is one of six unbeaten teams remaining in major college football. It took until the end of October for them to encounter a serious threat.

Stanford had won 10 straight games by at least 25 points. The Cardinal’s closest call this year until Saturday was a 45-19 defeat Oct. 1 of UCLA.

At the center of it all is Luck, who might have gone first overall in last spring’s NFL Draft had he not opted to remain on the Farm for his redshirt junior season. He’s done little to diminish such fervor this season, throwing for 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. Meanwhile, pundits have dubbed the struggles of the NFL’s worst teams this year with a catchy three-word phrase: “Suck for Luck.”

Saturday revealed far more about Luck — and the Cardinal — than any of their preceding games.

The Trojans returned a Luck interception for a touchdown with 3:08 left in regulation to seize a 34-27 lead. Then Luck led a 10-play, 76-yard drive to tie it and, in all likelihood, save both Stanford’s national championship hopes and his own Heisman Trophy chances in the process.

It took seven plays to guide the Cardinal into the end zone in the first overtime, five plays in the second extra session and just three in the third overtime. Then, Stanford fell on a fumble in the end zone to end Southern Cal’s third overtime possession to clinch the win.

A trip to the title game in New Orleans is far from guaranteed; Stanford still must play Oregon in two weeks. But with more than a little Luck, it’s a destination that remains plenty realistic.

Weekend risers

Oklahoma: Look who’s back in the national title hunt after ripping previously unbeaten Kansas State on the road. Now, the bad news: A week after upsetting the Sooners, Texas Tech was drilled 41-7 — at home — by Iowa State. Losing to the Red Raiders in Norman could come back to haunt Oklahoma if chaos ensues in November and December.

Mark Richt: Left for dead after an 0-2 start, Richt and Georgia have rattled off six straight victories — including a Cocktail Party defeat of Florida. The Bulldogs share the SEC East lead with South Carolina and can claim a division title by beating Auburn and Kentucky at home and getting a Gamecocks stumble against Arkansas or Florida.

Weekend risers

Clemson: So much for a perfect season. Clemson had a chance to climb back into its game at Georgia Tech after forcing a turnover, but quarterback Tajh Boyd was intercepted on the next play with 10:33 to go. Nine minutes later, Clemson finally saw the ball again; little good that did in a 31-17 game. With the Tigers’ loss, the ACC has had only one 9-0 team (2002 N.C. State) since 2001.

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