Clardy's Corner: Heady Stuff
Two items on the agenda for this week's Corner. Let's start here…
Right from the jump this season, Stanford players believed they could win the national championship. Outside of that locker room, however, that notion was met with one universal sentiment: yeah, right.
Now the calendar has turned to December, and look where Stanford sits: on the cusp of playing for the national championship.
Obviously some very crazy things probably have to happen to Auburn and Oregon this weekend, but the possibility is there. Like "Dumb & Dumber", they're saying there's a chance.
It's heady stuff. I've been walking around this week in a bigger daze than usual. Stanford? In a BCS bowl? And not entirely out of the picture for the BCS title game? Really? No one—fans and experts alike—could have possibly seen all of this coming.
No one, that is, except for the Stanford players and coaches. They were the only ones who truly expected to be there all along.
So, since those inside the program have raised the bar of expectations to championship level, should we as fans and followers do the same? Has this season erased the line between what's possible and what's impossible for Stanford Football? Does the bar need to be reset for good?
As I type this at 9:12 p.m. Eastern on November 30, 2010, my answer to those questions is simple: I don't know.
I'd love to. In some weird, perverse kind of way, I wouldn't mind being part of a fanbase that thinks BCS bowls are a birthright, and that a 7-5 season is cause to put the head coach on the hot seat. Or the ejector's seat.
But I don't know what to expect from Stanford in 2011 and going forward. Partly because 2010 isn't completely over yet. Mostly because there may potentially be one or two program-altering holes that may need to be filled in the offseason. You know what those holes are, so I won't beat that dead horse here.
I do know this, though…we finally have what we've all long wanted in a Stanford Football program. The attendance still isn't anywhere close to being where I would like it to be. But outside of that, everything else is there. Wins. Respect. Student support. National relevance. The Axe.
Is Stanford an elite program? One that can go into every year penciling itself into a BCS bowl? No. Not yet. Oregon is there right now. U$C used to be there. A long time ago, Washington and UCLA used to be there. Cal reached out, got a fingertip on it, and then fell.
Getting there is hard. But Stanford may have now reached a point where it's no longer about getting there, but trying to find ways to stay there. All things considered, it's a great place to be.
OK, that's the first thing on the list. Second, let's present the 2010 edition of…
RANDOM CLARDY'S CORNER AWARDS
Coach of the Year: No shortage of candidates, but I think this has to go to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. As much as Stanford has historically been known for its offenses, it has never done big things without an active and stingy defense. The "Treefense" fit the bill this year.
Three shutouts of conference opponents? In the same year? With two of them on the road? Incredible. And after what his guys did last week, maybe they should be renamed the Oregon State Biebers.
The offense was a machine this year, even without big, bad, Toby Gerhart. But Stanford doesn't make many of the strides that it did this year without the defense getting after it. Credit for that goes to Coach Fangio.
Play of the Year: Andrew Luck's 58-yard scramble against Cal. If Andrew is in that room in New York City next weekend, that play is the one that leads the highlight reel.
The moment Bears safety Sean Cattouse bounced off Luck like a check from M.C. Hammer, that game was over. The Bears gave up, and the Cardinal had all the momentum. And about two-and-a-half hours later, they had The Axe back. Right where it should be.
Honorable mentions go to Michael Thomas stealing the ball away from UCLA QB Kevin Prince and taking it back for six, and Owen Marecic's pick-six against Notre Dame to seal Stanford's first win in South Bend since 1992.
Throw of the Year: Luck's 44-yard completion to Doug Baldwin against Arizona State. A throw like that should be physically impossible. I could try to describe it here in written form, but I couldn't possibly do it justice. Check out the YouTube video
Scary Thought of the Year: Can you imagine what this offense would have looked like if Levine Toilolo hadn't been lost during the first game of the year?
Rising Stars of the Year: These are guys I'm looking forward to seeing more of next year and beyond, one on offense and one on defense. A little over two months ago, I didn't even know who Zach Ertz was. I saw him make a catch at Notre Dame and my first thought was, "number 86? Who the heck is that?"
As it turns out, he has become an important option for Stanford's passing attack. Four of his 14 catches this year have gone for scores. His soft hands and nice route-running seemed to earn Luck's trust as the season developed. It's going to be hard to keep Ertz off the field in 2011.
Defensively, safety Harold Bernard started to become a factor as the season went along. The first few times I saw him out there I was holding my breath. But the sophomore started to become more comfortable, and actually started to get in on some key plays. Looking forward to seeing what he and Ertz do from here.
The Ka-BOOM! Award: WR Doug Baldwin finally blew up as a big-play threat this season. Back in 2008, I called Baldwin "a poor man's Troy Walters." It took a couple years longer than I had hoped, but now we are finally starting to see it come true, with his awesome grabs against Arizona State and cal, and his catch-and-run last week that made Oregon State look foolish. And with Chris Owusu hobbling around, it couldn't have come at a better time for the Card.
Game of the Year: Another tough call. I'll go with Stanford's thriller over U$C. Yes, I know the Trojans are on probation (that's why I'm calling it the "Pac-9" this year). Yes, that game was a bit more dramatic than I would have liked it to be. And no, that night wasn't quite the Treefense's finest hour.
