It's my least favorite word in the English language. It's also, in my view, one of the most overused words in America. To me, that word speaks directly to our hyper-developed sense of entitlement as Americans.
I get the sense that most of us feel we deserve things because the Constitution supposedly entitles us to stuff. Therefore, as Americans, we're not only entitled to those things, we also "deserve" whatever we want, simply because of who we are. I suspect that kind of thinking has gotten us into trouble, but that's another story for another time.
I can admit now that it always rankled me a little bit when people would say, "Troy, congratulations on getting in to Stanford! You deserve it." I appreciated the well-wishes, and I'd always smile and accept their congratulations. But inside, I felt as though chalking up something like that to mere entitlement paid a disservice to all the hard work that went into getting that fat envelope in the mail.
I never felt that I got into Stanford because I deserved it. I always felt I got in because I earned it. And maybe it works differently for other people, but I've always felt that you get what you earn, not what you deserve.
This is certainly true in football, which brings me to the Card and where they are sitting right now. Last week, Stanford took the field and acted like they deserved to beat a weakened Notre Dame squad that had become one of college football's punchlines this year. Eight penalties, four missed field goals, and several crucial drops (including two in the end zone with the game on the line) later, the Cardinal learned otherwise. And during that 3-hour-and-41-minute marathon, a cruel football lesson was reinforced for the Stanford: wins are earned, not deserved.
If any program should know how hard it is to win in college football, it should be Stanford. We all found that out last year, and not in a good way. Because of the very nature of the school, Stanford's football team has to work harder - and smarter - to be a winner. Stanford has never had a team that could just show up and get by on maximum talent and minimum effort. It's been true throughout much of Stanford Football's history, and it's been true this year as well.
Go ahead and pop in that already-worn tape of Stanford's game against U$C this year. You already know who wins. You already know how it ends. But watch that game as if you had no clue about the Trojans being favored by 41 points and their top ranking. Watch that game as if you know nothing about the Cardinal's demoralizing struggles since the end of the 2001 season. What do you see?
You see one team's defense asserting itself early with some big hits and a goal-line stand at the half. You see that defense also breaking through with a big score to start the second half. You see that same team's offense gaining momentum as the second half continues. You see that defense continuing to apply pressure until the other team breaks. You see a group of young men physically imposing their will, believing in themselves, taking their fate into their own hands, and getting the job done. You see a team that was playing to earn that win.
You also see the other team playing like they thought they deserved to win. Like they were entitled to that game merely because of who they were. And that team got its tail kicked in front of their own fans and the entire nation. Well, the small part of the nation that can get the Versus channel, anyway.
Even though it might seem like even more of a fluke now, given how both teams have been playing lately, when you approach that game from that angle, that result was not a fluke at all. Stanford earned that win over U$C. They were the better team that night because they worked for it.
Overall this year, this Stanford team has been ravaged by injuries and plagued with inefficiency. The defense has made big plays, but has also allowed huge gains. The offense has struggled to find its identity post-Arizona. Field-goal kicking has become an issue. But there is still a chance for this team to go out on a positive note. The only way to do that is to earn a win over cal.
And make no mistake about it, Stanford will have to earn the win this weekend. After all, cal has their own problems right now. This may be the holiday season, but I seriously doubt the Bears will be in a giving mood on Saturday.
We all know how much hard work the senior class has put into this program from the moment they stepped on The Farm. We've watched them grow, and we've seen them overcome significant obstacles on the field and in their lives.
T.C. Ostrander's senior season obviously hasn't worked out the way he planned, but he has publicly handled himself and his situation well. Evan Moore had to overcome his gruesome hip injury in 2005. Mark Bradford's biggest struggles occurred before he even got to The Farm, but he earned his way into Stanford, then fought through his father's death earlier this season.
Those young men, along with guys like Tim Mattran, Udeme Udofia, Nick Sanchez, Emmanuel Awofadeju, and the rest of the senior class, have all faced numerous challenges on and off the field. But facing those challenges doesn't entitle them to a Big Game win. This Saturday marks their last chance to earn one.
For the non-seniors, this Saturday marks a chance to earn something tangible to build on during the offseason. For Clinton Snyder, it's a chance to finish earning one of the biggest "Tough Guy" seasons I've ever seen a Stanford player go through. For Richard Sherman, it might be a chance to earn some respect back from some of his teammates, coaches, and fans.
And for everyone on this team, it's a chance to earn The Axe for all those who can't be on the field with them. Guys like Toby Gerhart, Jim Dray, Fred Campbell, and Emeka Nnoli. Even guys like Trent Edwards, who never got the chance to carry The Axe off the field themselves.
