Ask David Shaw what team he's most worried about playing this season and I think there's a good chance he'll answer San Jose State, the Cardinal's opponent in the season opener on September 3. One game at a time and all that, even if the Spartans would seem to stand about as much of a chance against Stanford as former SJSU QB Jeff Garcia in a beard-growing contest with Andrew Luck.
Looking at Stanford's back-loaded 2011 schedule, it's easy to look ahead to the trip to USC on October 29 and assume the Cardinal will be 7-0. I certainly hope the first two months of the season are drama-free, but I'm prepared for some nail-biting moments. Expectations on the Farm are higher than they've been in quite some time -- perhaps ever -- and Stanford is in the unusual position of being the team with the target on its back from Week 1.
In today's Stanford Daily, Jacob Jaffe runs through Stanford's schedule and offers his worry factor for each game. Jaffe's worry level ranges from "subzero" (San Jose State) to "the only reason I'm not shaking in my boots is because I'm not wearing boots" (Oregon), which seems about right. Jaffe's column and ESPN's look at potential landmines for top 10 teams (Insider subscription required) got me thinking about which games I'm most worried about this season.
The Oregon game on Nov. 12 obviously tops my list. It's followed closely by Stanford's trip to the Coliseum, Big Game, and finally Notre Dame, given how huge the stakes could be in the Cardinal's regular season finale. I would bet that most fans consider those four games the most worrisome on the schedule, but maybe not. Let me know in the comments.
Besides those four games, which will be played in the span of a brutal 5 weeks, the game I'm most worried about is Oregon State in Corvallis on Nov. 5. The Beavers aren't expected to be especially good this season. They lost stud running back Jacquizz Rodgers and defensive tackle Stephen Paea to the NFL and they've battled injuries this offseason. Still, I have the same feeling about the Oregon State game as I did about the Cardinal's trip to Arizona State last year. It's sandwiched between a difficult game at USC and marquee matchup with Oregon, and I still have bitter memories of Stanford's loss to the Beavers the last time they traveled to Corvallis.
So what do you think? Should I stop worrying about the Beavers and start worrying about San Jose State?