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Cardinal enters final stretch reeling, but optimistic that season can be salvaged

The final three weeks of the season could leave Stanford feeling any variety of emotions

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

In the past, there was very little ambiguity about Stanford football.

Run the ball, play defense, win a low-scoring game. Make the opponent bleed, compact them into a ball and break their spirit.

In 2014, ambiguity rules the day.

I felt like the offense wasn't that bad but we only scored 16 points. Hogan's not really regressed, per se, but he's not improving. Shouldn't the run game be better than this? How are all these four-star o-linemen so average?

That muddled picture leaves Stanford at 5-4, 3-3 in the conference and, coming off a bye, at a flex point for the rest of the season. With Utah, Cal and UCLA remaining on the schedule, Stanford appears to be in a position where it could win all three games or lose all three.

The Utes have lost their last two games and now must bear the load of a wobbly passing offense after Dres Anderson's season-ending injury. The Utah defense does make their opponents miserable, and a mammoth offensive line has helped Devontae Booker and his powerful thighs already notch a 1,000 yard season. Stylistically, they probably present the biggest test remaining on Stanford's schedule. After the Ducks' power run game punished the Cardinal to the point where the Mortal Kombat "fatality" screen seemed likely to appear at any minute, it's reasonable to suggest the Utes and Booker might do something similar. Or the Cardinal could serve up a dish of revenge to the team that wrenched the 2013 season.

Looking further ahead, it's tempting to think of Cal as a blonde clone of Washington State, but the Bears have a capable run game and could pose some problems for a Stanford defense that may still be in pain. UCLA has underwhelmed this season aside from a thermonuclear effort against Arizona State - they needed two overtimes to dispatch Colorado - but the Cardinal have carried so little offense on their road trips this year that it might not matter in Brett Hundley's last home game.

So here are the Cardinal at this flex point, with clear performance incentives for each extra win. An 8-win season would be a pretty good result considering how disastrous this team has looked this season. A 7 win season feels about appropriate. Winning one of the last three is hardly acceptable, but as long as it's against Cal, well, the fanbase can probably live with that to a certain degree. Losing all of the last three games should have some in the program worrying about their jobs.

The stakes are pretty low for Stanford football right now, but it at least has the opportunity to put a final bow on this underwhelming season.

It's now that we get to see if they can muster some kind of comeback approaching heroism - we highly resolve that this season shall not have died in vain - or stumble backward into the Las Vegas Bowl or an early Christmas holiday.