I'm a realistic optimist. Or would that be an optimistic realist? Whatever it's called, I tend to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
When it comes to Stanford Football, though, both sides of my psyche have been at war with each other this week. In the hours after that loss to San Jose State last Saturday, I had a long phone conversation with another concerned Stanford Football follower. I left ranting voicemails on my buddies' cell phones. I fired off an e-mail to a few other buddies questioning whether Stanford was going to win another game.
But by Sunday morning, even after I had sat down and watched the tape of the game, I was strangely calm. I wasn't anywhere as upset as I had been just hours before. I wasn't thrilled, mind you, but I was somehow still looking forward to the week ahead.
It's been that way all week, as my "realist" side and my "optimistic" side try to figure out which way Stanford football is headed this season. And both sides have compelling arguments.
The "realist" in me says that, well, to put it bluntly, Stanford isn't a very good team right now. Special teams have been hit-or-miss (but mostly miss). Most people thought the Stanford defense would be a question mark coming into the season, but few thought that it would struggle like this. The offense, although it has shown flashes of brilliance, hasn't been able to finish drives and make plays when it absolutely needed to. And now, with Mark Bradford out for the long-term, it's going to be even harder for the Cardinal offense to operate at its peak.
Heck, the "realist" in me looks at those ingredients and thinks this season could be painfully similar to 1993. You remember that year… and if you've forgotten it, you're probably a better person for it. A talented quarterback who led a passing attack that ranged from very good to scary-good. A middling running game. A painfully young, inexperienced, and ultimately ineffective defense. Those ingredients almost never combine for a winning season. For Stanford in 1993, it was a recipe for 4-7.
The "optimist" in me looks at Stanford's 0-2 record (and the way they got to 0-2) and remembers a proverb that I've used in these Corners many times: "it's not how you start, it's how you finish." And that's true. Think back to 1999. 69-17 stunk out loud when it happened, didn't it? But now, we Cardinalmaniacs™ can look back at that game, remember the Rose Bowl that followed four months later, and laugh it off. For other examples, look at 1996. Or even 1991.
Plus, Walt Harris-coached teams tend to improve as the season goes along. That was certainly the case last season. After that loss to UC Davis, who was predicting that Stanford would still be in bowl contention by November? Not many!
So there are some reasons to feel optimistic about the Cardinal's chances for improvement this year. But my "realist" side stays awake at night worrying about the state of the Stanford defense. The shoddy tackling. The poor angles of pursuit. The passive scheme that rarely tries to take the initiative and dictate the flow of the game. The struggles in the secondary. The youth at linebacker. The lack of a pass rush.
Maybe all of those things are related. Maybe the youth and inexperience prevents a more aggressive scheme. Maybe the lack of a pass rush leads to the secondary's poor coverage. Maybe all the mistakes are coming because much of the defensive unit consists of young men who are just now getting their first tastes of collegiate ball.
Maybe. It still doesn't make it any easier to watch.
Hopefully - and this is the "optimist" side talking - things will stabilize once Michael Okwo and Nick Sanchez return from their injuries. I thought Sanchez was Stanford's best corner last year. He had a nose for the ball, and more often than not, he made plays. I think Okwo automatically becomes the Cardinal's best defender as soon as he steps on the field. The sight of those two making plays on Saturdays will be a welcome sight indeed.
While the "optimist" in me sees some hope for Stanford's future on defense, the "realist" in me sees little hope in Stanford's future schedule. Navy's offense is built around running the ball, which is not good news for the nation's bottom-ranked rush defense. The Cougars have some very good playmakers at their offensive skill positions. UCLA's Ben Olson has looked like a lefty Carson Palmer (the Cincinnati version, not the U$C version that made dumb throws for most of his career).
Despite their setback at LSU, Arizona is a dangerous team. The Sun Devils have a quarterback they believe in. Washington looked competitive against Oklahoma last week, and Stanford hasn't won a game in Seattle since I was one week old. Oregon State has Yvenson Bernard. Notre Dame, U$C, and cal are, well, Notre Dame, U$C, and cal.
