Clardy's Corner - 8/30

Rather than pace ourselves at the outset of this 14-week, 12 game Stanford Football 2006 regular season, we dive head-first into a fall frenzy with today's return of "Clardy's Corner." Starting his fifth season of unparalleled prominence in Cardinal and college football commentary, Troy Clardy is off and running with his preseason observations on rule changes, Pac-10 notes and more.

The only constant in college football these days is change.  Of course, Stanford fans have come to know this all too well, for better and for worse.  New head coach, new offensive philosophy, new players, new athletic director, new sense of urgency, and a new stadium.  And that's just in the past 20 months!

Those changes have come from within the program.  Many more changes from outside the program will affect how we all watch and follow Stanford and Pac-10 football this year.

Some changes might not be noticeable on the surface, but may have significant impacts.  On face value, shortening the length of kicking tees to just one inch might not seem like a big deal.  But shorter tees mean shorter kickoffs.  Shorter kickoffs mean more kick returns.  More kick returns mean more emphasis on field position, more strategy, and more excitement.

It's like the NCAA decided to lower the pitchers' mound, as it were.  Makes me wish T.J. Rushing was taking kicks for another year on The Farm!

Take a look at the Pac-10.  Notice any changes, specifically in the coaching department?  No?  That's because there were none.  For the first time in what seems like a long time, not one Pac-10 football program changed head coaches during the off-season.  In a world where the cost of coaching is going up and the chance of coaching is going down, I find this absolutely astonishing, especially in the wacky Pac-10.

No one got snapped up by the NFL.  No one got chopped down by their AD or their boosters.  Even though some seats are hotter than others (more on the situation in Tempe later), everyone in the Pac-10 seems reasonably happy with their head coach right now.  But, then again, we still have a full season to play…

Of all the changes that will affect how you follow Stanford and Pac-10 football in 2006, there are two in particular that I'm pumped up about.  For the first time since Arizona and Arizona State came on the scene in 1978, a full-fledged round-robin schedule is in effect in the Pac-10.  That's exactly how it should be, especially when you consider some of the quirks that those "misses" produced.

Didn't it seem like the eventual Pac-10 champ often benefited from not having to play one of the tougher teams in the conference that year?  Didn't it seem a little strange that some teams had to make the same road trip two, sometimes three years in a row?  Didn't it just seem wrong when Oregon and Washington didn't play each other in 2001?  Even though the Huskies have obviously fallen on hard times lately, that's still one of the most heated rivalries in the conference.  And they actually weren't even on the schedule for one season.

That's like Stanford not playing U$C one year.  I mean, even though that might seem like some sort of welcome reward, deep down, I think all good U$C-hating Cardinalmaniacs™ know that a season without a game against the Trojans just wouldn't be quite as much fun.

Bottom line is this: No more sighing with relief because your team doesn't have to face Oregon one particular season.  No more freaking out because Arizona isn't on your team's schedule.  No more excuses.  Everybody plays everybody.

The other big change I'm happy to see is the set of rules implemented by the NCAA to speed up the games themselves.  I love watching college football as much as the next person, but to me, there's no reason why any regulation college football game should last more than three hours.

Yet, the average college game last year clocked in at 3:21.  That's too long.  It wasn't that unusual for some games to approach the four-hour mark, and that's without going into overtime!  That's way too long!  Heck, it was such a problem last year that I even devoted an entire Corner to it.

I even gave a couple of solutions, one of them being to shorten halftimes to no more than 15 minutes.  Unless the entertainment is either the Grambling band, the Southern band, the Florida A&M band, or even the GAP Band ("You Dropped A Bomb On Me" is on in the background… sorry), there's no reason for a 20-minute halftime.

Obviously the NCAA must have been reading that particular Corner (I can dream, can't I?) because this year halftimes will be shortened to 15 minutes.  You're welcome, NCAA… my invoice is on its way to Indianapolis as we speak!

The college football powers-that-be had another set of solutions to long, drawn-out games.  On kickoffs, the clock will start as soon as toe touches leather, not when the receiving team touches the ball.  And on possession changes, the clock will start when the ball is spotted and ready for play, not when the ball is actually snapped.

When I heard about the new rules, I rejoiced.  When the coaches heard about the new rules, many of them grumbled.  They weren't too happy about the prospect of losing six to eight plays per game (teams with more passing-oriented offenses may actually lose more).  A few played the "I never heard the fans complain that the games were too long" card, Tyrone Willingham being one of them.  Now, to be fair, I'm sure TW has heard plenty of complaints from Husky fans lately, and on that list, the "games are too long" complaint is probably somewhere down around page 47.

In any case, I had a very hard time buying those arguments.  Just because something is longer doesn't mean that it's better… I've been proving that with these Corners for five seasons now!

