The kickoff of the Stanford football season was long anticipated and long overdue. Long anticipated because we finally got to watch the Cardinal take the field again. Long overdue because the Card was the 116th team out of the starting gate. At exactly 7:00p on Saturday, September 6, 2003, Stanford became the last Division 1-A school to kick off its football season.
Not that there wasn't a silver lining to Stanford's late start. One of the good things about Stanford arriving fashionably late to the season is that Card followers got to watch fans of all the other teams gripe over the start of their seasons. And, depending on the result, there was plenty of griping and crowing to be done by college football fanatics across the country.
Opening Day. That very phrase stirs the blood of every sports fan. It's like the first day of vacation; you've planned ahead months in advance for it, you can't wait for it to get here, and when it finally arrives, you can't wait to see where it will take you. There's so much anticipation and hope that goes into Opening Day, that even Cincinnati Bengal fans have some optimism about their team's chances when the season kicks off.
Because of all that anticipation, and because of all the potential that comes from Opening Day, there's almost always no middle ground when it comes to fans' reactions to the first game of the season. If your team wins on Opening Day, then all is right with the world and the drive home takes mere minutes. But if your team loses on Opening Day, then you feel like getting in the car, driving off, taking a detour, and starting a brand new life somewhere else. Kinda like how Auburn fans feel right now.
Almost everyone overreacts to the start of the season. It's human nature. You think I wasn't visualizing Stanford's season crumbling right before my very eyes as the first quarter unfolded and the Spartans spotted themselves a 10-0 lead?
But some groups are better at this than others. Exaggerating the importance of early-season developments is an art form in New York. If the Yankees, Giants, or Jets get off to hot starts, look out! And no group of sports fans has perfected the science of overreacting quite like the fans in Boston, where the sky is always falling. But Boston fans don't limit their dramatics to the early part of the year, as it's always freaking-out season in the 617 area code.
Let's face it - overreaction is good. It's the very lifeblood of every message board and chat room on the planet. It's the reason why God invented sports radio. As long as it's done reasonably and sporadically, there's nothing wrong with bragging about your team when things go well or venting when things don't go quite as planned.
But when fans attack (wasn't that an old FOX show?), it can be very unhealthy. For Pac-10 case studies, look no further than Husky haunts and Bruin boards. As I mentioned last week, I couldn't believe how quickly the Dawg fans were turning on their team after their disappointing loss in Columbus. Even though they played in an extremely hostile environment against one of the top three teams in the country (and yes, Ohio State almost lost to San Diego State last week, but they should have lost to Cincinnati last year, and last time I checked, things turned out just fine for the Buckeye nation), many seemed ready to write off Washington.
It's an even tougher crowd down in Westwood, where early fan response towards UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell has been brutal. There hasn't been this much negative buzz about something in L.A. since "Gigli".
Yes, UCLA looked rather uninspiring, so much so that even ABC pulled the plug a minute early, but some fans are already calling for UCLA AD Dan Guerrero to pull the plug on Dorrell. After just one game. Are you kidding me? And I thought some of you were far too premature in calling for Buddy Teevens' head after the Notre Dame game last year!
Amazingly enough, the Pac-10 fans whose team has the most to brag about so far this young season seem to be handling it all pretty well. Trojanfan seems to be taking his team's early season success in stride. Let me say that again, because that's a sentence I never thought I'd ever, ever type… Trojanfan seems to be taking his team's early season success in stride. Ugh.
But while U$C fans have been relatively low-key, the media has been stumbling all over itself to heap praise on the Trojans. Granted U$C's defense looked really good, almost 2000-Baltimore-Ravens-good, but after the Auburn game was over and even during last week's games, you couldn't go ten minutes without hearing some college football talking head going on and on about the Trojans. I expected all the hot air to come from $C fans, not the media.
Meanwhile on The Farm, I think Stanford fans have somehow found that ever-elusive post-Opening Day middle ground (although I have seen the occasional BootBoard threads that put the names Trent Edwards and John Elway into the same sentence… not yet, folks!). Call it a cautious optimism, if you like. And I think it's the perfect attitude to take towards Cardinal football right now.
After all, every good Cardinalmaniac™ knows that the big tests for Stanford football begin next week. Last week's win was a good start for this team and potentially a great building block for this season (and perhaps beyond). But right now, there's no sense making plans for Pasadena on New Year's when the Card have yet to a) play 60 minutes of consistent football, b) win on the road, or c) beat a team that will still be Division 1-A in 2005.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Gotta say I liked Stanford's playcalling against the Spartans, especially the different ways the tight ends were used… my new favorite formation features Matt Traverso and Brett Pierce lined up tight to the left (with Pierce sometimes going in motion), Alex Smith split out wide like a receiver, and an I-set behind the quarterback. I love all the possibilities that could come from that power formation…
I was also a big fan of hiding guys in the backfield, especially Luke Powell and Smith…
Defensively, that game was a textbook example of what hitting a QB early and often can do… Scott Rislov was making good passes into the teeth of Stanford's pass rushes and blitzes early on, but after the cumulative effect of Stanford's hits started taking its toll, he wasn't anywhere near as effective…
Can UCLA go through a season without losing a QB? It's seems like every time I look up I see a Bruin quarterback coming off the field while grabbing a knee or a shoulder or something…
Tough, tough loss for Wazzu, but that's what happens when you get threes instead of sixes early on. Notre Dame fumbled twice in the first quarter, but the Cougs ended up just getting field goals out of those early opportunities. There's a big difference between a 12-0 first-quarter lead and a 21-0 first-quarter lead, especially on the road. Wazzu just found that out the hard way…
That said, even though no one will mistake Notre Dame's offense for NC State's, I was very impressed with Wazzu's defensive effort. If they can play like that the rest of the season, they'll be a real X-factor down the stretch…
In Corvallis, the grumblings are getting louder about Derek Anderson's completion percentage. In two games, Anderson has completed just 32 of 79 passes, with five picks along the way. What folks are forgetting is that the Beavers' passing attack is predicated on big plays, not on a high completion percentage. I don't even think Jonathan Smith completed the majority of his passes for his entire Beavers career, but that never stopped him from getting the job done. Alas, some boosters already want backup QB Adam Rothenfluh…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I can never remember this: if we were in the Southern hemisphere, would Auburn's season be circling clockwise or counter-clockwise?
A hypothetical question that I'm intrigued to hear your answers to. Let's just say Maurice Clarett wanted to transfer to Stanford and play ball, and the folks at the Old Union wouldn't be an obstacle… would you welcome Clarett to The Farm, given all his baggage off the field and his talent on the field?
With a Pac-10 game on tap this weekend, the Rose Bowl race kicks off in Tucson. This year, as I did last year, I'll make my picks for every conference game. After going 29-11 in 2000 and 2001, I fell off a little bit in 2002, going 27-13 straight up. Go ahead and place wagers based on this information if you want, but don't come crying to me if your wife leaves you, your kids' college fund is toast, and guys named Frankie and Guido are looking for you…
Oregon @ Arizona. It's a good thing Oregon's offense has been playing well, because their defense is just awful right now. Because of that, the Wildcats should score more points than they deserve, but this still shouldn't be much of a contest. I like Oregon by 15.
Last year (straight up): 27-13.
Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org! The ones I like best will end up in next week's E-Mailbag…
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which airs Saturday mornings at 8:30 (Pacific) on Fox Sports Bay Area.
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 website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!