The leaves are turning. There's a crisp chill in the air. And the calendar is about to turn from October to November. This could only mean one thing… the Clardy's Corner Annual Pac-10 Midterms!
As usual, I go from worst to first. Unfortunately, this year that means I have to start with…
The good news: Hmmmm. Well… the defense has improved. And the stadium looks really pretty!
The bad news: Everything else.
Grade: This breaks my heart. This really, really breaks my heart. But when you're 0-8, there's really only one grade I can give. F. This really, really, really breaks my heart.
The good news: Their defense continues to be one of the more difficult units to deal with in the Pac-10. Syndric Steptoe is an exciting player to watch.
The bad news: The offense just has not broken through to the next level. Willie Tuitama has taken some vicious shots that have caused him to miss games. Frustration has set in so deep that the players, fans, and Mike Stoops all seem to be near the breaking point.
Outlook: This team has played harder than other teams in Arizona's recent past, but the results say 3-5. And with road trips to the Palouse and Eugene, and a home date against cal all looming over the next few weeks, that could become 3-8 very quickly.
Grade: C-. And in danger of dropping.
The good news: The gauntlet of U$C, Oregon, and cal is behind them, and now they have easier opponents to deal with. Down 21-0 against the Trojans, they competed and came within a touchdown of the win in South Central. Running back Ryan Torain might be the Pac-10's best running back you've never heard of.
The bad news: Running that gauntlet put them at 0-3 in the conference. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter has been inconsistent. So have some of the in-game coaching decisions. But given the near-mutiny that happened to this team during fall drills, maybe all of that was to be expected.
Outlook: The schedule is slightly easier, so things may start looking up. But they still have a lot of people to convince, and back-to-back road trips to Seattle and Corvallis will be telling.
The good news: This team has been playing much better lately, starting with that surprising win at Washington State. Running back Yvenson Bernard has been a workhorse, and wide receiver Sammie Stroughter is starting to make a name for himself. The defense gave up 41 points in an ugly loss to cal on September 30, but they've only allowed 40 points in three games since.
The bad news: Bernard left last week's game against Arizona with a badly sprained ankle. Quarterback Matt Moore hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Corvallis, although the heat has cooled down a little bit.
Outlook: These guys could be a serious dark horse down the stretch. We'll find out for sure this weekend.
The good news: This team has already outperformed their expectations this season. They were competitive in a road game at Oklahoma, and they took both cal and U$C to the limit. Linebacker Scott White has been a turnover fiend. Quarterback Isaiah Stanback finally got some help at the skill positions, which finally allowed him to blossom.
The bad news: Stanback's gone for the year with a foot injury. Backup quarterback Carl Bonnell got banged up during the cal game, and he threw five interceptions. Running back Kenny James was on crutches by game's end in Berkeley last week, thanks to a sprained ankle. And most disturbing, the Huskies haven't been able to finish off their biggest opponents.
Outlook: From 4-1 to 4-4… with road trips to Eugene and Pullman looming. With Stanback and James injured, Bonnell and running back Louis Rankin will be counted on heavily to pick up the slack.
Grade: C+. Would have been higher if they had finished off either U$C or cal.
The good news: When this offense is clicking, it's almost impossible to stop. Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Stewart and a corps of big receivers form a defensive coordinator's nightmare. And when this defense is clicking, it's fearsome. Ask Arizona State for their thoughts on this.
The bad news: When this offense is not clicking, things go haywire, as they did against cal and Washington State. The defense has also fallen off lately, letting the Bears and the Cougars run all over them, and allowing the Bruins to stay in that game longer than they should have.
Outlook: After a tune-up this weekend against Portland State, the moments of truth for the Ducks could come in their two following games: against Washington and at U$C. Their defense had better tighten up by then. Their offense had better figure out how to take care of the football by then, too.
The good news: Defensive ends Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis form the best pass-rushing duo in the Pac-10, perhaps by far. Quarterback Ben Olson showed flashes of brilliance before getting injured. Patrick Cowan was steady against Notre Dame.
The bad news: Running back Chris Markey disappeared in South Bend, gaining only 32 yards in 19 carries. Two weeks before, he picked up only 40 yards against Arizona. The Bruins' offensive braintrust has also developed a nasty habit of going conservative at the absolute wrong times, usually in the red zone.
Outlook: Hickman and Davis are fun to watch… unless they're going against your team. But the key to this season rests on Ben Olson's left knee. He could come back against cal next week. And when he comes back, how will he look? Who knows?
The good news: It's been a rollercoaster season for quarterback Alex Brink, but he's survived it so far. It helps that he has wide receiver Michael Bumpus to throw to. Running back Dwight Tardy has filled in admirably for the injured DeMaundray Woolridge. Mkristo Bruce is a beast at defensive end. Their only three losses this year came against some pretty good teams: Auburn, cal, and U$C.
The bad news: Placekicking has been a bit of an adventure. And you still don't know what you're going to get from Alex Brink from game to game.
Outlook: Looks like that Apple Cup might be a doozy this year!
The good news: The running attack has been fierce as always, with Marshawn Lynch turning in a heroic performance against the Huskies. For a while, Nate Longshore looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. Linebacker Desmond Bishop has been outstanding, and cornerback Daymeion Hughes has been ballhawking all season long.
