Clardy's Corner: What's your deal?

"What's your deal?" It's all Pete Carroll could say to Jim Harbaugh after Stanford saddled U$C with its worst loss ever by hanging a double nickel on the scoreboard. And it's all anyone can say when bringing up this weekend's rematch.

Here's my deal: despite last week's disappointing result, I still like Stanford's chances to do big things in the Pac-9 this year.

When the Cardinal led 21-3 in the first quarter and the game threatened to turn into a boat race, a friend texted me and said, "This one's in the bag!" Against any other team, in any other stadium, and against any other offense, I would have agreed.

I've been saying all season that Stanford is going to be hard to beat. Well, at Autzen Stadium, Oregon is going to be impossible to beat. If you get them on a neutral site or on your turf, you've got a shot (are you listening, cal, U$C, and Oregon State?).

But if you have to meet them at Autzen? Good luck, my friend. You've got a better chance of beating Kirstie Alley to the buffet table. Alabama has regained its groove, but if they had to get on a plane to Eugene right now, I would not like the Crimson Tide's chances.

That crowd is one thing. That offense is another. My God. I saw Stanford's offenses in 1994, 1999 and now. The 2000 Oregon State Beavers come to mind. So do the 1997 Washington State Cougars. Cristin McLemore still gives me nightmares from those mid-1990s Duck teams. Those are some of the best offenses I've ever seen since I started following the conference.

But I've never seen anything like this. The tempo. The speed. The misdirection. The crazy ball fakes. It's basically the spread option on meth. I've never seen an offense so devastatingly effective, and I've never seen a team rack up points and yardage with such ease. It's amazing to watch. Unless it's against your team.

It's reached the point now where Oregon loses only because they turn the ball over, or because they make critical mistakes at critical times. They don't lose because a defense shuts them down. I can't remember the last time a defense took the field against Oregon and looked like they had all the answers. Instead, most defenses against the Ducks look like they're just holding on for dear life. Right now, that offense is that good.

So instead of getting mad, throwing stuff at a wall, letting the expletives fly, and losing sleep, all I could do after the game was shrug. Sometimes when you meet the irresistible force, you get steamrolled. That's football for you.

The good news is that Stanford doesn't face a team like that again this year (thank God). That's the main reason why I still like Stanford's chances of fighting for one of the top spots in the Rose Bowl race.

So that's my deal. Here's Stanford's deal: they have no time to feel sorry for themselves. U$C is coming to town.

For most of the past decade, U$C seemed to view Stanford as mere scrimmage fodder. Honestly, I don't think the 2007 shocker changed much in the Trojans' eyes. That result seemed to be a fluke, and U$C took pride in restoring order in a convincing 2008 victory at Stanford Stadium.

Then came November 14, 2009. And 55-21. And "what's your deal?"

The Trojans are coming. And they'll be pissed. Stanford toppled them like a statue of Saddam Hussein, bringing them down from the top of the conference, and opening up the race to everyone else. You're welcome.

Pete Carroll may have escaped the NCAA hound dogs to face a different set of problems with the Seattle Seahawks (how the hell did they lose to the Rams?), but those players remember what happened 326 days ago. And if they don't, everyone in South Central will be spending the entire week reminding them.

Stanford needs to be ready for a Trojan team that will be out for revenge. They also need to be ready for those damn fans, and that damn band. No explanation needed there, sadly.

The Cardinal also need Ryan Whalen and/or Chris Owusu back. They can make do without one of them. But this offense cannot function at its highest level without either of them.

Meanwhile, here's U$C's deal: go through the history of the Trojans, and it sure seems like they can't win without cheating. Most of their periods of conference dominance and national prominence were followed immediately by the NCAA handing down sentence.

It doesn't make any sense at all, especially because the college football system is designed for programs like U$C's to succeed. College football favors the big, powerful programs with a large national profile and the history to match. Notre Dame. Alabama. Texas and Oklahoma (my Sooner fan friends won't like me putting those two schools in the same sentence). U$C is right up there, surpassed in history and in profile only by Notre Dame.

Trojan Football was born on third base, but that program acts like it hit a triple. Then they try to steal home. Then they argue with the ump when they get called out at the plate. I can't figure it out. (In the meantime, Stanford has finally gotten back on base. And poor San Jose State can't even afford a bat.)

