It's not hard to summarize Stanford's season so far. Heck, I can do it in just three words: not very good.
It's not hard to figure out why Stanford has struggled. Start with a young, struggling defense. Add a season-ending injury to one of the team's most explosive weapons on offense. Then add a month-long injury to team's other huge offensive weapon. On top of that, add a career-ending condition to the offense's most versatile player. And finish with mistakes and miscues on special teams.
It's only the fourth week, but all of those things already have me looking at the season and asking, "what if?"
What if almost all of Stanford's key players hadn't gone down with injuries? The short answer here is that Stanford would be 2-1 right now, not 0-3. A Cardinal team with Okwo, Sanchez, Moore, Bradford, and Frank doesn't lose to either San Jose State or Navy. The Card still probably wouldn't have come away with a win at Autzen, but I'd like to think that game would have been much more competitive, certainly in the second half.
It's no secret that the Cardinal don't have much depth on either side of the ball. But the facts are that the defense has been missing at least two of its key playmakers right from the start, and that the offense Stanford fielded for most of the Navy game was a mere skeleton of itself. Trent Edwards can't do it all by himself.
The good news is that a lot of kids are getting valuable experience now, and are learning things during the game that can't be taught on the practice field. The good news is that we're getting to know kids like Richard Sherman and Toby Gerhart, two players who seem to have very bright futures in this program. The bad news is that their growing pains are also being lived out on Saturdays, for everyone to see, and for opponents to take advantage of.
What if I could add a couple more renovations to the new Stanford Stadium? Well, as I've mentioned on a few other occasions, I'd install a hot tub, beer tap, and carving station in the home radio booth.
I'd also paint the visitors' locker room pink. Yes, pink. New Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby should know a little something about this… years ago, the visitors' locker room at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa was painted pink.
Back in the day, Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry read somewhere that the color pink tends to have a calming and passive effect on people. So, he decided to make the walls of the visitors' locker room as calming and passive as possible. When the locker rooms were renovated a few years ago, Iowa officials went the extra mile and installed pink lockers, pink and brown carpeting, pink sinks, showers, and urinals.
Might not be a bad idea… anything to get a psychological advantage!
Here's another "what if" for you… what if the Stanford Band had been allowed to play at the stadium last Saturday? Stanford's band was nowhere to be found because of their suspension through the month of September. Also, Stanford students weren't in force at the stadium because school hadn't started yet.
Say what you want about the Band (and we all have), but the Band is identifiable with the Stanford gameday experience. The students are identifiable with the Stanford gameday experience. Anyone who has been to a game at Maples knows this. The Band is at its best (relatively) during basketball season.
Every time they strike up "Swingtown" while the Stanford starting lineup gets introduced to the roaring Maples crowd, I get goose bumps. Even now, when I hear "Swingtown" on the radio, I think of Maples.
And even though the Sixth Man Club isn't quite what it used to be, it is still an integral part of Maples. The students and the Band help make basketball games great. And both of those key ingredients were missing on one of the most important days in Stanford Football history.
So instead, the pregame festivities were dominated by the Navy jets' flyover. And the halftime show was headlined by Navy's band. As someone pointed out on the Bootboard Plus, there was no major part of Saturday's gameday experience aside from the stadium that belonged exclusively to Stanford.
It must have been like playing on a neutral field. Or worse. After all, Navy seemed quite at home with their surroundings last Saturday evening. They hand their band. They had their jets. They had their fans. Stanford had only their fans… and even they were missing a key component.
All of this isn't to excuse the Band's behavior. Far from it. They did the crime, and they've got to do the time. But, as embarrassing and irrelevant as they can be at times, it would have been nice to have them on board as part of last Saturday's experience. (More on the Band later in this Corner, by the way…)
In a season that doesn't seem to have many answers so far, there are many questions surrounding Stanford Football right now. And even though it might not be the most important question to tackle, sometimes asking "what if" is the only thing to do.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I haven't seen an uproar over officiating like this since the infamous "Tuck Rule" game. Same outcome, slightly different set of circumstances. The Oakland Raiders got hosed because a crappy rule was called correctly. The Oklahoma Sooners got hosed because of two blatantly blown calls by all of the officials involved. But in each case, both the Raiders and the Sooners had chances to still get the job done. Both their defenses let them down and didn't make the plays they needed to. The Raiders' come-from-ahead loss may be even more incredible only because Adam Vinatieri had to make the greatest kick in football history to send the game to overtime. They both got screwed by the officials, but they both also had chances to still get out of town with a win…
By the way, the Pac-10's replay official up in Eugene was a man named Gordon Riese. That just happens to be the same Gordon Riese who served as the line judge for another controversial game. It happened in 1982. The biggest controversy surrounding that game also centered around a kickoff. We won't discuss it any further…
University of Oklahoma president David Boren wrote a letter protesting the blown calls by the officials, and even called for the game to be erased from the record books. Any chance we can get John Hennessy to write some letters to get Stanford's first three games wiped from the record books? No? Well, I tried…
Every time you look up, it seems like the Washington State Cougars are on the "brink" of switching quarterbacks (pun intended). Alex Brink is holding on to his job by a thread, with freshman Gary Rogers close behind. Rogers looked good when leading a series against Auburn in the season opener, and it might not be long before he's taking the snaps for good…
This brings me to our Quote of the Week, courtesy of Alex Brink: "When you play this position, it's pretty clear not everybody is going to be your friend." Sounds like Brink is learning the same lesson Sam Keller learned last month down in Tempe…
Shhhhh… don't look now, but here come the Washington Huskies…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… man, that LSU-Auburn game was one of the hardest-hitting games I've seen in a long, long time. It was kinda like watching those Niners-Giants matchups back in the day. There had to be a lot of sore football players after that game…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… guess who just happened to be hanging around the ESPN campus on Monday: former Stanford Hoops head coach Mike Montgomery. Coach was in Bristol auditioning for an NBA analyst gig…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the Raiders are awful. Just awful…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… if you're looking for a good burger spot in midtown Manhattan, head to the Le Parker Meridien hotel on 56th Street. When you get to the lobby, hook a left where the curtain is and head down the hall. At the end of the hall, hook a right, and there you are. Burger heaven… and the place doesn't even have a name! Next time you're in midtown and jonesing for a burger, head there. You won't be disappointed…
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
This is not an uplifting edition of the Inbox. But then again, these aren't exactly uplifting times for football on The Farm now, are they?
