Clardy's Corner - 12/3

It is with great sadness that we offer up the final Clardy's Corner of 2003. Troy won't recap or rehash the devastation of last Saturday, but he will share his thoughts on the inflection point where this program sits. 2004 is "the year" to watch for Cardinalmaniacs, and not just for the direction of the head coaching position...


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I don't think I need to recap what happened at Stanford Stadium last Saturday evening. I don't think I have the stomach to do one anyway. You all know what happened, and most of you watched it happen.

I could use the same adjectives to describe last Saturday's game that dropped on my buddies as we conferred afterwards. But since this is a family website, I'll refrain.

Where does Stanford football's stinkbomb of a finale put the program? Where do they go from here? What happens now? To be honest, I don't know. But I do know this much: this program is at a major crossroads, one that will alter the course of Stanford football's foreseeable future no matter which road is taken.

Entering this season, I looked into my crystal ball and saw Stanford winning four, maybe five games. Maybe even six if everything shook out and all the breaks fell the Card's way. I saw the defense holding on for dear life while the offense tried to find itself. I worried about the youth and inexperience of the offensive line.

Looking at the season's results at face value, I guess things went about the way I expected them to. But the way this team finished with a four-win season is deflating. If the Card had competed but just come up short against a better Oregon State team, a better cal team, and an equally-talented (if not less-talented) Notre Dame team, things would be different.

But that finish unfortunately wiped out any perceived progress this team had made. Stanford finished two games better than they did in 2002, but right now it sure doesn't feel like it.

That's not to say that the season was devoid of pleasant surprises, because it wasn't. Save for the loss of Brian Head, the offensive line stayed relatively healthy, which allowed the youngsters to gain plenty of precious game experience. Mark Bradford is a superstar in the making. Greg Camarillo is perhaps the very embodiment of what collegiate athletics is all about.

Amon Gordon turned in some dominating performances, and Babatunde Oshinowo had his moments, too. Nick Frank could be a mainstay up front. Jon Alston became one of my favorite defenders to watch because he was good for at least one big hit per game. Michael Craven grew up right before our very eyes. Oshiomogho Atogwe held it down in the secondary. Eric Johnson had a fine, fine season.

And while Ted Leland's pregame comments that this program is in better shape now than it was before drew some scoffs and jeers, I think that he's mostly right. There is no question that this program's infrastructure is far superior to what had been previously in place. This is especially true in the recruiting department. I can't wait to see what magic Buddy Teevens may be able to work this winter.

Yes, there are actually some real live positives when it comes to Stanford football at the end of the 2003 season. But there is also one inescapable conclusion. To steal the line from Apollo Creed in Rocky III: "THERE IS NO TOMORROW ! THERE IS NO TOMORROW!"

Folks, we are in perhaps the most critical time in the program's history. And I'm not just talking about what's happening on the field, either. With each loss that piles up, Stanford risks falling deeper and deeper into grave danger.

I don't need convincing that Stanford has a global reputation that is unmatched anywhere. You don't need to tell me that Stanford football has an enviable tradition and can be a consistently great program. I already know that there are few finer places to be on gameday than on The Farm. And if you're reading this, chances are you don't need to be sold on any of that either.

But what about the recruit who's on the fence on whether to come here or not? What about the season ticket holder who unfortunately feels like last Saturday was the last straw? What about the student who thinks his Saturday afternoon might be better spent studying for a midterm that's a month away? What about the casual fan who doesn't want to shell out big bucks to watch the Raiders and 49ers? What about the sportspage editor who has no choice but to keep pushing Stanford further and further to the back of the section?

These are the people that need convincing the most. These are the people that need to be on Stanford's side. Obviously, the best and easiest way to do that is to put a winning product on the field year-in and year-out.

Now let's widen the camera shot here, because the stakes are getting higher and higher in the Pac-10. In a truly saddening development, U$C is king of the hill once more. Oregon football players are living like the rich and famous. Washington State might not be going away anytime soon. Meanwhile in Berkeley, cal is about to awaken from its "sleeping-giant" status. Oh, and now there's a Stoops in the Pac-10. It's on, folks. It's on.

