Ask your friendly neighborhood BCS analyst how wacky this 2007 season has been, and he probably won't say a word to you. He'll probably just throw up his hands, roll his eyes, and sigh the most exasperated sigh you've ever heard. And that reaction will tell you everything you need to know about how weird things have been this year.
It seems like we can't get through a college football weekend without one or two major upsets. In fact, seven of the last eight weekends have seen at least one Top-5 team go down in flames. Parity is reigning like never before in college football. It's fascinating to watch. That is, until your team loses.
Many coaches have been asked why there has been so much parity this season, and the answers I've head from those coaches are all along the same lines. Most of them note that college football has become a speed game, not a strength game. Lesser-known teams are competing and winning because their speedy guys (and usually some sort of spread-option scheme) are impacting the game more than the other team's strong guys.
Most of the coaches also say that all the TV exposure available to many more college programs increases the recruiting base for the lower-profile teams. Kids are watching those schools and going to schools where they can play now, instead of waiting on the bench for a few years just so they can put on a Notre Dame uniform every week.
These are key factors, to be sure. But no coach I've heard has mentioned what I think is the biggest reason for all of the madness up and down college football this year: injuries.
Ah, yes... the dreaded "I" word that no player or coach wants to talk about, but every player and coach has to deal with. Injuries are a surefire way to derail a team's season. Look at the 49ers (that team is just plain unwatchable now). Obviously, look at Stanford (do Tommy Vardell and Glyn Milburn have any eligibility left?). No team, no matter what level of football is being played, is immune to the effects injuries can wreak.
Heck, the ESPN Radio flag football team finished with only two wins this year. Much of that was because our quarterback (fellow Radio producer and former Cardinal TE Steve Coughlin) broke a finger, another guy dislocated a shoulder, and another guy ruptured his Achilles tendon. It also didn't help matters much that one of the few healthy guys left was woefully out of shape every week (I won't mention any names... but his last name rhymes with "parity")...
So yes, even in flag football, injuries can have a major impact. And I think injuries are a huge reason why we've been seeing what we've been seeing, especially when the injury involves a starting quarterback.
Does Texas Tech still beat Oklahoma if the Sooners have a healthy Sam Bradford taking snaps for them the whole game? I don't think so. Does Hawaii have to pull one out of the hat in the late going against Nevada if Colt Brennan goes the whole way? Again, I don't think so.
The only thing that might stop Florida's Tim Tebow from being in the room when they announce the Heisman Trophy winner is if he has to be carried into that room. And even then, it might not be enough. And where would Kansas be without Todd Reesing, or Missouri without Chase Daniel? They certainly wouldn't be gearing up for the biggest event to hit Kansas City since someone invented barbecue.
Actually, the more I think about it, I do know where Kansas and Missouri would be without their All-Everything quarterbacks. They'd be Oregon.
When his knee buckled against Arizona last week, it wasn't just Dennis Dixon who lay crumpled on the turf, writhing in pain and watching it all float away. Oregon's hopes for a BCS title lay there, too. As did, in all likelihood, Dixon's football career. Oregon had suffered some season-ending injuries to key personnel before, most notably to RB Jeremiah Johnson and WR Cameron Colvin. But they still had Dixon, the spindly Superman, the guy who made it all go. The Guy They Couldn't Afford To Lose. And now, of course, they've lost him, and Oregon fans will be spending the next few months asking themselves, "what if?" (I also hope that Oregon administrators inside and outside of the athletic department will be spending some time asking the football medical staff and the coaching staff why they knowingly cleared a young man with a torn ACL to play football. But that's another story for another time...)
In fact, just about every fan in the Pac-10 is asking themselves "what-if" questions, and many of those questions are tied directly to injuries. Oregon State fans are wondering how much better their team would be if Yvenson Bernard were completely healthy. U$C fans are wondering if John David Booty would have thrown four critical picks against Stanford without a broken finger on his passing hand. Cardinalmaniacs™ can only imagine how much better this team would be with their top running backs healthy, and without Mark Bradford fighting through naggings aches and pains.
Thank goodness Washington fans aren't asking "what-if" questions about Jake Locker, but certainly that situation could have been much, much worse. And arguably no team in the country has been decimated by injuries more than UCLA.
In Berkeley, the defense has absolutely collapsed (more on this in a second). Their struggles have obviously not helped Cal's cause. But the exact moment that Cal's season started circling down the drain was when QB Nate Longshore hurt his ankle. Next thing you knew, Kevin Riley was having a brainfart against the Beavers, thousands of Old Blues looked on in horror as number-one slipped away, and Joe Starkey had a conniption on the air. Plus, the effects of that injury still cost the Bears several other games, even after Longshore's return.
