By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online
Stanford will be wearing new uniforms come Saturday when the fourth-ranked Cardinal (10-1) takes on visiting No. 23 Notre Dame (8-3) in the regular season finale at Stanford Stadium, with a scheduled kickoff of 5:12 p.m.
The one-time Nike-sponsored uniform switch comes complete with snazzy looking helmets and pants, too.
Having new helmets will be good for Stanford players, since there doesn't seem to be much room for additional 'axe' stickers on their current helmets after beating California, 31-28, last weekend.
Those stickers are like gold stars and are awarded based on performance. No one seems to quite understand the criteria for them.
"I have no idea how we earn stickers," Stanford right guard David DeCastro said. "They just show up on the helmet. I don't know where they come from."
Quarterback Andrew Luck tried to define the parameters, but wasn't quite sure of the exact qualifications. He did joke that if he were to return to Stanford (there's not a chance he will stay) he would insist on more stickers.
Chase Thomas was at least aware that there is a different system in place for offense and defense.
"I have no idea what the point system is," Thomas said. "All I know is when I have one of my better games, I get a lot more stickers."
Delano Howell guessed Luck had the most stickers. The equipment staff is likely the leading authority on that. Position coaches generally assign quantity.
The latest uniform, designed for maximum exposure on national television, has received overwhelming praise.
"It's a pleasure to be give uniforms to play in for a game," said Howell, whose injured right hand is still wrapped but feeling better. "I just hope we get to keep them."
Thomas said it's always nice to receive interesting new things.
"The players love it and I'm sure the recruits do too," Thomas said. "I'm happy to put on new stuff."
Stanford coach David Shaw said the design of the 'Limited Engagement Pro Nike Gear' was done in cooperation with the athletic department and had to acceptable "not to detract but to add to the game," he said. "The players are excited. We'll see how everybody else feels."
Stickers and uniforms aside, Stanford will honor its fourth- and fifth-year seniors before Saturday's game.
"It goes by so fast," said DeCastro, who learned earlier in the week he was a finalist for the Outland Trophy, given the nation's top offensive lineman. "I've had a lot of fun, met a lot of people who will remain friends for a lifetime and I wouldn't want to do it with any other group of guys. We've shared a lot of experiences that have brought us close."
Howell, who began his career at Stanford as a running back and will end it as a defensive back, said it's one more opportunity to make an impression.
"It's been awesome," Howell said. "I have a lot of respect for this group of guys. I want to give it everything I have for them."
The seniors represent the first class of recruits to come in under Jim Harbaugh and helped turn a one-win season into consecutive 10-win seasons. They've been bowl eligible three straight years and could be playing in their second successive BCS bowl game.
"These guys are special," Shaw said. "They believed in the vision of being an outstanding academic school and having an outstanding football team. They made the rarity of being a top-five program realistic by putting in a lot of hard work."
Stanford faces a Notre Dame team that is also on the rise. After opening the season 0-2, the Irish have won eight of their past nine games (with the lone loss to USC) and will be looking to beat their second nationally-ranked team of the season.
"They can attack you in all phases of the game," Thomas said. "It's always great to play a team like Notre Dame. You want to end on a high note."
The Irish have a 1,000-yard receiver in Michael Floyd, a 1,000-yard rusher in Cierre Wood and a top tight end in Tyler Eifert. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees has completed 66 percent of his passes and Manti Te'o is one of the top linebackers in the nation.
"You have to be aware of him," Luck said. "He's a game-changer. He does an unbelievable job of making plays."
"He's one of the best," DeCastro said. "He makes plays, he's fast and he moves well."
Stanford has won its last two meetings, its first winning streak of any kind in the series, between the teams after losing seven in a row. Notre Dame owns the overall series lead, 17-8. The teams first met in the 1925 Rose Bowl.
NOTES: TE Zach Ertz practiced Monday, his first time on the field since missing the last three games with a right knee injury. He is probable for Saturday. "He looked good," Luck said. "I'm sure he's in some pain. He's a tough kid; hopefully he will continue to improve." . . . WR Chris Owusu will miss his third straight game while he recovers from a series of concussions. Whether he plays in the bowl game has not been decided, Shaw said. . . . Placekicker Jordan Williamson (leg injury) will also resume kicking duties, though he will not kickoff.