A Season-Defining Game

The heated debate among the Cardinal cognoscenti this week appears to be whether Saturday's showdown with Notre Dame is make or break for 2004... or not. Stan checks in with an unequivocal take on importance of this game - not just for the season, but also for the Buddy Teevens Era on The Farm.

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This week's posts on the BootBoard have been as predictable as the proliferation of Kerry bumper-stickers in San Francisco. Cardinalmaniacs are screaming for revenge, redemption, and a souvenir chunk of Tyrone Willingham's upholstery. We can't blame the Cardinal Nation for its passion and fervor over this one. But we need to reconfirm the obvious right here, right now.  While I hesitate to go as far as the poster who considers Buddy Teevens "a good fit at Stanford", make no mistake: this game against Notre Dame, and Willingham, will likely determine what kind of football season Stanford can expect from here on. Not to mention the future of the Teevens Era.  It stacks up as nothing less than the season-defining moment for Cardinal football. I'll go a step further and say that it is as important for Stanford as this week's USC game is for California.  By late Saturday afternoon, when the shadows of the Indiana sycamores are as long as the faces of the losers, we're going to know exactly how far Stanford football has come since Buddy's arrival, or how far it still needs to go.  Not to mention if it can really get there from here.

"Whoa!" I can hear you say.  "Look at the fear we struck into the heart of USC last month!  Doesn't that punch our ticket as a legitimate force this year?  Even Sports Illustrated says we've turned it around."  Sorry.  No way have the last two years "turned around" on the basis of 23 quality minutes against the Trojans. Or the gaudy stats against 408-State.  The fact is that the Cardinal hasn't had a huge road win over a winning team since Barry Bonds wore size 42-regular.

If Stanford loses this game to a so-so outfit that got played off its feet by BYU, another tomato can in Stanford's win column, we're pretty much right back where we were at Chestnut Hill in 2002, a physically superior team getting handled by a better-coached Boston College in Teevens' debut.  Forget the six-point edge to ND this Saturday.  This represents little more than the home-field advantage.  The overriding story here is the payback factor.  It's worth at least 10 points to the Cardinal.  Advantage: Stanford.

Both coaches are in their third year at their schools.  The style and approach of each man should now be firmly rooted.  This game will be a revelation. Each team should now fully reflect their guy.  To say there's big pressure on both of them here is an understatement. Tyrone's at home again, after the pasting he took there last week to in-state rival Purdue.  Losing to Stanford will shake the thunder right down on his dome and may inspire a few more middle-of-night "for sale" signs on his front lawn. For Buddy, a loss here will be another in long string of failures against teams with winning records. What is he now, 1-166 in his head-coaching career?  He's 0-16 on the Farm.  Not encouraging.

The fodder for this week's practices is prodigious: if the 57-7 eye-gouging and sucker punches administered last Thanksgiving aren't enough to get this team primed, then Buddy should bring in Tony Robbins to join John Lynch, Denny Green and Bill Walsh in leading pre-game meditation and smack-down yoga.  Too bad Chris Farley is no longer with us.  Where is "Matt Foley" when we need him for inspiration?  As far as the Buddy's-a-good-fit-for-Stanford thinking, say this for the guy: at least he shed the tennis-pro visor. As far as image makeover, it's a start.  But we'll know a lot more Saturday night.

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