Clardy's Corner - 10/1

What do the divisional playoffs in Major League Baseball this week have to do with Pac-10 football? Only an A's fan like Troy Clardy can tell you. And in doing so he brings to light a topic you won't hear discussed at any Pac-10 or BCS roundtable. Also, read on for his conference ramblings and picks of the week.

As I type this, Game 1 of the ALDS between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees is on the television in the background. Take a wild guess which team Bud Selig and his cronies want to win that series.

Game 1 of the ALDS between the Oakland A's and the Boston Red Sox gets underway tonight. I wonder which team FOX would rather see advancing to baseball's next round.

They probably wouldn't admit it in public, but once they go behind closed doors, I'm sure the bigwigs at FOX and at MLB headquarters are probably sporting their Yankee caps and their Pedro jerseys. I'm picturing Selig watching the game tonight at home with a brew (Miller, of course) in one hand, a remote in the other hand, and a ratty El Guapo jersey on his back.

No one on the FOX studio lot is rooting for Torii Hunter to rob Derek Jeter of a game-changing home run. Not a soul at 245 Park Avenue is rooting for Barry Zito to ring up David Ortiz. For those folks, it's all about an ALCS featuring Boston and New York.

Could you imagine the tizzy the East Coast media would be in if that happened? It's a great rivalry to be sure, and there would be a few intriguing subplots in that matchup, but man, you'd never hear the end of it. If the East Coast sports media makes it seem like the world is at stake when these two teams meet in May, how in the world are they going to act when the World Series is at stake if they meet next week?

I don't want to admit this, being an A's fan and all, but any ALCS featuring either Oakland or Minnesota won't generate as much buzz nationwide. Buzz, of course, equals ratings. Ratings, of course, equals money. Therefore, it's not in baseball's best financial interest to have the A's or the Twins move on. Sad, but true.

Such logic isn't limited to Major League Baseball, as the same kinds of things are probably at work in Walnut Creek, where the folks at Pac-10 headquarters couldn't have been too happy about last week's results in the first real weekend of conference play. The Pac-10's two glamour programs took one on the chin, as Oregon got drubbed by Washington State in the most convincing fashion possible, and U$C was upset by cal in one of the more dramatic Pac-10 games in recent memory.

It was great to see two of the Pac-10's perceived "haves" knocked off by two of the Pac-10's perceived "have-nots" (and certainly the tough losses couldn't have been dealt to two nicer programs). It's just further proof that the Pac-10 has the most parity of any major conference in college football. While the Pac-10's best team might not beat the best teams in the SEC, Big XII, and Big 10, I promise you that in a normal year, the Pac-10's worst team would handle the worst teams in the SEC, Big XII, and Big 10. Well, maybe not this year, since Arizona is all-time bad, but the gap between first and worst in the Pac-10 is generally nowhere near as wide as it is in the other major conferences.

While parity is great for the fans, when it comes to college football, parity has got to be a commissioner's worst nightmare. Parity has allowed seven different Pac-10 schools to experience a trip to the Rose Bowl over the past ten years, but what has it gotten the conference as a whole? It hasn't gotten a Pac-10 team in a winner-take-all national championship game, especially since the BCS was formed. Arizona State had their near-miss in 1996. Since then, that's been it. No other Pac-10 team, save for maybe the 2001 Oregon Ducks, has come as close to a national championship during that time span. It's a factoid that all the commissioners of the other BCS leagues probably remind Pac-10 honcho Tom Hansen of every time they cross paths.

So while "Big C" played all through the night in Berkeley and Coug fans were humming "Fight Fight Fight for Washington State" all the way back to the Palouse, Hansen couldn't have been in much of a singing mood last Saturday afternoon. It's not in the Pac-10's best interests for cal or Wazzu (or Stanford) to win right now, especially when they're knocking off the league's big boys. Why should it be? U$C was probably the conference's best shot at a national title. Oregon, even with all of their flaws on the field, is the Pac-10's elite program, fresh off a Sports Illustrated cover declaring them "rich, cool, and 4-0." And both of them were eliminated from the Sugar Bowl hunt within hours of each other.

The fact that it was cal and Washington State recording the big wins couldn't have sat well in Walnut Creek, either. Both the Bears and Cougars share some similarities with the A's and the Twins: they're all programs that have overachieved recently, but are still hindered by limited resources, middling fan support, and less-than-favorable stadium situations.

The Bears could be a sleeping football giant (man, I don't like typing that sentence), but even with Jeff Tedford, they are nowhere near the Pac-10's big boys right now. Worse, they have done next to nothing of note since their Citrus Bowl win back in the 1991 season.

