Then, you probably did a spit-take when you saw where Sports Illustrated had the Cardinal ranked: second, right behind Alabama.
That's right. The nation's sports periodical of record saw fit to declare Stanford, of all teams, number two in the land. Admit it: you never thought you would see the day, did you?
Sports Illustrated wasn't alone, though. The Sporting News also had the Cardinal as the second-best team in the country. USA Today and Lindy's put Stanford in their number three slot. The AP and Coaches polls ranked the Cardinal fourth. The non-believers, such as they were, included Athlon (seventh) and Phil Steele (11th).
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times did the unthinkable. They actually picked Stanford to win the national championship. In football. For real. How well do you think that went over with the Trojan fans in La-La Land? (And can Stanford Football put up a billboard across Figueroa to remind everyone about it?)
All those things are nice. And the high opinions of the Cardinal at the start of the season certainly beat the alternative. After all, it wasn't that long ago when finding Stanford ranked in any preseason poll at all was like finding Miley Cyrus at a convent.
I have never been a fan of preseason rankings and September polls. To me, they're useless and misleading. Even though Stanford is higher in a lot of those polls than we've ever seen them, it doesn't change my opinion. This time of year, the polls are all built on hype. And hype usually means absolutely nothing.
Remember the 1999 Arizona Wildcats? They began that season ranked fourth in the polls. They were a shoo-in to win the Pac-10 that year, and they were a legitimate national title contender when the season began. Instead, Arizona got poleaxed by Penn State in the season opener, 41-7. So much for that national title.
The Wildcats survived a close win over TCU and a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Middle Tennessee State. But then Stanford came to Tucson, churned through the Wildcat defense, hung a half a hundred points on Arizona, and shocked everyone with a 50-22 win. The Wildcats were never heard from again en route to a 6-6 year. If not for last year's U$C Trojans, the 1999 Wildcats would be the Pac-10's most disappointing team over the last 20 years.
It may be hard to believe now, but there was actually a time when Alabama wasn't steamrolling everyone in college football. But back in 2000, the Tide were the third-ranked team in the polls to start the season. Then UCLA ripped them in the season opener at the Rose Bowl. By the end of September, they were out of the polls. By the end of the year, they were 3-8.
Now, I'm not predicting a similar fate for the 2013 Stanford Cardinal. Far from it. This team seems to have a much better mindset and much more stable coaching than the 1999 Wildcats and the 2000 Crimson Tide did. In fact, I would be very surprised if Stanford wasn't in the BCS mix again at the end of the year.
But until the Card take the field, I am not buying into the hype that accompanied the team in the preseason. I need to see if Kevin Hogan can take the next step at quarterback. I need to see if the running game can improve. I need to see if anyone can catch the rock with any degree of regularity. I need to see if Kelsey Young can become the breakout big-play threat that this team seems to need.
I don't have doubts that the Treefense will be able to win the line of scrimmage against any team they face and get after the quarterback. Hell, the defense is the very reason why so many of the pundits seem to think highly of Stanford as the year begins. But I still need to see it.
I need to see if Stanford can get through another difficult November. It always seems to come down to that month, doesn't it?
I also need to see if Stanford can stay healthy and have all hands on deck when they need to most. I'm also knocking on wood as I type this paragraph, by the way. Oregon won the Pac-12 title in 2011 not when they knocked off UCLA in the championship game, or when they ran away and hid from Stanford in the second half of that year's matchup, but when Shayne Skov was being helped off the Tucson turf with his knee injury.
Even for a team like Stanford, so many things need to go right for the season to reach its full potential. The hype is nice. The love from the preseason polls is great. But the goal isn't to see Stanford at the top of the polls when the season begins. It's to see the Card reigning supreme at season's end. Then, and only then, will seeing be believing.
********** ********** **********
RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
After getting stuck on a snow-delayed flight out of Pittsburgh, ringing in the new year at the Las Vegas airport (which is nowhere near as much fun as you might think), and not landing at LAX until 7:30 New Years' morning, it was a dream come true to walk into the Rose Bowl again and watch my Cardinal win the Grandaddy of Them All. It was great to bump into Tyrone Willingham on my way into the stadium and chat with him for a few moments. It was awesome to see Stanford fans packing Pasadena. It was amazing to be on the field for the postgame ceremony and celebration. It was a satisfying visit to the Pasadena Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles afterwards. Great day. Great, great day…
From the Things I Never Thought I Would Ever See department: former Tunnel Worker and current Steeler offensive lineman David DeCastro has his own radio show here in Pittsburgh. Yes. That David DeCastro. I don't quite know what to make of it, either…
Missed tackles galore in the secondary. 625 yards allowed. Making an FCS quarterback look like a Heisman Trophy candidate (411 yards passing, 107 yards rushing). That's not the Oregon State defense I know…
cal may not be very good this year, but they'll be fun to watch. That's progress, I guess, no?...
Stat of the Week: cal ran 99 plays from scrimmage against Northwestern…
I didn't watch much of the U$C-Hawaii game beyond the first quarter (East Coast living + Honolulu kickoff = me falling asleep quickly), but it doesn't look like I missed much. U$C was unimpressive. And judging from the balls he dropped and the time he spent jawing with Hawaii defenders, it sure didn't look like Marquise Lee's head was in it…
So Washington beats a ranked opponent at home in September, and everyone starts to wonder if the Huskies are back. Sound familiar? It should. It happened last year (beat No. 3 Stanford, got drubbed by Oregon the following week), in 2009 (beat No. 3 U$C, lost the next week at Stanford), and in 2007 (beat No. 20 Boise State, lost to Ohio State the next week). The Huskies always look good in September, but by the time the World Series rolls around, they're nowhere to be found. Let's revisit this again when I do my Pac-12 Midterms…
Our Quote of the Week, comes from Texas head coach Mack Brown, who told CBS Sports' Seth Davis: "We didn't recruit Andrew Luck because we recruited Garrett Gilbert." Yikes. That's the kind of sentence that goes on a coach's tombstone…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… Florida State's Jameis Winston is a lot like Johnny Manziel. Except he's a more accurate passer. And more physical. And has a higher upside, especially in the pros. And likeable. And respectful. And doesn't come across like an immature, spoiled punk. Other than those small differences, Winston and Manziel are just like each other…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… Jim Harbaugh couldn't beat his brother in last year's Super Bowl, but he'll beat his old quarterback in this year's Super Bowl. 49ers over the Colts in Super Bowl XLVIII. Book it, done…
********** ********** **********
You know the drill…every year I will pick every Pac-12 conference game, except the ones that involve Stanford. And we actually have a game this weekend!
Washington State @ U$C. I like Connor Halliday, and the Cougars hung in there last week at Auburn. But, as underwhelmed as I was by the Trojans against Hawaii, I can't pick them to lose. Not this week, anyway. I like U$C by 16.
Last year: 36-9 (straight-up), 25-20 (ATS).
********** ********** **********
Troy Clardy is in his 21st year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 12th 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, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!