In case you couldn't tell from the jam-packed malls, the crowded airports, and the snow on the ground (oh wait… that's just here in New England), it's the holiday season. Unfortunately, Stanford Football will once again be spending their holiday season getting ready for next year, instead of preparing for a bowl game.
A fair outcome? In a lot of respects, no. This team had the leadership on the sidelines and on the field to finally become bowl-eligible. With four wins away from Stanford Stadium, they proved themselves a worthy adversary on the road. They played hard in just about every situation. Given some of the situations this team faced, they could have easily quit. They didn't.
Yet, in a lot of other ways, this team got what it deserved. Forget the Nick Sanchez play against UC Davis that would likely have been ruled an interception had a replay crew been on hand; Stanford did not deserve to win that game. The offense and defense could not get big plays when they needed to against UCLA. And the defense just could not find an answer for Notre Dame in that game's most critical moments.
In football, the truth always has a funny way of revealing itself. And while Stanford finished this season with a "competitive" 5-6 record, the truth is that 5-6 is 5-6 no matter how it's sliced.
If I'm sounding like Scrooge here, my apologies. With December nearly upon us, I should be in more of a festive mood this holiday season. And since no holiday season is complete without a wish list, here's mine for Stanford Football…
A new stadium to replace that rathole Stanford has been playing in for the past 85 years. Wait… what? This is actually happening? I can actually scratch that off my Stanford Football wish list? Sweet!
Healthy spring drills and a healthy 2006 season for the Stanford players. Health is an item that's on the wish list of every player, coach, parent, and fan, but certainly it has to be closer to the top of Stanford's list. Stanford's academic standards don't prevent quality talent from coming to The Farm, but those standards generally don't allow Stanford to recruit the quantity of talent that the other schools can. That means it's imperative that the quality talent Stanford does attract stay healthy. And when they don't stay healthy, it can have dire consequences.
If you'd made a list of the Stanford players who absolutely had to stay healthy this season, I'm sure the names on that list would have included Trent Edwards, Evan Moore, J.R. Lemon, Mark Bradford, Brian Head, Tim Mattran, Casey Carroll, and Michael Okwo. All of those guys missed critical parts of the season. Some of those guys barely had a season at all. One of them never even saw a snap of action. Even some of their promising backups, guys like Pannel Egboh, ended up being lost to season-ending injuries.
It's hard for a team to operate at its peak when its quarterback, receivers, running back, centers, defensive linemen, and linebackers aren't on the field. The injury list must be considerably shorter if Stanford is to contend for a bowl next season.
Another item on my Stanford Football wish list: leadership on defense. The Stanford defense isn't just losing some its best players, they're losing many of their great leaders. The examples that Babatunde Oshinowo, Julian Jenkins, Jon Alston, Kevin Schimmelmann, T.J. Rushing, and other defensive seniors set were invaluable to this team. Now it's up to guys like Okwo and Sanchez, and whoever else wants to grab the torch, to be the leaders. We'll see who those young men are in the coming months.
Speaking of Babatunde Oshinowo, I wish he'd received some props with a spot on the All Pac-10 team. I almost fell out of my chair when I didn't see his name on the list.
Something else I'd like to see: speed, speed, speed. It always amazes me when I watch, say, an Ivy League game and then I flip to, say, an SEC game, and I can tell right away how much faster the SEC game is. Speed is critical in football. There's never a substitute for heart and talent, but you can't coach speed. The Card have some pretty swift guys… I'd like to see them used more often in 2006.
My biggest wish is more of a command for everyone involved with the program, from the coaches and players, to the staff members, to the athletic department staffers, and to the fans: raise the bar.
Judging from quotes I've heard and read from Walt Harris and the players after some of the more difficult moments of the season, this has already happened. More importantly, it seems like it will be a continuing process. Stanford was able to raise the bar from last year. They won more games this year than they had in the previous three. They were able to be competitive through the most critical stretches of the season. Win or lose, they gained a measure of respect that hadn't been earned in seasons past. Even though this team fell short of most of its ultimate goals, it also has a lot to be proud of.
But I'm also sure that the coaches and players want to raise the bar again for next year. A 5-6 record, no matter how competitive that 5-6 record may seem, will not be good enough in 2006. I know that, and I know for a fact that the coaches and players realize that as well.
