Clardy's Corner: The half-empty glass edition

When does an 11-1 season not feel like 11-1? Well, last season I had mixed feelings about Stanford's 11-1 regular season too, but they were a different mix of feelings. I was absolutely ecstatic that the Card had climbed to heights that had been previously thought impossible, especially considering the depths Stanford had begun from.

On the other hand, I was sad that the season had come to an end. I didn't want it to stop. It was just too much fun to watch that team do what it did, and it was just as much fun watching the rest of the nation notice what we knew all along.

Still, despite my personal mixed emotions at the end of last season, 11-1 felt like 11-1. And it got even better once it became 12-1.

This year, 115 other college football programs would kill to be 11-1 right now. So many other programs would love to have the national relevance Stanford has had this year. The conference's offensive player of the year and coach of the year both belong to The Farm. And for a third straight season, a Cardinal player will have a front row seat at the Heisman Trophy presentation.

There are so many reasons to feel good about this season. So why does it still feel like something is missing? Why does it still feel somewhat incomplete?

Perhaps it's because I'm probably falling into the same trap that I've accused others of falling into this season. Maybe it's because I'm comparing how the Card finished this season to Stanford's stretch run last season.

There was zero doubt that the Cardinal finished the 2010 season trending upward in a major way. Two shutouts in their final five regular season games. At least 38 points scored in four games during that stretch. Even their close win (at Arizona State) was impressive in its resilience and toughness. And of course, Stanford's demolition of California in the Big Game probably set the bar that many Cardinalmaniacs may feel this team didn't reach this year.

It's a big mistake, I know. Each season is its own entity. But a part of me can't help but remember last November, when Stanford looked good, and hold it up to this November, when Stanford looked merely good enough.

It's a trend that actually spans most of the season. Yes, there was the Washington game, the 65-21 result which was as complete a thrashing as has ever been administered by a Stanford team. Still, there's the nagging feeling that we never saw this year's team at its peak and running on all cylinders. Especially when the nation was watching.

Once again though, it's tough to be at your peak as a football team when you're missing your best and most active linebacker, your only receiver who can stretch the defense, and one of your top weapons at tight end and safety for chunks of the season.

How much different would things have been with Shayne Skov and Chris Owusu? Would Skov have been able to match Oregon's speed? Is Owusu's absence the reason why Stanford seemed reluctant to go for the knockout punch against a clearly staggering Notre Dame? Coby Fleener's 55-yard score was the death blow for the Irish, but it came two quarters later than I thought it should have.

The Washington Huskies would disagree (and rightfully so), but it didn't seem like we ever really saw what this Stanford team was truly capable of. Plus, Stanford lost to Oregon again. In similar fashion to last year's result. That adds to the malaise as well.

Meanwhile, the burning question inside of and away from the Eucalyptus Curtain was whether Andrew Luck did enough against Notre Dame to cement his Heisman Trophy. I don't know. I'll put it this way: I don't think he lost the trophy on Saturday. But I certainly don't think he won it, either.

Let's face it: the voters and experts who take a fantasy football approach to the Heisman and think the trophy is all about numbers and stats couldn't have been that impressed with Luck over the last couple of games. And after Trent Richardson dropped 203 yards on Auburn last week, those voters who think the college football sun rises and sets on the SEC finally have a legitimate excuse to send their vote his way. If the season had ended after the U$C triple-overtime thriller, it would be a very different story. Now? Who knows?

If I had a Heisman vote, it would go to Luck. The kid is still the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. He is still the best quarterback (in a prototypical sense) in college. And he is one of the few high-profile college football players who can be called a "student-athlete" without snickering.

Problem is, I'm not the best person to ask about this. I'm not exactly approaching this from the most objective point of view. Many of the more independent experts seem to think Luck is still the leader. But enough of them feel differently to make a whole lot of Cardinalmaniacs nervous about whose name will be in that envelope next Saturday.

It's probably that nagging feeling about this team not being at its best at any point this season, and that insecurity about what could happen in New York next week. That's probably why this season feels so incomplete.

And perhaps that's the beauty of it all: this season feels incomplete because it is. Stanford will have one more shot to make a major statement, and all indications are that it will be on a BCS stage once again. I would love to be on the plane out of Phoenix (or New Orleans) feeling complete about what this team accomplished. So would a lot of other people.

Maybe I'll look back more fondly on this season as time passes. Maybe it's kind of like my approach to these Corners. I almost never like these Corners when they're first posted. I always wonder if that week's Corner is good enough. Entertaining enough. Opinionated enough.

Then, when I have a little down time, I may go back into the archives and read an old Corner from a few years back. And I'll say to myself, "That was actually pretty damn good! What the hell was I so worried about?"

Perhaps the same feelings are at work here. Perhaps I'm too aware of the team's flaws and too afraid of what others might think. Once I get away from the moment and think about it, I'll probably go, "that was still a pretty damn good team. What the hell was I so worried about?"

Trust me, I'll be thrilled to be looking for plane flights to our bowl game. I'll be ecstatic to be back on The Farm while I'm on vacation in the Bay Area next week. But until the Card get that one final shot, I suspect that I'm not going to be feeling as good about this season as I should.

When is 11-1 not quite complete enough? When you're a fan and a follower of the 2011 Stanford Cardinal. And that's either a sign of how far this program has truly come, or how far we may still have to go as Cardinalmaniacs.

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RANDOM PAC-11 THOUGHTS

I'll be honest, I thought I would absolutely hate the Nike combat uniforms Stanford broke out for Notre Dame. I didn't. Of course, I prefer what we normally wear, but I wouldn't mind if those newfangled duds got trotted out again…

Too bad the black helmets probably wouldn't work with our normal unis…those were pretty sweet!

Um, by the way…is our men's hoops team perhaps better than I thought at the start of the season?

U$C. My God. When they got off probation for next season, there's no telling what that team might be able to do. I just hope they don't take Stanford's place in the conference pecking order…

It's that time of year again: the cost of coaching is going up, and the chance of coaching is going down. Good night, Dennis Erickson, Rick "Who, Me?" Neuheisel, and Paul Wulff…

I've always been of the school of thought that you don't fire your head coach unless you are convinced you can do better. Arizona has clearly done that. I will be very interested to see if Rich Rodriguez's arrival has set the Pac-12 upon a new arms race for coaches, and how Arizona State, UCLA, and Washington State will all respond…

Not necessarily a Pac-11 thought, but… this marks the final Clardy's Corner of the season, the tenth year that this column has appeared here on The Bootleg. As usual, there may be another Corner or two as news warrants during the bowl season. Extra special thanks to Daniel, Lars, Jim, and Carridine as always! And as always, the biggest thanks go out to you for your thoughts, your opinions, and your support. Even when some of you were making me the bad guy for daring to suggest that you be in your seat on time for the kickoff.

We have all seen some things this year that many Stanford fans never thought they would see. Ever. I don't know how much longer it's all going to last. But I wouldn't trade the last three years of Stanford Football for any others.

Thanks for reading these Corners every week! Have a safe and happy holiday season. Looking forward to seeing you at the bowl game. Go Stanford!

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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

UCLA @ Oregon. (Pac-11 Championship Game, Friday) So UCLA has a shot at the Rose Bowl and Stanford doesn't? What's wrong with that picture? And why is a part of me kind of hoping the Bruins pull off the impossible? Anyway, I like Oregon by 34.

Last week: 3-2 (straight-up), 3-2 (ATS).
This year: 26-19 (straight-up), 28-17 (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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