It has been a while since the Stanford men's soccer team has been in this situation, 13 years in fact. The third-ranked Cardinal enters its final match, against host California at 1 p.m. Sunday, as the Pac-12 Conference leader.
Stanford (5-1-3 Pac-12, 12-2-3 overall), UCLA (5-2-2, 10-4-4) and Washington (5-3-1, 12-4-1) each have a chance to win the title, but only the Cardinal controls its own destiny. A Stanford win delivers the conference crown to the program for the first time since 2001.
"It all comes back to execution on the field," Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn said. "All the games are so tight and the standards so high. This is a good breeding ground for people to become great players."
Stanford will be playing without sophomore Jordan Morris, a centerpiece for the Cardinal who helped create the winning goal against Oregon State, 2-1, on Sunday.
Stanford also beat Washington, 2-0, last Friday, avenging its only loss of the conference season.
Morris was called up to the United States men's national team for games against Columbia in London on Friday and against Ireland in Dublin on Tuesday (11:45 a.m. PT on ESPN2). It's his second call-up and he's expected to earn his first cap on the trip.
"Jordan is an exceptional soccer player," Gunn said. "The hope is to keep developing as a player and maturing as a person. He has 100 percent of his teammates. And he makes it easy. He's wonderfully unassuming and grounded. He's a great guy and a great teammate."
Morris, who scored the game-winner for the U.S. U-23 team against the Bahamas in August, is the first active college player to be included on a roster under America's coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"We've been gathering momentum throughout the year," Gunn said. "We're certainly getting better as a group and we're getting battle-tested. Through the course of the season you're going to have to have players miss games. We're 2-0-1 without Jordan and I'm excited about our depth. We've got an opportunity for another great player."
Morris made his first appearance with the national team during a trip to the Czech Republic in early September.
"He's been doing quite a lot of traveling," Gunn said. "A lot has been thrown at him and he has a lot to think about. Sometimes when you move up the ladder and then come back to this environment it causes unfair expectations. The challenge is to put things into perspective. Soccer is a lot about resiliency. The best players in the world are going to miss chances. You have to manage expectations and maintain a good approach."
Freshman Corey Baird is a prime example of how much Stanford has improved over the year. His journey began in August and his progress has been a sharp rise. He's been named the Pac-12 Player of the Week in each of the past two weeks.
"He's a skillful attacking player and an intelligent player," Gunn said. "He's hitting his stride and finding his confidence. At the beginning of the year we were working on our foundation as a team. You have to make sure you build that foundation the right way. He's been through big games and like (freshman defender Tomas Hillard-Arce) has been making major contributions."
While Baird and Morris have grabbed the spotlight recently, seniors like Zach Batteer, Jimmy Callinan, Bobby Edwards, Matt Taylor and Austin Meyer set the tone. They know what its like to get through a losing season.
The seniors also know what it takes to make a run into the NCAA tournament. They'd like nothing better to do just that after helping Stanford win just its second conference title.
Batteer is one of five Cardinal players with at least 11 points. Morris leads the list with 14, followed by Brandon Vincent and Eric Verso, each with 13. Batteer has 12, with Baird at 11.
Cal and Stanford played to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting at Stanford nearly a month ago.