Tom (a fellow former KZSU geezer) from parts unknown asks: "There are two brass-tacks questions out there: is there *a* should-win-this-one left on the schedule, given what we now know; and will any new recruits be drawn in by the new joint?"
To answer the first question, honestly, I don't know. The Arizona schools are at the top of my list, since the Wildcats haven't quite hit that next level yet, and since the Sun Devils seem to save their worst for us. But to be honest, I don't know.
To answer your second question, it certainly can't hurt. Thanks to the new crib, the stadium is no longer a liability when it comes to recruiting. Facilities certainly help demonstrate a school's commitment to its athletic programs, and how the players will likely be treated at that school. Stanford's football facilities, from the weight room to the stadium, can't be considered as deal-breakers anymore.
Clay from parts unknown checks in: "There is a lack of confidence that the Stanford team projects as if the team expects to lose and of course I expect they will lose. I see no toughness or enthusiasm or intensity. Some of this has to come from the coach. It will take an exceptional coach to turn this program around and recruiting is going to be in the toilet too. No one wants to play on such a team. Since we cannot resurrect George Patton, who is out there that can coach?"
All I'll say to that is this… many times, a coach is only as good as his players. If a college coach has to go to war with mostly inexperienced players and freshmen, in all likelihood he's not going to win many games. If Walt Harris has all of his weapons at his disposal, and all of his best players on the field for most (if not all) of the pertinent snaps, this is a different story.
I don't think the head coach is the problem here. But it's going to be interesting to see how he handles what this team is going through right now. It's going to be even more interesting to see how the team responds to his style of coaching during these tough times.
Derek in San Francisco: "How does this school justify benching their own [band]? I thought college students were supposed to challenge conventional wisdom, push the evolution of conservatives, and have fun... This is a band that defies tradition, and is unique as any group I've seen. I've always loved the fact that they don't wear uniforms, don't march in line, and play really cool music. Do they really deserve this latest, in-house punishment?"
Here's the thing… there's a difference between being genuinely original and what the Band is doing. They're being original just for the sake of being original. And when you're doing that, generally it's not as good. I get the fact that the band tries to mock the traditional ideas of strict, regimental marching bands (at no point does this become clearer than when the Stanford and U$C bands share the same stadium). Heck, I'm all for it. Problem is, they're not consistently good at doing it anymore.
There's also a difference between ‘having fun' and being destructively stupid. Unfortunately the Band has been on the wrong side of that line too often. At some point, something had to be done.
Greg from parts unknown tried to put things in a little perspective: "I know things are bad right now for Stanford football, but they could be worse. Have you checked out Colorado lately?"
I'm actually watching Colorado football's all-access TV show right now. Let's just say they're really reaching for highlights. Ugh. Not good times for Dan Hawkins.
Something that occurred to me on Tuesday… look at the supposed top three candidates for the Stanford head coaching job in 2004: Walt Harris, Norm Chow, and Dan Hawkins. Walt is 0-3. Hawkins is 0-3. And Norm Chow can't be enjoying life with the Tennessee Titans right now (who may actually be as bad as the Raiders, if not a little worse). Just found that interesting…
Yes, once again I'm picking all the Pac-10 conference games. Yes, once again I'm abstaining from picking games involving Stanford. 45 games. 36 predictions. One guy who makes a fool of himself with these picks every week. Here we go…
Arizona State @ cal. Yes, they just got done wiping out Minnesota and Portland State, but the cal defense is back in a groove. Rudy Carpenter has a tough test ahead of him, and I'm not sure that the cal defense will let him pass it. I like cal by 15.
UCLA @ Washington. All of a sudden, this is a very intriguing game. The Bruins, for the most part, have looked good on both sides of the ball. The Huskies may have turned a corner against Fresno State last week. How will Ben Olson do against a suddenly fired-up bunch of Dawg fans? I think he'll do just fine, thank you. I like UCLA by 8.
U$C @ Arizona. U$C's defense isn't as scary as LSU's, but that doesn't mean this game will be any easier. Unlike the game at Baton Rouge in which he suffered a concussion, Willie Tuitama will remember this game. And the memories won't be happy ones. I like U$C by 25.
Last year: 22-10 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).
Got a "what if" question of your own? Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Drop me a line at email@example.com and the best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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