Some coaches even complained that the new timing rules would affect the record books, that fewer plays mean fewer chances for kids to set new marks.  That might be true (although I doubt it will have a sweeping effect).  But since when is football about breaking records?  This isn't an individual sport.  This isn't baseball, where the numbers mean everything.  Last time I checked, football is about winning, and winning as a team.

No matter how you slice it, the more things change, the more likely they'll stay the same.  The team that wins the Pac-10 will be the one that gets the best quarterback play and the most timely defensive efforts.  In the Pac-10, some things never change!


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

My four keys for Stanford success this season, in order of importance: 1) protect Trent Edwards, 2) stay as healthy as possible across the board, 3) get clutch play in the secondary and 4) get production from the running backs.  If Stanford gets those things, they should surprise more people than some folks might think…

The sooner Michael Okwo returns to the starting lineup, the better.  Hearing that news about his injury ruined my day… and I'm sure he wasn't too happy about it either…

Interesting tidbit for you: ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. told me the other day that he's a big, big Trent Edwards fan…

Trivia question: who was the last team to beat U$C at the L.A. Coliseum?  The answer coming up in a bit…

Obviously going up to Autzen Stadium to play a good Oregon team is tough, but I'd like to think that maybe Stanford is heading up there at the right time.  Dennis Dixon scares the daylights out of me (what speed he has!), but it takes time to master the passing aspect of that offense.  And that defense might not be as scary as some people think.  Maybe Stanford's catching the Ducks at the exact right time…

What strange doings in Tempe last week.  Sam Keller wins the QB derby; the players stage a mini-mutiny; Dirk Koetter changes his mind and names Rudy Carpenter as the starter; and Keller heads to Nebraska.  From Koetter's perspective, I don't think this could have been handled any worse, from reversing his decision to his own players having to take Koetter aside and reportedly tell them about some of Keller's faults.  I haven't seen backstabbing like this since the last time I watched "Flavor of Love" on VH1…

Remember, there's some precedent with Koetter and confusing QB decisions at A-State.  Back in 2002, Koetter had a choice between Andrew Walter (who had started two games for the Sun Devils in 2001), Andy Goodenough (a juco transfer who had thrown 33 touchdown passes the year before at Palomar Community College), and Chad Christensen, a redshirt freshman who hadn't taken a collegiate snap on any level.  Naturally, Koetter chose Christensen.  Naturally, Christensen flamed out.  And when Koetter finally gave Walter the starting nod in the fifth game of the season, Walter responded by throwing for a gazillion yards on Stanford, and the rest was history.  So remember, as good of an offensive coach as Koetter seems to be, he has had problems handling his quarterbacks in the past.  In 2002, he got away with it.  In 2006… who knows?

Tough break for cal's Tim Mixon, but he gives way to the best name in college football this year.  America, get ready for… Syd'Quan Thompson!  How great is that name?  Syd'Quan.  I mean, seriously.  Syd'Quan!  I don't care what you do, if your name is Syd'Quan Thompson, that tells me you can play some ball…

That said, if he's not the real deal that my cal spies tell me he is, he should immediately change his name to Larry or something like that…

Call me skeptical, call me a Stanford homer, but I'm not really sure about cal's chances to do big things right now.  Their defense is for real, but I need to see some things from Nate Longshore (or Joe Ayoob… whom I've renamed Joe Ay-boo, judging from how cal fans tended to greet his performances last year), and I need to see some things from their offensive line…

By the way, until further notice, U$C is still the best team in the conference…

Trivia answer: Stanford beat U$C, 21-16 on September 29, 2001.  The Trojans haven't lost in South Central since!  Give yourself a gold star if you got that one right…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I'm trying to figure out how your team will win more than six games this year, Washington Redskins fans…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… what?  Former U$C receiver Mike Williams might be on his way out in Detroit because of a poor attitude and an inflated sense of entitlement?  Who could possibly have seen this coming?  He already threw away his college career… why should his NFL career be any different?

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… while I'm sad to see Mike Montgomery get the boot from Golden State, his career there ended about like I thought it would.  When they hired him in 2004, I thought he'd go there for a couple of years, and whether things worked out or not, he'd still get paid large cheddar either way…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Jeff George, Don Nelson… who declared it "Back to the Future Week" in the Bay Area?  Does this mean Tony LaRussa, Dave Stewart, and the Bash Brothers are coming back to the A's, too?

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… if you're watching the Weather Channel and Jim "Master of Disaster" Cantore is either a) talking about your town, b) pointing at your town on a map, or c) reporting live from your town, leave your town immediately!


PAC-10 PICKS

Once again this year, I'll be picking all the Pac-10 conference games.  Once again this year, I'll be abstaining from picking the Pac-10 conference games that involve Stanford.  So we'll fire these up for the games on September 23rd!

Last year: 22-10 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).

Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general?  Drop me a line at troyc@thebootleg.com and the best e-mails will be answered in next week's E-Mailbag!


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