Which brings us to maybe the biggest question of all: why are we seeing all these game-changing injuries? Is it because of the 12-game schedule? Is it because the scholarship limits have hindered depth across the board? Is it because players are getting bigger, stronger, and most importantly, faster? Yes. Yes. And yes.
But none of these trends are changing. The 12-game schedule (and all the money it brings) is here to stay. And kids will keep getting bigger, faster, and stronger. So from the looks of it, all of these game-changing injuries, and all of the parity they bring, are here to stay for the long haul in college football.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Anyone else think it's appropriate that on this Thanksgiving Weekend, college football's biggest turkeys are coming to Stanford Stadium? I'm pretty sure that watching the tape of that Duke-Notre Dame game is a violation of the Geneva Convention...
Why was everyone talking about a big anniversary for Stanford football on Tuesday? I mean, yes, Stanford beat Cal to seal a Rose Bowl bid on November 20, 1999. What else happened in Stanford history on November 20? I have no idea what those people are talking about...
(Yes, that last thought was sarcasm... I noticed ESPN Classic was replaying That Game, so I promptly went outside, brushed the snow off my car and ran errands instead)
The Bears defense should be ashamed of itself. Washington RBs Louis Rankin and Brandon Johnson took turns gashing the Golden Bears, combining for 345 yards on 44 carries. Absolutely emBearassing. Something tells me this will be anything but a holiday week for Cal...
The only folks who should be more embarrassed about what happened in Seattle on Saturday are the people in the Washington athletics marketing department. Somebody in that office thought it would be a good idea to have their halftime show last week performed by... are you ready for this?...William Hung. That's right. American Idol's most famous loser was "singing" the song that gave him 15 minutes of fame a few years ago...
Oh, and by the way, Hung is a Cal grad. And he was completely decked out in Huskies' gear. When William Hung is dissing you and wearing another team's gear, that's when you know your season has spiraled out of control...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... in the NFL, the gap between the number-one team (New England, obviously) and the number-two team (Dallas, maybe) is just as wide as the gap between the number-two team and the number-32 team. The Pats are that far ahead of everyone else...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... Chick-Fil-A-lovers in New York, rejoice! In case you didn't know, there's only one Chick-Fil-A anywhere near the five boroughs, and it's hidden inside a building on the NYU campus. Visited there on Monday evening, and I was not disappointed...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... have a safe and happy Thanksgiving weekend! And don't drink and drive (on this or any weekend). If you drink and drive, you're a moron, that's all I can say...
CLARDY'S CORNER™ INBOX
"Sandy" from parts unknown checks in with a historical note on Stanford fight songs:
"Obviously you are too young to remember, Troy, but back in the '60s, the LSJUMB actually marched onto the field from the north end zone playing a stirring rendition of 'Come Join the Band'... The other fight song is 'Sons of the Stanford Red' - which is also not bad. If I had a voice I'd sing them for you, and I'll wager I'm one of very few Booties (even the older ones) who knows the words. 'All Right Now' was first played after a score, and probably because a number of the band members were too ________ (fill in your own word) to deal with anything more complex.
Thanks for everything else you do."
Thanks for the note! Good stuff. I think I've actually heard "Sons of Stanford Red"... I think it was the background for a Stanford TV promo back in the Farm Report days. I had no idea what it was then, but now I think I do! Thanks for the history lesson.
"Come Join the Band" - Courtesy of The Stanford Athletics Archives:
"Sons of the Stanford Red" - Courtesy of the Stanford Athletics Archives:
U$C @ Arizona State. What a way to wrap up a Thanksgiving Day of football! Arizona State has a chance to answer some critics with a huge win. But I just have a feeling that U$C has been in these situations before, their defense is getting better, and their running game is improving by leaps and bounds. I like Rudy Carpenter, and I like the home-field advantage the Sun Devils could have, but I like the Trojans a little bit more. I like U$C by 7.
Oregon @ UCLA. With Dennis Dixon on the field, Oregon wins in a walk. Now? Who knows? This is a bigger stab in the dark than usual, but I like UCLA by 9.
Washington State @ Washington. I'm amazed Jake Locker is slated to start this game. I'm amazed WSU's Alex Brink stunk up the joint big-time against Oregon State last week. I have a feeling the Cougs will have problems stopping the Huskies on the ground. That's why I like Washington by 13.
Last week: 0-3 (straight-up), 0-3 (ATS).
This year: 21-9 (straight-up), 17-12-1 (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 email@example.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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