Add it all up, and the bottom line is simple: 2004 is a make-or-break year for Stanford football's fortunes. The margin for error has vanished. Every decision will be critical. All of the recruits, players, coaches, and staff members have a chance to get in on the ground floor and build something special. But it all has to start now.

Maybe I'm being a bit too apocalyptic here, but what happens to this program over the next year could very well dictate whether the Cardinal look like cal or U$C in 15 years, or whether Stanford eventually ends up in the same boat as San Jose State.


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

I had to do a serious double-take when I read Stanford offensive coordinator David Kelly's comments to the Oakland Tribune in advance of the Notre Dame game. When George O'Leary went to Notre Dame to begin his short-lived stint as their head coach, he took Kelly with him. Kelly's recollection of South Bend? "It was cold… so cold that they were going to have to pay me a lot of money to buy a whole new wardrobe for myself, as well as transportation costs for my wife to drive back and forth to Chicago to the nearest shopping mall." Kelly's thoughts on the Cardinal's matchup with the Fighting Irish? "This game is personal. Some people at Notre Dame continue to feel they're experts on what's going on in the Stanford program. My advice to them is to focus on the Notre Dame program." Whoa. Looks like someone forgot to go into "coachspeak" mode before some reporter turned on his tape recorder. Yes, coachspeak is boring and the media hates it, but there's a reason why it was invented in the first place. Ask Bill Callahan for his thoughts on coachspeak…

Tyrone Willingham is a man whom I respect greatly. I'm glad I got to know him reasonably well during his time here on The Farm. It was great to exchange pleasantries and make a little small talk with him after the game. Does that mean I excuse his team's ill-timed pregame entrance and their bush-league fake punt? No, it doesn't…

And the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year is… Matt Leinart? Well, the case could be made, but I'd look at Mike Williams, Steven Jackson, or even Geoff McArthur before I looked at Leinart…

Quote of the week, courtesy Washington junior wide receiver Reggie Williams, who addressed where he might be playing ball next year: "Why does everybody think I'm leaving?"

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… while in Louisiana last week for the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited my first Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Holy cow. My grandmother wanted to buy a purse, my uncle Ronnie needed some sandpaper, and we forgot to get mashed potatoes. We got all three items under the same roof. Unreal. You can make the case that Wal-Mart is the embodiment of corporate evil and that it's destroying small-town commerce. Heck, I'm pretty sketchy about buying groceries at the same place where I can buy underwear and motor oil. But I can see why my relatives back there all call that place "Wally World"…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… thanks a bunch for checking out Clardy's Corner every week! It's been a blast as always. I won't be going away completely, though. I may do a couple of these during the hoops season, and if you see me hanging out around Maples, please say hello. Have a safe and happy holiday season, and go Stanford!


E-MAILBAG

Derek from San Francisco writes: "I had a question for ya: used to be USC was "Tailback U", Penn State was "Linebacker U", etc. What would Stanford be? Gotta figure it's either Fullback U (Tommy Vardell, Greg Comella, Jon Ritchie, Casey Moore) or Safety U (John Lynch, Josh Madsen, Tank Williams, Coy Wire, Colin Branch, O.J. Atogwe). Thanks for all your thoughts during the season."

Thanks for all your thoughts! Stanford's gotta be known as "Quarterback U". Brodie, Albert, Plunkett, Elway, Stenstrom, and a couple others I'm blanking on at the moment? Gotta be Quarterback U.

And of course you can't have Quarterback U without having some damn good receivers roll through. Gene Washington, James Lofton, Chris Burford, Troy Walters, Tony Hill, Ed McCaffrey, and a couple others I'm probably blanking on at the moment? I'd go quarterbacks and receivers before I went with safeties and fullbacks (although we've done some real good things there, too).


PAC-10 PICKS

I was actually 7-5 ATS at one point this year. Last year I won over 20 games ATS. What the hell happened?

Oregon State @ U$C.  If this game was being played in Corvallis, I'd be crying ambush. But the bandwagon will be in full force down in South Central. So will the U$C defense. Enjoy New Orleans, boys!  I like U$C by 18.

Last week (straight up): 0-1, (ATS): 0-1.
This year (straight up): 24-15, (ATS): 10-24-2.

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, and also hosts Stanford men's basketball pregame shows on KNEW 910 AM in San Francisco.


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