But at least cal can claim the nation's fifth-largest television market as their home base. Spokane is the nation's 77th largest, smaller even than such cosmopolitan burghs as Toledo and Paducah. Aside from the great quarterbacks that have come out of Pullman since Jack Thompson, there is almost no tradition attached to Washington State football.

And, perhaps most damning of all, the Cougars failed to even come close to selling out their allotment of Rose Bowl tickets last winter. That was a major embarrassment for the Cougars, who were asked by the Pac-10 to come up with ways of reimbursing the conference for all the unused ducats, and to the Rose Bowl, which couldn't have been happy with the rare empty seats that greeted TV viewers on New Year's Day. That fiasco won't be lost upon bowl committees, as they can't look upon Washington State as an attractive candidate for their game right now.

I love rooting for the underdog. Maybe that's why I want to see the A's and the Twins meet in the ALCS. Maybe that's why I felt pretty good about U$C and Oregon losing like they did this past weekend. But underdogs generally don't help the bottom line, and that's why, as the Pac-10 season and the baseball playoffs develop, the overdogs will have plenty of support in high places.


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Washington made just two big plays, but it was enough to beat Stanford. The Card made a bunch of little plays, though, and that is certainly encouraging…

Find someone who has the tape of last weekend's game and grab it, if only to fast forward past the untimely penalties to the third quarter and check out Mark Bradford's awesome dash through most of the Huskies defense on a botched lateral. Maybe one of the greatest nine-yard runs of all time. Don't forget Mark's super block downfield later in that game, either…

Who knew Stanford would have the best winning percentage of any major Bay Area football team heading into October?

Congrats to Adimchinobe Echemandu for winning the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week award, but the conference should have shelled out for five more awards to give to cal's offensive line. There's no way that offensive line was supposed to do that to The Wild Bunch II…

If you had told me immediately after last weekend's Arizona-TCU game that one of the head coaches would wake up the next morning unemployed, I would have cast my vote for Gary Patterson. Sure, Mackovic had to go, but how in the world does a top-20 team need overtime to beat a bottom-10 team?

How boring is UCLA football? Let's just say that once the Arizona State-Oregon State game got out of hand, instead of watching the Bruins' snoozefest against San Diego State, I checked out Eastern Washington-Weber State instead. Yes, UCLA is that unwatchable…


E-MAILBAG

Mallory from Tualatin, Oregon writes on last week's winner of my Quote of the Week award:

"Lamb not-so bright! Couldn't call a play if his life depended on it… Thug masquerading as a football coach.  No thanks.  If Neu didn't have his team conditioned and tough, how the heck did they engineer so many come from behind 4th quarter wins a couple of years ago?"

I also seem to remember Tricky Rick taking his team to a Rose Bowl, just like Jim Lambr... oh, oops...


PAC-10 PICKS

Not my best weekend, but there are some cases where I'm happy to be wrong. I'm glad I was wrong about U$C and Oregon, and I wish I could have been wrong about Washington…

U$C @ Arizona State. High expectations for both teams coming in, but the loser here drops to 0-2 in conference play. Remember when Stanford gashed UCLA's hopes for an awesome season a couple years ago? Will U$C go into the dumper like the Bruins did? I don't know, but, unlike this time last week, I think it's possible. Problem is, I don't think the Sun Devils have quite enough to pull it off. I like U$C by 5.

Arizona @ Washington State. Arizona will be full of emotion for this game, but emotion can only carry a team so far. Usually it carries them to about midway through the second quarter. Unless Matt Kegel still has problems handling the exchanges from his backup centers, I like Washington State by 21.

Washington @ UCLA. The only reason to watch this game is to see what Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams will do next. Since the Bruins have such a suffocating front seven, those two will hold the key to this game. It's the Huskies' first road game in a while, so I think they'll struggle a little bit. But at least I know Washington can get into the endzone…I can't say the same about UCLA right now. I like Washington by 6.

Oregon State @ cal. The Beavers, keyed by their defense, got their grove back last week against the Sun Devils. The Bears' offensive line, fresh off a masterful performance against U$C, has to do it again versus an emerging Beavers defensive line. I like the Bears chances here, but I like Steven Jackson and Dwight Wright even more. I like Oregon State by 8.

Last week (straight up): 2-2, (ATS): 3-1.
This year (straight up): 3-2, (ATS): 4-1.
Last year (straight up): 27-13.

Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at gocardinal@knbr.com! 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 on Fox Sports Bay Area.


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