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Even without Luck, Stanford a top-10 team again

Associated Press Modified: September 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm •  Published: September 16, 2012

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — David Shaw and his Stanford players spent the past nine months telling anybody who would listen that the program had enough talent and depth without Andrew Luck to be a national power for years to come.

Now they have everybody's attention.

While it's only the third game of the season, Stanford's 21-14 victory over Southern California on Saturday night showed life without Luck might not be so bad after all. The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) jumped from No. 21 to ninth in The Associated Press college football poll Sunday.

The same formula that made Stanford an improbable football power has stayed true: a stout running game, strong run defense and timely plays from the tight ends.

"I have been saying it for years, even before I became head coach: This game isn't about who you play, it is about how you play," said Shaw, in his second year at the helm since Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers. "For what we are trying to accomplish here, we can't be surprised by wins."

Maybe nobody should anymore.

The Cardinal outgained the Trojans 417 to 280 in total yards and held USC to only 26 yards rushing. Stanford's relentless rush sacked Matt Barkley four times and had the quarterback constantly on the run or losing his poise in the pocket.

"We've got a talented bunch," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "When we play together like that, it's so special."

In a series between California's two private Pac-12 schools that dates to 1905, Stanford had never won four in a row against USC until now. Barkley, the Heisman Trophy favorite and projected No. 1 overall pick entering the year, has beaten every team in the conference but Stanford.

The only chance Barkley has now against Stanford is a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game Nov. 30, which is suddenly looking like a possibility if Oregon stumbles, given the Cardinal's rapid improvement since a season-opening 20-17 victory over San Jose State.

"It's a big win," said new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes, who threw for 215 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

He also ran for a pair of game-changing first downs in the fourth quarter before throwing the go-ahead 37-yard touchdown to tight end Zach Ertz.

"They're a really great program," Nunes said. "They have a lot of talented players. It makes it even sweeter."

Sustaining success this season seemed uncertain.

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