I'd love to say that this team and this senior class deserves to beat cal. Because of all the hard work they've put in, all the adversity they've faced, and all the growth they've shown, I'd love to say that this team and this senior class is entitled to The Axe. I'd love to. But I can't. The truth is that this team and this senior class is going to have to earn it. And, as all of us know, when you truly earn something, when you take your fate into your own hands and do something about it, that makes having it all the sweeter.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Uh oh, the U$C Trojans are back. A coolly efficient offense... a defense that's nastier than Tila Tequila... that's the U$C we thought we would see all year, and it finally showed up against Arizona State. Heck, I think I just saw them sacking Rudy Carpenter again...
Both quarterbacks put on a show in the Apple Cup. Jake Locker has cemented his status as the biggest one-man weapon at quarterback we've seen in a while in the Pac-10 (could he be the next Tim Tebow?). And I really hope Coug fans appreciate Alex Brink more after his playing career than they did while he was in the Palouse...
On the flip side, the quarterback play in Oregon-UCLA was embarrassingly bad. Putrid. Heinous. Booty. Words cannot describe the mess that the Ducks' QB situation is in. I'm halfway amazed Dan Fouts didn't come down from the booth and try to save the day...
Why do I get the feeling that Washington is going to beat Hawaii?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... Missouri? Missouri?!?? Who saw that coming?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... what's this? The 49ers and the Raiders win in the same week? Wow. I mean, they both had help from the opposing coaches, but still...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... I tuned in to the Patriots' postgame radio show (remember when we had one of those? That was fun.) briefly on Sunday night, and the first thing I heard was a Pats fan complaining that they don't run the ball enough, and that they put the game in Tom Brady's hands too much. And this guy was serious. I couldn't believe it. If you're a Patriots fan, even if your team barely got by the Eagles, what could you possibly have to complain about right now?
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Bill from parts unknown weighs in on my injury column from last week:
"Since all of these injuries in football have occurred before the 12th game has even been played, I don't see what that has to do with the rash of injuries in college football. It probably has to do with the size, speed, and strength of today's players. I don't know what can be done about it but it looks really scary for the future of football if it continues."
Here's what I think the difference is... even if it were still an 11-game schedule, eleven games now wouldn't be the same as eleven games 20, 15, or even 10 years ago.
All these teams that have gone to more passing-friendly schemes have also increased the number of snaps we've seen per game. I forget what game I was watching a couple weeks ago, but one team snapped the ball 102 times! Back when teams ran conventional option schemes and conventional pro-style offenses that stressed balance between the run and the pass, you never saw teams take such a high number of snaps. Of course, each snap increases the chance for injury, especially late in the game when guys are tired.
Then throw in overtime, which wasn't in the picture until 10 years ago, and teams have to take even more snaps, thanks to how college football runs its overtimes. After what those teams went through this week, I'm very interested to see how much Tennessee (4 overtimes vs. Kentucky) and LSU (3 overtimes vs. Arkansas) will have left in the tank this week.
For the number crunchers out there, let's say that back in 1992, a team averaged 60 snaps per game. Let's say that same team averages 70 snaps per game in 2007. That 10 snap-per-game difference would equal 110 extra snaps per 11-game season. That's like playing almost two extra games right there. Now, add that 12th game (at 70 snaps), and now you have a team taking 180 extra snaps, or three full games, during the course of the season.
So, even though you're adding a 12th game to the schedule, using those sets of numbers, you're really playing a total of 14 games. And even if you do go back to an 11-game schedule, with all the increased snaps and overtimes, it's like you're playing almost 13 games anyway.
I do think, as you do, that the increased size, speed, and strength is the largest factor. But the more I think about it, the 12-game schedule isn't that far behind.
Oh God... Rivalry Week... my least favorite week to pick! Here we go...
UCLA @ U$C. That Trojan defense has its swagger back (oh, I think they just sacked Rudy Carpenter again). They, and they alone, are why I like U$C by 23.
Oregon State @ Oregon. Can Oregon starting QB Cody Kempt become a folk hero this week for the Ducks? I doubt it! I like Oregon State by 9.
Arizona @ Arizona State. Do you realize the Wildcats haven't played a game since they beat Oregon on November 15? I suspect they'll be rusty, and I suspect the Sun Devils will act like they've got something to prove. I like Arizona State by 13.
Last week: 2-1 (straight-up), 2-1 (ATS).
This year: 23-10 (straight-up), 19-13-1 (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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