Last Saturday night, we were all supposed to set our clocks back one hour. Last Saturday afternoon, Stanford Football looked like it had already set its clock back four years.
Overall, it seems that the future for football on The Farm is much, much brighter than it was a few months ago. But against Washington, there sure were a lot of reminders of Stanford Football's not-so-pretty past. Another day in front of a half-filled stadium. An offense that struggled to find any consistency, could not win in short yardage, and could not keep its quarterback upright. A defense that was out of its element and unable to do what it did best. And another team in desperate need of a win getting one at the Cardinal's expense.
The day even came complete with the Ghost of Stanford Football Past himself, as Tyrone Willingham was in the building. Since guys like Chris Lewis and Teyo Johnson are long since gone from the program, he didn't have Stanford's players spooked out before kickoff as he did during his last visit. But his presence still loomed as he wore purple and patrolled the shady sideline.
Washington themselves reached back to their not-so-distant past. They beat Stanford the exact same way they beat Syracuse in their season opener: with only two guys. Jake Locker and Louis Rankin tag-teamed the Cardinal WrestleMania-style. Their spread-option offense negated Stanford's attacking defense, forcing them to stay home and play assignment football, using their aggression against them, and chewing up monster yardage.
The good news is that Washington State doesn't run that style of offense, and that Notre Dame doesn't run an offense at all. Stanford's defense could have much more success in the coming weeks. But there's no consolation in the fact that two Washington guys beat eleven of Stanford's guys on nearly every play.
The quarterback sacks. The tired defense. Frustration boiling over on the field. All the things that brought this program down on the field earlier this decade were back and in full display for everyone to see. Even though there were one or two bright spots (Tyrone McGraw chief among them), this was easily Stanford's most troubling loss under Jim Harbaugh's watch. And when it's all said and done, last week's loss may potentially define Stanford Football 2007 every bit as much as that win over U$C will.
It was all brutal to watch on tape. After I finished watching the game, I spat out a string of expletives that was so impressively long and profane that it would have made a rapper blush. And then, after I calmed down, I asked myself a question, one that I will now pose to you...
If you could trade Stanford's win over the Huskies last year for a win over UW last week, would you do it?
I'm serious. As all-time bad as the 2006 season was, is that season's only shining moment worth less to you than a win that wouldn't be remembered as much?
Last week, if Stanford had beaten the Huskies, their record would have gone to 4-5, and it would have allowed the Cardinal to keep pace in the bowl race. It would have given Stanford only their second win in the re-done stadium. Most importantly, it would have continued the Card's road back to respectability in the Pac-10.
On the other hand, as I mentioned last year, 1-11 is a million times better than 0-12. Bowl appearances come and go, but 0-12 would have lasted forever. And not in a good way, either. Even in a sea of 4-7s and 5-6s, 0-12 would have stuck out like Paris Hilton at a purity ball. It would have been the blackest mark possible on the program, one that would have followed those players and coaches wherever they went for the rest of their football lives.
But still, which is more important: Stanford beating Washington last year or this year? I was curious to find out what other folks were thinking, so I polled some of my closest fellow Cardinalmaniacs. The people I talk Cardinal Football with the most, the people whose opinions I respect, and some people whom you've seen in a Cardinal uniform before.
To a man (and one woman), they all said the same thing: they would make that trade. Some were more hesitant than others, and one of them rightfully pointed out that last year's seniors wouldn't make that deal. But they all agreed that they would be willing to pay the price for 4-5 if the cost was an 0-12 season in 2006.
And, as much as it would kill me to see Stanford with an oh-fer season, I would have made the same trade myself. With all due respect to the young men who delivered Cardinalmaniacs their only win last year, I would have given that back for a win last week.
Taken by itself, Stanford's fourth win this year doesn't mean as much as their first (and only) win last year. But taken in the context of an entire season, one of major importance for the future of this program, that fourth win may mean all the difference between Stanford continuing to spring forward to on-field competence or falling back to the bottom of the Pac-10.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
OK, I take back what I said about Dennis Dixon not being a Heisman Trophy candidate back in September... not only does that guy deserve to be in the room when the winner is announced, he may also deserve the trophy itself...
UCLA doesn't have many bright spots right now, but one of them is definitely on special teams. Return man Matthew Slater has been dangerous all year (he was the big reason the Bruins were able to beat the Huskies earlier this year), and he's really starting to make a name for himself...
Is it me or did the Bears offense look totally out of sync for almost the entire game against Washington State? What is happening with those guys? Not that I lay awake trying to figure out the answer to that question, but still...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... Stanford's defense may have struggled against Washington last week, but at least (to steal the infamous quote from former Stanford athletic director Ted Leland) we're not Nebraska! My God. That's not a bend-but-don't-break defense; that's a bend-break-then-shatter-into-a-million-pieces-on-the-ground defense...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... I think Adrian Peterson just ripped off another 20-yard gain...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... can someone explain to me why the folks at the Westfarms Mall here in Connecticut are already offering holiday photos? It's November 7, for crying out loud... no holiday photos until the day after Thanksgiving...
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Scott in Fresno always brings it:
"Troy, why are you so nice to the Weenies when you write your column? Hell, you were listening to the game in Chuck Taylor Grove right behind me and someone around you said ‘Can you believe they were chanting we are No. 1, while behind?' They have lost three straight simply because their fans broke two of sports' unwritten rules: (1) Don't count your chickens before they are hatched, and (2) Act like you've been there before. The problem for cal fans? They can't keep score because of their sorry public education and most significantly, they haven't been there before. They didn't know how to act because they haven't been that close before to being anything. They got dizzy at No. 2 and forgot not to tempt the sports gods. Typical Weenies. Now the poor players have the curse of the bad mojo on them. You are too nice."
To me, this whole deal sets up just like it did after cal got smoked by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl a couple of years ago. I felt bad for the players and the coaches, but I could not stop laughing at the Weenies. All the smack they talked, all the crying they did after they got jobbed out of a Rose Bowl bid, and where did it get them? Nowhere.
Same thing is at work here. I respect cal's athletic department (until further notice), their football program, and their band. I don't respect BearFans for the exact reasons you describe. Classless in victory, and insufferable in defeat. That's why I would feel a little sad about cal's collapse (for the players), but why I'm enjoying their freefall (because of their fans).
Arizona State @ UCLA. Rudy Carpenter has done good things this year, despite being sacked 37 times (only Stanford and Notre Dame have allowed more). That's not good news for a team facing Bruin sackmaster Bruce Davis. Fortunately, A-State can move the ball on the ground, too, so they don't have to rely on Carpenter to do it all. That's why I like Arizona State by 18.
U$C @ cal. This isn't the glamorous matchup everyone thought it was going to be at the start of the season. To me, all the signs point to a U$C win. I'm more comfortable with their quarterback than I am with Nate Longshore, who has lost his groove. Above all, I think the Trojan defense is the difference here. I like U$C by 14.
Washington @ Oregon State. I like Jake Locker. I really like Jake Locker. I just like Oregon State's defense and home-field advantage more. I like Oregon State by 12.
Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 4-0 (ATS).
This year: 18-6 (straight-up), 15-8-1 (ATS).
Last year: 21-15 (straight-up), 17-19 (ATS).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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