Which brings me to the Pac-9's deal: by and large, the conference would rather not see an underdog program like Stanford make it big in football. After all, this is not "Revenge of The Nerds".

The only reason why the conference acts happy when Stanford is good in football is because the school's globally unmatched academic reputation lets the Pac-9 grandstand to the school presidents and say, "See? True student-athletes can win football games too!" And at least when Stanford succeeds, the conference can play the academic card. What the hell can make them proud when Washington State is at the top of the standings?

When you and I see Stanford football succeeding on a regional level and threatening to potentially become a national player, the folks at the conference offices in Walnut Creek see a team with a docile fan base (except you, of course) that doesn't necessarily bring in the TV ratings—and the money that comes with it--that U$C does.

So this Saturday, the underdogs are on the shady sideline. The cheaters are on the sunny sideline. A primetime audience will be watching. And a Stanford team that still has a shot at a major bowl game this winter hopes to hold off a team that is, in effect, playing their bowl game this week.

That's the deal.

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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS

Just a couple more thoughts on last week's result in Eugene…first, that onside kick changed everything. And it was a brilliant call. When Oregon fumbled away that first-quarter kickoff, Chip Kelly wisely realized that he had to steal a possession somehow. And when he saw the opportunity to do so, he took it. There's still a lot of football to be played, but at this rate, by year's end, it might not be a crazy notion to suggest that Oregon's entire season hinged on that call for the onside kick…

Second, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti might be the most underrated coordinator in the Pac-10. While the offense gets all the press, their defense makes the plays they need to make, especially in the second half. And this isn't a new thing, either…Oregon's defense often got stronger as games progressed last year, too…

Here is Arizona State's season in a nutshell…down by seven late in the third quarter, the Sun Devils ran six plays inside the Beaver 5-yard line. None of them got into the end zone, and they had to settle for three. On the next play from scrimmage, Jacquizz Rodgers zipped 74 yards for a score. That's how it's been for the Sun Devils this year…

Shame on the UCLA defense. How in the world does Washington State score 28 points on them? And how are they in a position to take a fourth-quarter lead on the Bruins?

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… lost in all the hoopla about the numbers Denard Robinson is putting up every week (217 yards rushing, 277 yards passing last week against Indiana) is the major reason for those gaudy performances: that rotten Michigan defense. Denard has to play like Superman because the defense plays like Jimmy Olsen…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… here's the larger question about Denard Robinson: how much longer can he physically hold up?…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… the Kansas City Chiefs are 3-0. Then again, last year the Denver Broncos started 6-0, and look what happened to them…

Thumbs up: Three weeks after suffering a heart attack, Michigan State Mark Dantonio plans to travel with his team and coach them against Michigan…

Thumbs down: Has any unit fallen out of favor faster than the U$C defense? If they're not careful, Lane Kiffin may be asking "what's your deal?" on his way off the field at halftime…

The finger: San Francisco 49ers defensive backs. How do you let Falcons WR Roddy White strip you from behind on crucial interceptions two years in a row?

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

My e-mail issues have been solved! So now you can fire away at troyc@thebootleg.com, or you can drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc). The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox.

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PAC-9 PICKS

UCLA @ cal. Give Tedford two weeks to prepare, and I like their chances. Besides, at some point, UCLA is going to have to convert some key passes, and I don't think they can do that right now. I like cal by 13.

Oregon @ Washington State. There's no way in the world the Cougars be more than a speed bump in this game, right? Right? I like Oregon by 37. If this game were at Autzen, I'd like the Ducks by 137.

Oregon State @ Arizona. Getting James Rodgers back from a concussion should help the Beavers. Leaving the friendly confines of Reser Stadium should not. Neither does facing Arizona's attack with a still-uncertain defense. I like Arizona by 16.

Arizona State @ Washington. Until the Sun Devils prove that they can do the little things right, it's hard for me to pick them to win on the road. I like Washington by 6. I also think the over-under for personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict is 1 ½…and I'm taking the over.

Last week: 2-1 (straight up), 2-1 (ATS).
This year: 5-1 (straight up), 3-3 (ATS).
Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).


Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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