Usually before the season begins, I have a pretty good idea of what I think Stanford Football is capable of heading into the fall. During the summer of 1995, I told anyone who would listen (and a bunch of folks who wouldn't) that the Cardinal would head to a bowl game that year. New coach, new approach, new attitude, and enough talent to compete in the Pac-10. Sure enough, Tyrone Willingham's first team proved me right, and we were all getting on planes to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl.
When I predicted before the 1999 season that Stanford would be a bowl team, people laughed at me. Even more than usual. Not only was Stanford a bowl team that year, but they were also the Pac-10's Rose Bowl team. Obviously that team exceeded my expectations, but I was one of the few who seemed to have expectations for that squad.
This year? I have no idea.
I'd like to hope that this season is setting up like it did in 1998. At face value, the season was a disappointment at 3-8. But that team gained momentum and progressed almost every week from mid-season to Big Game. Near-upsets on the road against UCLA (I can still see Jeff Allen heading for the goal line) and Arizona State, two teams Stanford probably had no real business competing against. A gut-check win against Washington State, a game better known as "The Eide Bowl." And, of course, an ugly but victorious trip to cal.
Because that season ended on a much higher note, and because the team made progress when it needed to, that 3-8 campaign is remembered a little better than it probably should be.
Still, I have zero idea how Stanford will fare this fall. Maybe it's because we're going through the new coach, new approach thing again. Maybe it's because the 2006 season erased the line between disappointing and all-time bad. Maybe it's because everyone outside the program is predicting gloom-and-doom on the field, and because I've see Stanford confound preseason predictions like that too often. Maybe it's because it seems like the Pac-10 is as good and as deep as it's ever been, and that there are real questions as to where the Card stack up right now.
Whatever the reason, I don't know what to think. But I do know how I'll react when it's all said and done. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, I know exactly what I'll do if Stanford finishes…
…0-12. This won't happen. I mean, it just won't. Surely there's someone on our schedule we can beat, right? Right? Anyway, if it does happen, I will leave the United States for 30 days.
…1-11. Unless that one win comes against cal, U$C, or even Notre Dame, I'm not going to be happy. And for the record, that's about the only circumstance that would cause me to look upon a 1-11 season and not get totally depressed. Unfortunately, I've had some experience in this lately.
…2-10. The scary thing is that this is exactly where many of the experts are
slotting Stanford this season. The even scarier thing is that, on one level,
this would be considered progress for the Card. After all, two wins are better
So, in one sense, 2-10 would be meeting a lot of people's expectations. But to be honest, it wouldn't be meeting my expectations.
…3-9. Here is the low end of where I would prefer to see Stanford finish this year. I wouldn't be popping open champagne bottles at season's end, but I wouldn't be ready to sit in a dark room for hours, either. But, as disappointing as 3-9 looks on paper, I think three wins against this schedule would begin to indicate the kind of progress Stanford needs to make on the field this fall. Do I need to bring up 1998 again?
…4-8. If Stanford beats the teams they "could" beat (and, as of 11:43am
Eastern time on August 29, 2007, I think those teams are San Jose State,
Washington, and Washington State), and pulls off an upset along the way, I
wouldn't mind seeing that happen.
By the way, I never thought I'd say that I could live with a four-win Stanford season. But these are different times, no?
…5-7. If the phrases "bowl contender" and "Stanford Cardinal" are ever uttered this season, especially in November, I'll be happy. And call me a homer, an optimist, or just plain delusional, but I don't think five wins is out of the realm of possibility here.
…6-6. I'm jumping up and down. And I'm probably searching for low-cost fares to a Stanford bowl game in December. And anytime I'm getting on a plane heading out of Connecticut, that's a good thing!
…7-5. I will personally start the petition to have Jim Harbaugh named National Coach of the Year.
…8-4. Jim Harbaugh should be knighted.
…9-3. Jim Harbaugh should be granted sainthood.
…10-2. Between cal, U$C, and Notre Dame, this automatically means Stanford has beaten at least one of them. And once again, it's always a good year when Stanford beats one of those teams.
…11-1. If this happens, I won't wear clothes for 72 hours.
…12-0. If this happens, I won't wear clothes ever again.
Now all this isn't to say that if Harbaugh brings us a 1-11 season, then he should be shown the door and we have to start from square one yet again. But those are my personal set of expectations for this team.
I think this team has more talent than most people outside of Cardinalmania give it credit for. But does it have the depth? Probably not. And even with the talent, does it have enough to make noise in the Pac-10? Honestly, making noise and running for a Pac-10 title isn't what I'm concerned about right now. I'm not some myopic Trojan fan, you know.
I just want Stanford to play tough, smart, competitive, passionate football every week. I want Stanford to attack and dictate the tempo on both sides of the ball every week. I want Stanford fans worldwide to look forward to every Saturday, and to be proud to root for this team every week.
I think the Athletic Department has taken the steps off the field to put those goals within reach. Now comes the important part… doing the things on the field to make those goals become reality.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I'm still trying to understand the controversy surrounding LSU coach Les Miles' comments this summer that U$C has the easier road to the championship game because they play in the Pac-10. After all, and it pains me to say this, but he's right. As good and as deep as the Pac-10 is this year, it's still not as good and as deep as the SEC. I'm a huge Pac-10 apologist, but that's a fact. Anyone who watched the LSU-Auburn game last year knows what I'm talking about. Now, if the SEC does what the ACC did last year (Wake Forest? Did that really happen?), we'll have to reevaluate this. But until then, as good as the Pac-10 should be this year, the SEC promises to be better…
Is it too early to pick Arizona State to be my sleeper this year? No? Okay…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I wish I could say I was shocked by what's happened to Michael Vick. But, if you remember my thoughts on Vick last November, I'm not. Now he's facing the harshest lessons about accountability and responsibility possible. Sad…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… congratulations and all the best to Mike Eubanks in his new duties at Arrillaga. It seems like Bob Bowlsby's administration is all about two things: 1) bringing the Athletic Department into the 21st century from top to bottom, and 2) bringing in the people who are not only the most talented, but also the most devoted to and passionate about the product. Kudos and good luck to all!
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Have a different set of expectations for Stanford Football this year? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or at email@example.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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