Clardy's Corner: The Gray Area

Stanford Football began its conference campaign last weekend with a hard-fought 37-10 win at Arizona. The Cardinal weathered the Wildcats' best shots, and, more importantly, landed the game's biggest blows. Their victory gave them the longest current winning streak in all of major college football.

All in all, I was pleased with how Stanford won that game. So you can imagine my surprise when I was doing my usual lurking on the BootBoard Plus on Sunday, and I came across a thread titled "Another Underwhelming Blowout."

Underwhelming? Really? Stanford went on the road in the Pac-11 and came out of someone else's stadium with a win—not an easy task for anyone in this conference. Stepfan Taylor paced the Card ground game with steady runs, and Andrew Luck made money throws to his tight ends.

And while Arizona QB Nick Foles completed his first 17 passes, he completed just seven of his final 16. In the Wildcats' dink-and-dunk, stat-compiling offense, it's almost impossible for a quarterback to complete less than half of his throws. The Stanford defense found a way to make that happen. Without its best player for most of the game.

Is that underwhelming? If so, I find that hard to believe. Comedy Central's "Roast of Charlie Sheen"? Now, that was underwhelming.

After seeing that thread title, all I could do was sigh and shake my head. I get the impression that some Stanford fans expected this year's team to dominate every single opponent from start to finish. I get the feeling that some folks expected the Card to crush all of their opponents, see the rest of the Pac-11 driven before them, and hear the lamentations of the opposing fans.

Something tells me that some people think every game this year should be like Big Game was last year.

Obviously, that would be nice. Amazing, even. But sometimes I think last year's Weenie roast in Berkeley, as well as the results against Washington, Oregon State, and the second half of the Orange Bowl have been so indelibly etched into the minds of Cardinalmaniacs that those performances have now become the standard by which all Stanford football games will be measured and judged.

In a sense, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with high expectations. I'm all for high expectations. Given that it wasn't too long ago when I was just merely hoping Stanford wouldn't trip over themselves while taking the field on Saturdays, high expectations sure as hell beats the alternative.

And I'm sure there were plenty of underwhelmed people in the Cardinal locker room after that game was over. That's fine. I would expect Stanford players and coaches to be somewhat dissatisfied. After all, shouldn't their standards be higher than ours?

But I think any expectations that fans have of this team should be based solely on this season, and what this year's team can do. I think any expectations that fans have of this team should be as firmly based in reality as possible. And, at this point in the season, I think it's unrealistic to expect the Card to be playing like the 2004 Trojans every week.

Has Stanford played its best game yet? No. Hopefully not, anyway. But no team in college football is going to be operating on all cylinders right now, especially when that team is still working in a new head coach and some new faces on the offensive line. And, quite honestly, I wouldn't want Stanford to be coming out of the gate on fire. It's much more important to have the Cardinal clicking in November, not in September.

Has Andrew Luck had a Heisman-caliber season so far? If you take the fantasy football route and strictly look at the numbers, you could probably say no. If you make it strictly a numbers game, Luck would finish behind Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Houston's Case Keenum, and U$C's Matt Barkley.

You know who else has thrown for more yards and TDs than Luck so far? Washington State's Marshall Lobbestael. That means he's a more viable Heisman candidate than Luck, right? (The answer to that, of course, is no.)

I sense that, until the Card play the higher-profile games on their schedule, some may try to use Andrew Luck's great-but-not-eye-popping performances so far against him in the Heisman race. Obviously that would be foolish, I think. And while I would hope that the Heisman voters don't just simply look at the numbers and make all of their decisions based on them, I can't put it past them.

I can imagine some Heisman voters who may not be quite as familiar with how Stanford plays football—particularly those in the South and East who refuse to stay up late into the night to watch the Card play—looking strictly at box scores, noting that Luck "only" threw for two touchdowns against Arizona, comparing it to Barkley's five TD tosses against Syracuse, and putting Barkley on a line above Luck. As silly as that line of thinking is, it happens more than you might think.

Still, even though this team may be underperforming to some fans' expectations, the realities for the Cardinal right now are these: they're 3-0. They're the fifth-best team in the land according to the polls. They've outscored their opponents in the second half, 78-7. They still have Andrew Luck.

They no longer have Shayne Skov. That's another reality that Stanford will have to deal with. While Skov may, debatably, be replaceable physically, it's going to be extremely difficult for the Card to replace its engine on defense.

Expectations are high for Stanford Football right now, and rightfully so. And maybe what we're seeing from some fans is what happens when a team is caught in that gray area between expectation and reality. Hopefully that gap between expectation and reality gets closer for Stanford each week.

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RANDOM PAC-11 THOUGHTS

It came a year later than planned, but he finally had his breakout game. Take a bow, Levine Toilolo

Remember when it seemed like UCLA turned out competent quarterbacks every year? Remember when they had speedy and skilled receivers and backs? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? What an embarrassing display that was against Texas

Presbyterian? Presbyterian? Really, cal? What, was WyoTech already booked? That's the best your scheduler can do? I say this all the time about their fans, but rarely do I say this about their program: shame on the Bears…

They came in to San Diego State flying high with a 2-0 record. They stumbled out of there with a 42-24 loss, coughing up 21 points and three turnovers in the fourth quarter. As predicted in this space last week, Washington State found out that winning on the road is a whole different deal…

Arizona State madman Vontaze Burfict has yet to make an impact play against FBS competition. That needs to change. Especially this week against the Trojans…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… most of you know that I don't have a high opinion of ACC football (except for Virginia Tech. And look what we did to them). So I found it interesting that, on the weekend their additions to the ACC were announced, Syracuse is totally overmatched by U$C and Pitt coughs up a 21-point second-half lead to Iowa. Looks like the ACC's new additions are already in form…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… you read that right…thanks to weather delays, Oklahoma State and Tulsa didn't kick off until 12:16 a.m. local time, and the game didn't end until 3:35 a.m…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… My God. The Seattle Seahawks are terrible…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… before everyone starts anointing him the next Dan Marino, let's wait and see if Cam Newton is still playing this well in November. The NFL has a nasty habit of figuring rookies out, after all…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Got a thought on this Corner? Drop me a line either at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc)... or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com...

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PAC-11 PICKS

cal @ Washington. I'll be honest with you: the only Pac-11 team I have yet to see play this year is cal. Meanwhile, I've seen too much of Washington's defense. I like their DT Alameda Ta'amu, and they played with spunk against Nebraska, but I still can't trust that unit right now. So, even though I'm still very wary of cal's capabilities on the road, I like cal by ten.

UCLA @ Oregon State. Ugh. Do they have to play this game? Do I have to pick this game? They do? And I do? Okay. Ugh. When in doubt—or indifference—go with the home team. I like Oregon State by nine.

Oregon @ Arizona. Any time the Ducks go on the road, I get a bit skittish about their chances. Am I skittish enough not to pick them against that young Wildcat offensive line? Nope. I like Oregon by 19.

U$C @ Arizona State. This should be the game that decides who owns the drivers' seat in the Pac-11 South. But since the Trojans are on probation, who cares? I like U$C by 11.

This year: 0-1 (straight-up), 1-0 (ATS).
Last year: 23-13 (straight-up), 16-20 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy is in his 19th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 10th season of Cardinal commentary, 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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