It's amazing how the importance of a certain game can change from week to week. Take the Washington game, for instance. After the Card's convincing win over BYU, I thought Stanford's game against the Huskies would be extra important. Either it would be a "bounce-back" game, as the Trojans would surely handle the Cardinal easily. Or, in the supposedly unlikely event of a Stanford win over U$C, the Washington game would be a "prove-it" game, as the Cardinal would have to prove they weren't playing over their heads just because the top-ranked team was in town.
But Stanford's results against the Trojans changed everything, and suddenly the Washington game morphed into both a "bounce-back" game and a "prove-it" game at the same time.
The good news: Stanford bounced back with a win over an inferior team.
The bad news: Stanford didn't exactly prove themselves in that win over an inferior team.
Which brings us back to more good news: There is no better time and no better place for the Card to prove themselves than this weekend, on the road, against Notre Dame, and with the nation watching. Well, the part of the nation that isn't watching cal-U$C, anyway.
So another meeting with Notre Dame is upon us. Another trip to South Bend. Another game against That Guy. And while the importance of the UW game wavered from week to week, almost everyone had this date circled on the calendar for a long time. Well, almost everyone, anyway… more on this in a second.
It's all right in front of the Cardinal right now. Before the season began, weren't most of us saying: "You know…if Stanford could just find a way to go 3-1 heading into Notre Dame…?" Well, look what's happened… Stanford is 3-1 heading into Notre Dame. One or two offensive plays in the second half against U$C, and Stanford is 4-0 heading into Notre Dame. In many ways, this team is in better shape than most folks thought it would be at this point in the season.
That said, this is a critical, critical game coming up. In doing my usual lurking on the BootBoard Plus, I came across a post that contended this weekend's matchup was not a crucial game. OK, maybe in the sense that it's not a Pac-10 opponent on the opposite side of the ball. But this program is in the midst of resurrecting and reinventing itself. Doesn't that fact alone make every game crucial?
Now, is this game critical to the point where the season is a failure if Notre Dame and That Guy come out on top, as others have suggested? Not at all. That type of stance discredits and devalues the importance of that little thing called the Pac-10 race. If Stanford loses to Notre Dame, but somehow runs the table the rest of the way, how could anyone consider the season a failure if we're all kicking back poolside in San Diego during Bowl Week? The fact that I found myself taking a quick peek at hotel rates for the Las Vegas Bowl might be a small victory in itself!
(By the way, Vegas hotel rates are jaw-droppingly cheap that week. $89 at the Mandalay. No joke. Just something to keep in mind. Back to the column…)
But I don't think there's any doubt of the importance and potential magnitude of this week's game, the first Stanford-Notre Dame game of the Buddy Teevens Era. Yes, I know this is Buddy's third season on The Farm, but I don't think the Tyrone Willingham Era in Palo Alto came to an end until last year's 57-7 game.
I really think that, up until that night, Tyrone's ghost hovered over the program. Many of the kids who were Tyrone's guys were the same kids who weren't quite buying what Buddy was selling. They wanted the old guy back. Of course, that created a bit of a rift. Most of those guys are gone now, with some departing earlier than others.
So now, this is Buddy's team. And I'm certain that Buddy's team, while they respect Tyrone and what he did for this program while he was here, also won't be going out of their way to swarm around That Guy and shake his hand after the game, unlike the scenes after the last two times the Cardinal met the Fighting Irish. I'm certain that Buddy's team will be eagerly awaiting the chance to make a name for itself on a national stage.
Can the Cardinal bounce back from all the things that have resulted from Tyrone's departure to Notre Dame? Can Stanford prove to themselves and everyone watching on NBC that this team, Buddy's team, can be pretty damn good? We'll all find out in less than 72 hours. I can't wait.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
In some weird, sick, twisted kind of way, isn't it good to know that sometimes Stanford can misplace its "A" game and still win?