But if those games are on the schedule, Stanford has to find ways to win those games. As good as Ben Olson has looked as a passer, he's already fumbled five times. The Wildcats haven't broken through yet. A-State generally seems to save their worst for us. The Beavers have a ways to go, especially on defense. The Huskies have even further to go. Wazzu hasn't beaten a quality team yet. And Notre Dame, U$C, and cal have to lose sometime, right?
Stanford still has 10 shots to make this a great season. But they may only have one shot to turn this season around. The "realist" in me says that one shot is now. An off-season of hope and excitement needs to pay off soon, and the coaches, players, And athletic Department staff are under a lot of pressure to make that happen.
Oh, by the way, I don't know if you've heard, but this week Stanford is opening up a brand new stadium, one that will finally place them in the upper tier of the Pac-10's football facilities. Add all of that up, and the "realist" in me says that this week is the most critical week in Stanford's football history.
My "optimistic" side wouldn't refer to this week as a critical one, though. Instead, it would probably call this one of the most "special" weeks in Stanford Football history. After all, this is the week that Cardinalmaniacs™ finally get that brand spanking new stadium we've all wanted for decades. The whole week revolves around this one event. All eyes will be on Stanford at 7:00 PM on Saturday evening, and this is a chance to allow many new people into the tent.
That fact alone makes this week a special opportunity for everyone involved with the program. This week confirms that Cardinal Football is moving in a new direction, not only with a new athletic director and a relatively new head coach, but also with a new showcase for the program.
Call me an optimist. Call me a realist. Either way, you'd be right. But no matter which side of my psyche seems to be controlling my brain at the moment, I can tell you this: it sure would be nice to christen the new place with a Stanford win.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Gotta admit I was surprised to see Stanford unveil the shotgun during the game last week. Trent Edwards looked pretty good out of it, too…
Absolutely heartbroken over Mark Bradford's injury. All the best to him for a speedy recovery. Richard Sherman, the call to greatness is sounding for you…
An early candidate for "gutsiest call of the year" is Mike Bellotti and the Oregon Ducks… it takes some stones to call a fake field goal with inside five minutes to go and the game on the line… on the road, no less…
Nice bounce-back win for the cal Bears, although Jeff Tedford had to be stupefied by all the moronic personal foul penalties his team committed…
If you get a chance, check out some of Nate Longshore's touchdown passes. A couple of them were absolute rockets on a frozen rope. We didn't get a chance to see it against Tennessee, but Longshore's got a pretty live arm…
Marshawn Lynch ended that game with 139 yards and two touchdowns, but he struggled early. He seemed to be pressing to do too much. He fumbled the ball away in the second quarter. He even got called for a boneheaded personal foul that, quite frankly, I was somewhat surprised he wasn't ejected for…
Got an e-mail from my Dad late Saturday night… he lives in Oklahoma City and had gone down to Norman to check out the Sooners-Huskies game. Dad came away from that game very impressed with Huskies quarterback Isaiah Stanback. And from what I saw of that game before things got out of hand, he had an impressive performance. I remember saying this last year too, but if the guys around him continue to develop, Stanback could become one of the more dangerous QBs in the Pac-10…
Rough, rough night for Oregon State up in Boise. Up 14-0, Yvenson Bernard's running well, and… the Broncos yank the carrot away. Oregon State's safeties took some of the worst angles in run support I saw over the weekend…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… need another reason why watching college football on the West Coast is better? Most of the early games are simply unwatchable. On the West Coast, the early games start at 9:00 AM, so chances are you might be able to sleep through most of them. But out East, those games start at noon, and it's a long time until the good games start kicking off at 3:30 PM. This is what my choices were at noon last Saturday: Virginia Tech-North Carolina, Central Michigan-Michigan, Illinois-Rutgers, and Ole Miss-Missouri. Ugh. I ended up taking a walk around the neighborhood instead…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… somebody tell the California Superior Court over in Hayward that I won't be reporting for jury duty today… since I live 3,000 miles away now!
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and the best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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