The bad news: While Hughes has shined, freshman cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson is still growing into the position. Longshore has struggled somewhat lately.
Outlook: That loss to Tennessee still haunts this team a little, but they have a chance to erase that on November 18 down in South Central.
The good news: They won't "wow" you, but they're a resilient bunch that has somehow found a way to win ballgames. Quarterback John David Booty has been steady while leading this offense. Injured receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are expected to come back this week.
The bad news: Even though they're 6-0, they're not dominating people like they once were, and that worries some people.
Outlook: They might not be playing as well as cal is right now, but, until further notice, they are the better team than cal.
Grade: A. You can't argue with 6-0!
(By the way… I just noticed that Stanford is at the very bottom of my rankings, while cal and U$C are at the top. Not good times. Not good times at all.)
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
What's this? The men's basketball team has new uniforms? OK… although I liked the ones we already had…
Listening to cal play-by-play announcer Joe Starkey have a coronary during Washington's incredible Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation last week was pure comedy…
I'm not a head coach, but I sometimes play one on the internet… after that Hail Mary, I would have gone for the two-point conversion and tried to settle the issue then and there. Why take your chances in overtime? Hadn't they seen Marshawn Lynch rip through the Huskies? Why put the ball back in cal's hands? Opportunities to beat a ranked team in their own house don't present themselves too often, and when they do, you have to seize them. The Huskies missed a golden chance to seize a great opportunity for a huge win, and they paid the price for it…
And by the way, Marshawn Lynch is back. What a gutty performance by that guy. Watching him run, you would never have known that he was playing on two bum ankles…
The sites for UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan's first two career starts: Autzen Stadium and Notre Dame Stadium. How's that for baptism by fire?
Quote of the Week, from UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who was asked why he didn't put pressure on Brady Quinn during Notre Dame's game-winning drive: "I didn't really want to blitz to give up a big play. I was going to get to the pressure (on the next play)... I never got a chance to get to my pressure." Ummmm, DeWayne, pressure hadn't been a problem for the Bruins in the game's first 59 minutes… why withhold it when you needed it most?
After seeing the shot that Cowan took against Oregon that caused him to lose his voice, I'm really starting to worry about whether the NCAA is doing enough to protect their quarterbacks. I look at hits like that and the hits that Willie Tuitama has taken this year, and I wonder why college football isn't doing more to keep those guys as healthy as possible. It just seems to me that, in the NFL, you can't even sneeze on a quarterback without getting called for roughing the passer, while you can go upside a quarterback's head in college and not even think twice about it…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… finally, a watchable early game last week! That Texas-Nebraska game was fun to watch. I just wish the networks would make a more concerted effort to spread their best matchups throughout the day, instead of concentrating most of them in prime time…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… "Ice T's Rap School"? Genius programming. VH1 has done it again…
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Dan from parts unknown writes: "You suggest in your column [last week] that without the injuries to Trent Edwards, Evan Moore and Mark Bradford, Stanford would have won at least three and possibly four games so far this season. I will give you San Jose State, but kindly advise who the other two/three might be? Having seen every game this season, there is absolutely no way your ‘big three' would have made a difference and helped us to win even one more game. You are truly an apologist extraordinaire. Look forward to your response."
Besides San Jose State, I think Stanford would have found a way to outscore Navy. And based on how Stanford's defense performed down in the Rose Bowl, I think they would have beaten UCLA. That's three wins right there. My wild-cards are Washington State, Arizona, and, yes, Notre Dame. I think that, with a completely healthy offense, Stanford would have won at least one of those three games.
Last week I asked our lawyer friends out there if swinging a football helmet (and connecting) is assault. A couple of responses… first, from Scott in Fresno: "Troy, you ignorant slut. Swinging a football helmet (by a very fit, powerful young man) may be aggravated assault or even assault with a deadly weapon. But more importantly, dude made contact - which is, with out question, felony battery. It may be battery with a deadly weapon, which may make it attempted manslaughter."
Thank you. Now, can being called an ignorant slut be viewed as harassment?
Also, Don from parts unknown confirms: "Assault is intentionally swinging your helmet at another person. Battery is intentionally swinging your helmet at another person and connecting. And as much as I truly admire and respect Ty, I can't see him [appearing in a commercial endorsing] anything – unless they had him pretending he was a cigar store Indian."
I still can't believe Tyrone Willingham is in an actual, real-live commercial. For frozen pizza, no less.
U$C @ Oregon State. This could potentially be an ambush situation for U$C. Oregon State is playing better, and their defense seems to have gotten its act together. Plus, Beaver Nation will be at their rabid best. Still, I like U$C by 8, although I'm not ruling out an upset here.
Washington State @ UCLA. Bruce Davis, Justin Hickman, and Mkristo Bruce all on the field at the same time? Some quarterbacks are going to go down, and they're going to go down hard. The team that runs the ball better wins. That's why I like Washington State by 13.
Arizona State @ Washington. The high-flying Sun Devils have turned to their ground game and a short, controlled passing attack. Will it be enough to beat the Huskies this week? Nope! I like Washington by 12.
Last week: 2-1 (straight-up), 2-1 (ATS).
This year: 13-5 (straight-up), 11-7 (ATS).
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!
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!