But in front a packed Stanford Stadium, and with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit calling the game for a national primetime audience, the Card came through. Andrew Luck completed his final twelve passes, Nate Whitaker booted the game-winning field goal at the buzzer (atoning for missing an extra point), and Stanford got back in the win column after its loss to Oregon the week before.
Plus, whenever you beat U$C, it resonates nationally, whether they're on probation or not. And whenever Stanford beats U$C, it resonates personally with me. Big time.
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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS
Shameless self-promotion alert: Had an interesting chat with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck last week on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan…check it out here. And yes, I ask him about Andrew.
If you're going to throw the flag for going helmet-to-helmet, make sure that the hit actually really was helmet-to-helmet. Arizona safety Adam Hall got a raw deal on that flag when he tried to tackle LaMichael James…
The last two years I heard plenty of crowing from the Weenies before and after Big Game. Funny how I didn't hear a peep from the Weenies this year. At all. So typical of them to run to the argument, then run from the fight…
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… Everyone is dog-piling on the Big East and saying they don't deserve their automatic BCS bid. This year, that criticism is deserved. I promise you that the folks in the Big East offices are praying for UConn to lose to South Florida and for West Virginia to win, sending the Mountaineers to the BCS bowl over the Huskies.
Here's the thing, though: if the Big East is going to come under fire for underperforming, I think the ACC deserves more than its share of scrutiny, too.
When they added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004, the ACC was supposed to become the new "it" conference in college football.
What exactly have they done since? While the Hokies have held up their end of the deal, none of the other big dogs have come close to performing well on a national level. Florida State? Nope. Miami? You saw what they just had to do.
For a while, the shining star of ACC football was, of all schools, Wake Forest. That tells you everything you need to know. So how come no one is telling the ACC to step up its game?
As for the Big East, no, I don't think adding TCU will help that much, either. Certainly not in basketball. The only thing that can save Big East football long-term is if Miami and Virginia Tech defect back to the league. Or if they can get Notre Dame to go all-in for football, too.
If your conference is known more for basketball, then you should not be a BCS conference. It really should be as simple as that.
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… in the "it's about freaking time" category, NFL Films founder Ed Sabol has been named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011…
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The end of the regular season means the end of regularly scheduled Clardy's Corners. You can bet there will be at least one more, likely before Stanford's bowl appearance, and if other events warrant.
Quick story…it was halftime of the Oregon State game, and Stanford was in complete control, 24-0. The Card were about to win its 11th game of the year, and were about to position themselves nicely for a BCS bowl.
So why was I sad?
Most of it was the realization that Stanford Football's most magical season in my lifetime was thirty minutes away from coming to a close. I didn't want to see this season end.
I was also sad because in 18 full seasons of following Stanford Football, this is the first season where I wasn't able to make it back for at least one home game. No crashing The Bootleg's tailgate this year. No seeing old friends in the press box during the game. No hanging out with my friends at Patxi's afterwards. I missed being a part of all of those things again. Especially this year.
Now, being in South Bend to personally watch the Card chainsaw Notre Dame and finally walk out of that building with a win was a real thrill. But there is no better place to be on Saturday afternoons than on The Farm. More people need to realize this, by the way.
However, that sadness largely goes away when I think of what this season has been all about…and what it could still hold. It goes away when I think of the great memories the players and the current students will take with them for a lifetime. It goes away when I start trying to get my ducks in a row to be in the house for Stanford's bowl game. I'll be damned if I miss that!
My sadness also goes away when I think of the support these Corners have received from The Bootleg. Thanks to Daniel Novinson, who has survived another year of putting up with me and making sure these Corners get to you in coherent fashion.
Thanks as always to Jim, Lars, and Carridine for putting it all together (how much fun has this season been for you guys?).
And as always, the biggest thanks go out to you for dropping in every week. Thanks for the kind words. Thanks for the different opinions. Whether you just jumped on for the ride this year or you've been there since the first Corner way back in 2002 (how long ago does that seem now?), you help make these Corners what they are. Thank you.
Hail Stanford, Hail.
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Got a thought on this Corner? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox or e-mail me at email@example.com
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My quest to finish the season 7-0 started by going 3-0 straight up. Can I finish the job? During Rivalry Week, no less?
Arizona State @ Arizona: QB Steven Threet is still concussed, so Brock Osweiler will get his second career start. Do I like his chances of becoming a folk hero in Tempe? Not particularly. I like Arizona by 19.
Oregon @ Oregon State: All season I've had this game circled as Oregon's biggest "trap" game. Then, after what I saw from the Beavers last week, I took out my eraser and removed that circle. Unless Oregon State rediscovers a consistency in the passing game they've been lacking all year, I like Oregon by 16.
Washington @ Washington State: And now, because they're contractually obligated to play it, the Apple Cup. God help us. I like Washington by 10.
U$C @ UCLA: It used to be that this rivalry was all about Rose Bowls. This year, thanks to offensive impotence (UCLA) and organizational malfeasance (U$C), this rivalry is all about pride. Why do I have a funny feeling this one comes down to the kicking game? If so, I like UCLA by 5.
Last week: 3-0 (straight-up), 2-1 (ATS).
This year: 21-11 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).
Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).
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Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 12:20pm
and 4:20pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in
San Francisco, and available in podcast form atwww.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 www.troyclardy.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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