For those who cried "conservative" while watching Stanford's offense during that second half of U$C, how did you like the playcalling last week against the Huskies? Very aggressive. Throw on first down, take deep shots often, and loosen them up. Trent Edwards made some mistakes he hasn't made so fat his year, but I will never fault a quarterback or an offensive coordinator for trying to take shots and being aggressive…
UW quarterback Carl Bonnell has a lot to learn about playing the position, but I'll tell you this: that is a tough, tough young man. Very Randy Fasani-like. Almost Marques Tuiasosopo-like. I was impressed by some of the hits he was able to take, and some of the hits he was able to bounce off of. The Huskies may have lost another game last week, but I think they might have found their quarterback and leader for the next few years…
The Huskies may have also found their leader on the other side of the ball, too. Our Quotes of the Week come to us courtesy of Washington LB Scott White. First, he talked about the leaders on last year's Husky squad: "I thought some of the guys threw in the towel, trying to get some numbers, some stats for the NFL, or whatever."
Then, White gave his thoughts on this weekend's game between the Huskies and San Jose State: "If we lose this one, there's going to be smoke in the city."
By the way, White can talk like that because he earned it last week. Against Stanford, the sophomore linebacker made 15 tackles, recorded one sack, broke up two passes, and lost his pregame meal on the sidelines. Now that's an eventful day…
Here's a very random thought for you: anyone out there know who the last left-handed Stanford QB was? I can't think of any… have there been any?
In case you haven't heard, the cal-U$C game down in South Central is sold out. 92,000-plus will be in the house. That is going to be a heck of a scene…
Anyone else notice that Andrew Walter's facial expression never, ever changes? The Sun Devils could be up by 30, or they could be down by 30. You'd never know it from his on-field demeanor…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I'm really looking forward to spending some time in Chicago this weekend after the game. That town just has to be electric with the Cubs in the playo--…… oh…… oops…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… is it too late to jump on the Purdue bandwagon? They're the cal of the Big-10 this year, but they might be the sexiest pick for on Orange Bowl darkhorse out there…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… did you see the boxscore of that Rice-San Jose State game? Rice ran the ball 85 times for 570 yards. One rusher gained over 200 yards. Two more gained over 120 yards. They held the ball for 42 minutes. They had a 34-7 lead over San Jose State early in the second quarter…… and they lost the game. Spartan QB Dale Rogers completed only ten passes, but he still threw for 359 yards and five scores! No Spartan possession lasted longer than six plays. Six of their scoring possessions lasted less than one minute. They never punted after the first quarter. Nine of their final 12 drives ended with touchdowns (the other three ended with interceptions). And after all that, the game was decided on, of all things, a defensive score. San Jose State won, 70-63…
TV programming note: looks like the folks at FOX Sports Net Bay Area will be providing a double dip of the Farm Report. Friday evening at 7:00 pm, and Saturday morning at 9:00 am. Enjoy…
cal @ U$C. From a Stanford perspective, watching this game is going to be like watching Darth Vader vs. General Zod. Who do we root for? Anyway, I get the funny feeling this game might not be as close as many might think. Sure, cal's defense against Oregon State was more wicked than Stewie on "Family Guy". But I think, as usual, it will be too much Reggie Bush, too much Norm Chow, and too much "Tribute to Troy" down in South Central. Maybe I've been hanging around Lee Corso too long, but I like U$C by 14.
Arizona @ UCLA. I really want to pick Arizona here. I really do. I like their defense. But I don't like their offense, at all. And, of course, in the Pac-10, you can't win if you can't score. Two big plays for the Bruins make the difference. I like UCLA by 10.
Oregon @ Washington State. Watch the turnover margin here, as both teams have had huge problems hanging on to the rock so far this year. Oregon's defense has surpassed my expectations; their front seven is looking better every week. But I like Wazzu's defense even more. Will Derting will make life miserable for the Ducks. I like Washington State by 15.
Last week: 1-1 (straight up), 1-1 (ATS).
This year: 3-2 (straight up), 4-1 (ATS).
-- 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 on Fox Sports Net Bay Area. Clardy hosts "Stanford Sports Weekly", which airs Wednesday evenings at 8:00 pm on KNTS (1220 AM) in San Francisco. He also hosts Cardinal men's basketball pregame shows on Stanford radio network flagship station KNEW in San Francisco, and "College Football Today" on KNBR 1050 in San Francisco.
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