Stanford may have won the Pac-12 and beaten Oregon in 2012, but the Cardinal were far less dominant than the Ducks on a regular basis - only outscoring their opponents by a 10-point average, while the Ducks outscored theirs by 28. The Cardinal may play a grind-it-out, traditional style that isn't exactly a recipe for blowouts, but they might need to start figuring out a way to start beating opponents by more points if they want to stay atop the national rankings and avoid upsets to lesser teams.
It is will be very hard for voters to rank the Cardinal ahead of other power programs like Oregon that blow out teams week-after-week while Stanford grinds out single-digit wins over middling opponents. It will also be hard for them to avoid not getting upset a time or two in the way they did in 2012 at Washington every season if they can't figure out a way to keep teams further from striking distance late in games. The Cardinal went down to the wire last season with a number of mid-level Pac-12 or non-BCS teams in 2012, including San Jose State, Arizona, Washington State and Washingon (and lost) and were lucky that they only ended up losing one of those games.
The good news for the Cardinal is that their 2013 opener against rival San Jose State provides them the perfect chance to show that they can do that.
The Spartans may be coming off an 11-win season and a have quarterback in David Fales who is a legitimate first-round NFL Draft pick candidate, but are also still breaking in a new coach and the Cardinal are simply too talented to let them take them down the wire for a second season in a row. It wouldn't make the kind of statement that smacking a team like Washington or Arizona would, but getting a wide margin of victory of the Spartans this year would go a long ways to establishing the Cardinal as a team that can punish opponents.
Along with simply not regularly securing those box score points for blowing out teams that voters who don't watch West Coast games can't usually give the Cardinal, their habit of keeping teams in games is becoming an increasingly dangerous in the Pac-12 as more teams install up-tempo offenses. Relying on holding onto a 10 to 13-point margins when you're facing improving teams like Washington, Arizona and Cal will be an especially dangerous when these teams can score a handful of points in a heartbeat.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the Cardinal jump on the rapidly-filling bandwagon of the no-huddle, just pointing out that it would be a good idea to start widening their margins of victory and allowing their opponents so much margin for error. Unlike a team like Oregon that seems to wait for a team to make one mistake and then suffocate them like a constricting python, the Cardinal let teams hang around and it makes them a far less fearsome foe than their conference champion challenging conference mates in Eugene.
However, what I am saying is that teams won't fear the Cardinal as much as they should until they can start putting the hammer down on a regular basis, starting with their upstart Bay Area rivals on Saturday.