STANFORD No quarterback in the country has had to manage expectations the way Josh Nunes has this season succeeding the NFL's No. 1 draft pick.
In the last three weeks alone, the redshirt junior outplayed Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Barkley to upset USC, shouldered the blame for a loss at Washington and rallied No. 17 Stanford (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) from a two-touchdown deficit for a 54-48 overtime win against Arizona that quieted questions about Andrew Luck's successor.
Fair or not, Stanford's streakiness this season has been tied directly to its new quarterback. Both are still somewhat of an unknown heading to seventh-ranked Notre Dame (5-0) on Saturday, with the exception of one undeniable fact.
As Nunes has gone so far, so has Stanford.
Nunes overcame two interceptions in the first half to throw for 215 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 win over USC, including a 37-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz for the winning score, vaulting the Cardinal to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.
He followed by completing 18 of 37 passes for 170 yards and an interception in Stanford's 17-13 loss at Washington, often underthrowing receivers on short routes or misfiring completely.
Fans and media began to criticize Nunes enough for Cardinal coach David Shaw to open his weekly news conference by defending his quarterback. Nunes rewarded his coach's loyalty with his best performance yet, throwing for 360 yards and two touchdowns and running for 33 yards and three scores against Arizona.
But the road ahead will not ease up.
While Stanford has beaten Notre Dame by at least two touchdowns each of the last three seasons, this appears to be a more a difficult trip to South Bend, Ind.; not to mention matchups at No. 2 Oregon and a home date against No. 10 Oregon State later this season.
AP poll South Carolina, Florida and West Virginia moved into the top five of the Associated Press poll following a Saturday in which nine Top 25 teams lost.
No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon held their spots at the top of the rankings. The rest of Top 25 received a makeover.
No. 3 South Carolina, off a 35-7 win over Georgia, moved up three spots. No. 4 Florida jumped six after beating LSU 14-6. No. 5 West Virginia moved up three with a 48-45 victory at Texas.
No. 6 Kansas State, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 8 Ohio State also moved up. LSU dropped to No. 9, and unbeaten Oregon State is No. 10.