Stanford's first loss of the season and subsequent poll plunge stripped Saturday's date with UCLA of its sizzle, but the significance remains.

If anything, it's more important to the 13th-ranked Cardinal because of last week's double-whammy defeat in Salt Lake City.

Stanford not only lost to unranked Utah but also ceded all margin for error in the Pac-12, which stands with the SEC as the deepest and toughest leagues in the country.

Seven of the Pac-12's teams are either ranked in The Associated Press poll this week or among the "others receiving votes." The undefeated Bruins are No. 9, their highest ranking in eight years.

"We have to play better the rest of the way in order to do some damage,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said Tuesday.

"Every team has a chance to win out. Every team has a chance to lose out. Everybody's tough. It will be an exciting six weeks.''

Despite the loss to Utah, the Cardinal (5-1, 3-1) controls its own destiny in the race for the Rose Bowl. Nor has it been eliminated from the national championship hunt.

But a loss Saturday would end all hope of playing for the Bowl Championship Series title and drop the Cardinal two games behind second-ranked Oregon in the North division.

The way the Ducks are playing -- they just demolished Washington in Seattle -- a two-game difference in the standings might as well be 12.

Not that the Cardinal is paying attention.

"Playing the standings game gets you in trouble,'' Stanford safety Jordan Richards said. "We took Utah by itself, and we'll take UCLA by itself.

"We've got to play better on offense, and we've got to play better on defense, and it's as simple as that.''

A loss Saturday would also mark Stanford's first losing streak in four years: It dropped back-to-back road games (Oregon State and Arizona) in the middle of the 2009 season -- Andrew Luck's first year as the starting quarterback.

Since then, the Cardinal is 44-8.

"It starts with the coaches not panicking,'' center Khalil Wilkes said of Stanford's ability to recover from losses. "That trickles down to us.

"We're upset, but it's on to UCLA.''

  • Tight end Luke Kaumatule has moved to defensive end to provide relief for overworked starters Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.

    Henry Anderson's mid-September knee injury -- he isn't due back for another month -- left the unit undermanned.

    Shaw and defensive coordinator Derek Mason considered several underclassmen for the role, then went to Kaumatule, who played defensive end in high school.

    "If he had been seriously against it, we wouldn't have done it,'' Shaw said.

    "With Anderson down, guys are playing a lot. We needed a spark, and Luke is a human spark."

  • Shaw on UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr: "He's the best defensive player I've seen in this conference the last couple years, and I don't think it's close.''

  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Stanford political science professor, and ex-Cardinal coach Tyrone Willingham are reportedly on the College Football Playoff selection committee.

    The 13-member committee will be unveiled Wednesday.

  • UCLA has outscored its opponents 71-0 in the third quarter.

    "The phrase 'halftime adjustments' is overused, but they've been unbelievably efficient,'' Shaw said. "Its something we've got to prepare ourselves for.''

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    SATURDAY'S GAME
    UCLA (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at
    Stanford (5-1, 3-1), 12:30 p.m. ABC