It's no secret that coaches hate looking ahead. Players are forbidden from looking ahead. Coaches often preach to their players to focus not on the rewards, but on the results.
Former Denver Broncos kicker Jim Turner acknowledged this, when, in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XII, he offered this explanation for the Broncos' loss to the Dallas Cowboys: "We were out there thinking about winning. They were out there thinking about football."
Judging from his remarks at the press luncheon earlier this week hyping the 108th Big Game, I'm sure Walt Harris and crew will be thoroughly focused on football this week. And I'm equally sure that Walt Harris and crew are forbidden from thinking about winning.
They can't think about winning. They won't talk about winning. But I can. So I will. Beating the Bears this year would be a big win with especially big rewards.
Granted, every game is a big game and every win is a big win when you're trying to transform a football program into something consistently competitive. But for Stanford, this big game isn't just a Big Game. It's Bigger than Big usually is.
For Stanford, this could be the biggest Big Game since 2001, when the Cardinal had to hold off an all-time bad Bears squad to ensure themselves of an upper tier Pac-10 bowl. (Or so we all thought at the time…) It definitely will be the biggest Big Game for Stanford since the 1999 game when a trip to the Rose Bowl was at stake. This year, a trip to any bowl is likely at stake.
But I think the case could also be made that this could be the biggest game Stanford has played in the past six years, period. Even bigger than the 2001 games against Oregon and UCLA. Just as big as that 1999 Big Game. And if Stanford can pull it off, the rewards of a win this week would be bigger and more well-deserved than any other game I can think of since that afternoon when Casey Moore ran for Roses.
It is possible to suggest that a Stanford victory this week could signal a shift in the balance of power in Bay Area college football. When it came to the Bay Area, Stanford owned the 1990s. In those days, Cardinal Football meant big wins and bowl bids, while all Golden Bear Football was good for was an afternoon of comedy.
Of course, since then the Bears have come back, made remarkable strides, and flirted with national prominence. As I type this sentence, cal has control of the Bay Area's college football scene.
But judging from the performances of both teams over the past six weeks, cal's grip might be slipping. While Old Blues are busy renaming their quarterback from Joe Ayoob to Joe Ay-"boo", Stanford fans are gaining more confidence in their team and getting more reasons to believe in their players each week. Based on those facts, control of the Bay Area's college football conscience may very well be up for grabs again.
A Big win could also remove some of the mystique surrounding Jeff Tedford. There is no question that what Tedford has done at Berkeley has been nothing short of phenomenal. There is also no question that he has earned all the power, the respect, and the reputation that has come with his success.
But let's be honest, compared to the other men who coached college football teams in the Bay Area from 2002 to 2004, he really didn't have much competition. When it came to coaching skills (and having the talent to match), the other guys couldn't touch Tedford with a 10-foot pole. Or, in this case, an Axehandle.
Now, that perception is starting to change, and Walt Harris is the reason why. Outgoing Stanford athletic director Ted Leland often says that the true test of a coach's worth is how they perform when their team isn't playing well. "Not playing well" aptly described Stanford Football through most of September, and again during the critical moments of the games against UCLA and U$C.
But each time, Walt has been able to pull the team together and win games. For the first time, there is someone in the Bay Area who might actually be able to — gasp! — outcoach Jeff Tedford.
To me, those are two of the big subplots and two of the main rewards for a Stanford win this weekend. But the biggest reward of all just might be the most basic. Bowl wins are nice. So are the pats on the back from alumni and supporters. So are the bragging rights. But this year, Big Game for Stanford means simply this: a tangible reward not only for all of the setbacks they had to endure over the past three years, for all of the hard work of those young men.
Every year, Stanford Football players work hard to make themselves and their program better. They run, they practice, they study, they sweat, they puke, they win, they lose, they live, they learn. They risk their own physical and mental well-being. The coaches drive themselves to exhaustion thinking of ways to make their players and their program better.
Every year they do this. The last three years, they've had nothing to show for it.
