That loss to the Ducks started a five game losing streak for the Cardinal and they finished the season 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-10. Such numbers usually precipitate change, and in the off-season Buddy Teevens was let go and Pittsburgh's Walt Harris brought in to replace him.
It is always an open question how much improvement can be expected in the first year following a regime change. It is not as though there are no talented athletes for Harris to work with, Teevens recruited reasonably well and the cupboard is not barren.
There will be a distinct change in environment however. Teevens ran a casual and relaxed team. Harris is notoriously combative and intense, two traits that made his departure from Pittsburgh somewhat welcomed by that administration, despite taking the Panthers to a berth in the Fiesta Bowl last season as the Big East conference champion.
How well this new style wears on players recruited - one would assume - on the premise of Teeven's more relaxed approach will in large part determine the Cardinal's fortunes for the season. Winning will ease the transition, but lacking that, it might be a bumpy ride for both player and coach.
Offensively, the Cardinal graduated just one starter on offense and return the other 10, including all five lineman, both quarterbacks who started a year ago, five receivers and two of its top three rushers. You could say they are loaded, if it weren't for the fact the Cardinal offense only scored 22 points per game last season, hardly a potent attack.
Assuming experience and maturity will allow for better offensive execution this season – and Harris' strength as a coach is on this side of the ball - points may be more plentiful. Unfortunately, they may be more plentiful for the opposition as well, as Stanford was hit hard defensively by graduation, the strength of their team last season.
Any team going through such extensive transitions is difficult to handicap until they have a game or two under their belt and there is some evidence of how the pieces will align for the rest of the season.
As Oregon did last year, Stanford opens the season late, September 10, on the road against what may be a decent Navy team. The service academies are most vulnerable to speed at defensive back and Harris will surely attack quickly and often to this area. The service academies also generally find it difficult to throw the ball, which will allow Stanford to load up against the run, both of which make it very difficult to envision an upset by the Middies.
With D-1AA UC Davis next on the Cardinal schedule, a 2-0 record coming into the game with the Ducks is a near lock. How much momentum such a schedule can provide in a conference home opener is suspect, particularly when the opponent will have already played two much higher quality opponents. Any vulnerabilities of inexperience on defense; confusion or a lack of comfort in a still new offensive playbook and in communication will remain undetected until faced with a more formidable opponent.
That would be Ducks. Were the Ducks to be 4-0 at this point, their own state of momentum coming out of the Fresno State and USC games will greatly diminish Stanford's chances of an upset unless overconfidence were to infect the Oregon preparations. Perhaps to not the same degree, but a 3-1 record will still tilt the games' prospects heavily toward Oregon.
If the Ducks are 2-2? Then you've got a dogfight on your hands as the season as a whole is now clearly at risk and Stanford would be positioned to grease the slide further. That is an unlikely case, and Oregon will depart with a second straight victory on the Farm.
BASEBALL QUICK HITS
Beavs in Omaha for the College World Series, whoddathunk? Once the Pac-10 scrapped the Northern/Southern Division alignment for baseball scheduling, at first glance it appeared nearly impossible for a northern tier school to win the conference championship, let alone advance all the way to Omaha. The southern schools have long held the inside track to the upper standings, and running that gauntlet can only be done by a team that possesses solid pitching and defense as well as a consistently productive offense.
The Pac-10 conference race is composed of a three game series with each of the eight other teams, and Oregon State lost only one of those series, at Arizona. In a very real sense, that is the more significant accomplishment. Yes, the College World Series berth is a nice reward for such a season, but it should not go unnoticed that the Beavers had to beat a conference foe, USC, in the Super Regional to advance, or that another conference member, Arizona State, is joining the Beavers in eastern Nebraska.
Given that context, any "Cinderella" label – however serviceable to Oregon State or to ESPN in hyping this team – is clearly misplaced, this is not a rags-to-riches story. The Beavers have taken advantage of the vacuum that exists and parlayed it into a substantial presence on the state's sporting scene.
Given that vacuum, in conjunction with the foundation that is presently in place and the acceleration to the program this season will provide, it doesn't appear likely to go away soon. Omaha every year may not be realistic, but whatever color your persuasion, the Beavs have leveraged the situation to their unassailable advantage, to the point administrative mismanagement is the one existing threat to their position. It will be interesting to see how they are able to handle this success.
Till the next time…