So I'm not worried about Walt Harris and the crew raising the bar for next year and beyond. But I hope that everyone who follows this program will follow suit. Moral victories and near-misses, on and off the field, aren't good enough any more. To me, those days are over.
A new stadium is being built right before our very eyes, one that could be the envy of almost every other team in the Pac-10. The new stadium signals to me that everyone, from the people who are staging the game to the fans who are enjoying it, should raise the bar when it comes to the Stanford Football gameday experience.
This team proved it could be competitive, despite some setbacks with injuries and inefficiency. That signals to me that fans should raise the bar with their expectations of what this team, even when they're not at their healthiest, can accomplish.
The athletic department is on the verge of selecting a new leader. And while I think Ted Leland did many good things for the program and cared very deeply about the program, the search signals to me an opportunity for the university to raise the bar for their commitment to the football program and the athletic department as a whole.
Now, I'm not saying that people need to be wildly unrealistic with their expectations, and I'm not saying that if this team doesn't finish 10-1 and in a BCS bowl next year then coaches need to be fired. Far from it. I don't want us to start acting like national championships are our birthright (you know, like U$C fans do). But I think this program is at a point now where "good enough" really isn't.
This program has the coaching leadership, the quality talent, and soon the quality facility to do big things in the Pac-10 next year. And with a healthy team, a defensive unit full of leaders, and everyone expecting more from this program, I think big things are possible next year.
I guess that brings me to the final item on my wish list: right now, I wish it was the moments before kickoff at Autzen Stadium on September 2, 2006…
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Was it me or was Stanford hitting harder in the fourth quarter of that Notre Dame game than they were at any other point in the season? And I'm not just talking about that wicked shot Emmanuel Awofadeju dealt on that kick return…
By the way, if the crew on ESPN's "Monday Night Countdown" had seen that hit by Awofadeju, you know what they would have said: " David Grimes … you got… JACKED… UP!!!"
One of the perks of working in Bristol is that if there is a game being transmitted via satellite, not only do I get to watch the broadcast, oftentimes I also get to watch the feed without the commercials. So it was my pleasure to watch the dignitaries who showed up to commemorate the old stadium during the halftime show as it happened live. Plunkett. Elway. Washington. Ralston. Walsh. Milburn. And many others who paid the price for this program over the years. We have a pretty neat little tradition, don't we?
Did I see this right? Next year's Big Game won't be played until December 2? Doesn't that just seem kind of wrong?
Does Oregon deserve a BCS bid? Yes. Are they going to get a BCS bid? As of right now, no. Trust me, I'd like to see the Ducks in a BCS bowl and Notre Dame sitting on the sidelines. But let's do a little role play here: you are the director of the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon is an attractive bowl team, to be sure, but they still aren't as attractive as Notre Dame, the program with its own TV deal, its own radio deal, and a truly national fan base. Knowing that you have to make the best business decision for your bowl, who do you choose?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… nice going, Fresno State…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... even though it looks like they're on their way to clinching homefield in the NFC, are the Seattle Seahawks a team that truly frightens anyone? Even though Shaun Alexander is racking up yardage and touchdowns at an eye-popping rate each week, I don't get that sense…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… this is the final Clardy's Corner of the 2005 season. As always, it's been an absolute blast rambling about Stanford and Pac-10 football every week. If events warrant, I might chime in with another Corner during Bowl season. And who knows… you might see me at Maples for a game or two this winter. To those of you who e-mailed and posted, whether it was to agree, disagree, or give a completely different perspective, thank you. To those of you who read these Corners each week, whether you root for Stanford or not, thank you. And, of course, to Chief Booties Lars, Jim, and Mike, thank you. Have a safe and happy holiday season, and all the best to you and yours in 2006!
UCLA @ U$C. I like what UCLA's offense can do to the Trojans. It would not surprise me to see big days from all of the important cogs: Olson, Drew, and Lewis. The problem is, I don't think UCLA has the horses to stop U$C's important cogs: Bush, Leinart, Bush, Jarrett, Bush, White, Bush, Smith, and Bush. Trojans break it open in the third quarter. I like U$C by 19.
Last week: 1-0 (straight-up), 0-1 (ATS).
This year: 21-10 (straight-up), 14-17 (ATS).
Last year: 25-7 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).
Troy Clardy is a host and reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, airing Saturdays on FSN Bay Area.
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