But this year, a win against cal would give Stanford two tangible, physical rewards for all of their sacrifices and all of their hard work: The Axe and a bowl bid. For the Cardinal, it is a truly Big Game indeed.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I'm not going to lie to you… as I watched Alexis Serna's last-ditch field goal sail toward the uprights, I thought it was good. I even uttered an expletive or two while the ball was in the air. Then the kick fell to the earth, bounced in the endzone, and I took it all back. Udeme Udofia's tackle for a six-yard loss three plays before that kick may very well have been the difference in that game…
Is it me, or is Nick Sanchez having one of the better seasons a Stanford defensive back has had in a while? Every time I look up, he's either swatting away passes, recovering fumbles, or getting the job done some other way…
Stanford is going to need a running game. If not this week, then certainly next week…
Don't be fooled by what Jeff Tedford says this week about his quarterback situation. I think he knows darn well who's going to start, and I would be absolutely amazed if it wasn't Joe Ayoob. That is, unless Tedford really thinks Steve Levy (the quarterback, not the ESPN anchor) can give the Bears a better chance to win this Saturday than Joe Ay-"boo"…
I'm not saying Tedford's in a bind for a quarterback, but my cal spies tell me that Wes Dalton, Kerry McGonigle, and J. Torchio were taking snaps at practice the other day…
Not a bad start when your first three completions go for 163 yards and two scores. Not a bad finish when your final stat line read 22-of-27 for 510 yards, five scores, and no picks. Take a bow, Drew Olson…
I mean, come on. Seriously. Could that Oregon-Washington State game possibly have ended any other way? These are the Cougs we're talking about…
Stat of the Week: after his team's close win over Washington State, Mike Bellotti is now 41-12 in games decided by seven points or less…
Hey, Arizona… nice going. I can't believe those guys messed themselves against the Huskies, of all teams…
Runner-up for Quote of the Week, courtesy of U$C head coach Pete Carroll, who talked about the significance of their win at cal: "It seems like California has been right behind us for a while, [so last week's game] was about trying to separate, a little bit. And I think in this game that happened."
Quote of the Week, courtesy of Texas tight end David Thomas, who was asked whether the Longhorns ran up the score en route to a 52-0 halftime lead over Kansas: "I don't think you can ever call the dogs off in the first half."
Cheap Shot of the Year, courtesy of cal linebacker Zack Follett, who intentionally head-butted a helmet-less and defenseless Lendale White while White was on the ground. Follett's despicable act was caught by ABC's cameras, and was replayed to Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts' disgust. Jeff Tedford later apologized to Pete Carroll, and forced Follett to apologize as well…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… does anyone else think the Indiana Pacers' jerseys look like an awful lot like cal's jerseys?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… is Massachusetts one of those weird states where you can't pump your own gas? I was driving up to Vermont the other day (just so I can say I've been to Vermont), stopped off at a gas station in Holyoke, and looked quizzically at the man approaching my car who was asking me how much gas I wanted. Being from California, I automatically assumed the guy was begging and got my sorry-I-don't-have any-cash-on-me speech ready. Then I realized the station was full-serve only. Is all of Massachusetts like that? And does that guy get a tip? If so, I owe him some dough…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the Philadelphia Eagles are phreaking phinished…
Was it something I said, TrojanFans?
Craig from parts unknown writes: "Troy Walters over Mike Williams? You are kidding. That is a strictly ‘homer' pick. Williams was at least as good as Keyshawn Johnson and played in more important games than either Johnson or Walters. What about Sean Dawkins (he may be before your time) or Derek Hagan? Williams, Dawkins and Hagan were basically unstoppable."
Dawkins was a bit before my time, so I didn't get a chance to see him play at cal. But I can tell you that, like Keyshawn and Mike Hass, Troy Walters simply took over entire football games. Plus, that Biletnikoff Award that sits on his mantle carries some weight as well.
U$C alum Bill from parts unknown writes: "I linked into your column while looking up some USC football items. Great column! My only beef is not a real beef, but here goes... Your use of "U$C" to refer to USC is clever but not very accurate. I am a USC alum from ‘77 and I have a son who is a senior today. While U$C might have some historic relevance it is not accurate today. In fact something like 65% of the current student body is on some scholarship. I like the column and have no problem with U$C, but wanted to clarify the facts. Fight on for Troy!"
