Stanford weathers early storm

Senior Ben Clowe is one of the elder statesmen on Stanford's young squad. John Rivera/Icon SMI

Stanford's 2011 schedule so far resembles a Top 25 poll. The Cardinal have already faced Rice, California, Vanderbilt and Texas. All were three-game road series with the exception of a single non-conference home game against Cal.

Given that gauntlet, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone if a trip to New York to face the Yankees showed up on Stanford's schedule for this weekend. Instead, however, the Cardinal face a stern challenge of a different variety. Final exams for the winter quarter are the opponent, and the student-athletes have the week off to focus on the first part of that two-word phrase. (And yes, Stanford players do take their schoolwork seriously).

At some point this weekend, after Stanford's players and coaches get a chance to count their frequent flier miles and reset their watches from Central Time (where nine of their games and most of their weekends have been spent), they can take stock of their 6-5 start. It's impressive that coach Mark Marquess' young Cardinal club went 5-5 in its 10 games against those aforementioned Top 25 opponents.

"It's a rough schedule to be on the road for three straight weeks, and we're playing a lot of freshmen," Marquess said. "But what doesn't kill you will make you stronger."

Things won't get easier. After weekend series against Michigan and Long Beach State the next two weekends, Stanford faces the burden of working its way through a very deep Pac-10 Conference. The Cardinals is second in Boyd Nation's Intended Strength of Schedule rankings, only one spot behind conference mate USC.

But this Stanford squad should have the talent to handle tough competition. Baseball America ranked its current crop of freshmen as the nation's top recruiting class this year, and its sophomore class rated second a year ago.