Thanks for the kind words, Bill! It's too bad not all Trojan fans are so cordial. David from parts unknown writes: "Do you really take the time to type the $ in every USC mention? A Stanford fan making fun of moneyed SC fans? Now I've seen everything. But if it helps ease the pain of yearly ass-kickings at the hands of SC, then go for it!"
Putting the $ in U$C is habit. Sorry. Besides, feel free to refer to our school as $tanford. Not only am I secure enough in my feelings about my school's standing in the academic community to not be offended by it, it's also pretty darn accurate!
So call it $tanford if you want to. U$C alum Donald from parts unknown does: "Troy (what a nice name, even if it's wasted), your USC envy is showing and is more than a bit tiresome. As it happens, $tanford's costs are higher than USC's. I thought only UCLA fans had genetic cases of USC Envy but it appears that I was wrong."
OK, folks. Once and for all, let me dig back into the archives to the Clardy's Corner that was posted on November 6, 2002, when I wrote the following on U$C fans:
"...let me be honest here. Is U$C's tradition of football excellence enviable? I don't think there's any doubt about that. Howard Jones. John McKay. Mike Garrett. The Juice. Ronnie Lott. Junior Seau. Student Body Left. Student Body Right. National championships. The list goes on. A list that's been crammed down our throats every chance TrojanFan gets, mind you, but it's a mighty impressive list nonetheless.
I think Stanford unquestionably has one of the more storied programs in the Pac-10, and certainly there's no shortage of historical items to be proud of when it comes to the cardinal and white. But when it comes to the cardinal and gold, I think we'd all have to agree that U$C's football tradition blows everyone else in the Pac-10 (and, perhaps outside of Notre Dame, everyone else in the country) out of the water.
But do they have to throw their "excellence" in everyone's faces? Do they have to take themselves so seriously, yet be so superficial about it? Do they have to be so pompous and arrogant about everything? They haven't won a national championship since 1978, but you wouldn't know it.
Speaking of Notre Dame, many dislike the Fighting Irish because of the very same reasons. Both programs have "it" (and, to quote Louis Armstrong, if you have to ask what "it" is, you'll never know). To me, though, there's a slight, almost imperceptible distinction that makes all the difference in the world between Notre Dame and U$C. You may have "it", but it's what you do with "it" that counts. When "it" works, you have the ceremony that surrounds Notre Dame Football. When "it" doesn't work, you have the cornball that surrounds U$C Football."
And to all that, I'll add this: TrojanFan, turn the page. Your team has handled its business every week so far this season, and there's no indication that will change anytime before the Rose Bowl. As fans, you need to enjoy it more instead of proving my points for me every week. And with that, I'm considering this matter closed.
Quickly, E-mailbag resident Duck fan Scott in Los Angeles checks in: "Joe Ayoob was a disaster against Oregon. Thank god Cal brought him to the game. DeSean Jackson did not help by dropping all of those passes but watching Ayoob is more fun than watching Derek Anderson. With DA there was a 50% chance of something going horribly wrong. With Ayoob even successful plays are an adventure."
But see, here's the thing… Derek Anderson was also dangerous to the other team! When he and Hass were clicking, it was breathtaking. Ay-"boo" is only dangerous to his own team. Big difference.
And now, for my least favorite week to try to pick games… it's Rivalry Week!
Washington State @ Washington. This time last week, I thought the Cougars were a shoo-in to beat Washington. Now, who knows? I do know this: the last time I checked, Tyrone Willingham had a pretty decent record during Pac-10 Rivalry Week, and that's something I can't really overlook. Jerome Harrison, Jason Hill, Mkristo Bruce, and the other Cougars deserve better, but I like Washington by 6.
Oregon State @ Oregon. The team whose quarterbacks make the fewest mistakes will win. Plus, even with Sabby Piscatelli, I'm still nowhere near sold on the Beavers' defense. I like Oregon by 10.
Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 19-9 (straight-up), 14-14 (ATS).
Troy Clardy is a host and reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, airing Saturdays on FSN Bay Area.
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