"Big Game"? It's Saturday against Arizona

It's been 17 years since Stanford has beaten Arizona at Stanford Stadium and just one of the five games played there during that period has been decided by less than two touchdowns. But the odds-makers, tossing such ancient history into the pile marked "irrelevant", like Stanford by a point-and-a-half Saturday against the Cats. Given the quality of Stanford's performance thus far, coupled with the number of walking wounded, this is a significant data point. In short, this is a pivotal game.

Odds-makers aren't pillars of reliability but neither are they stupid. They make their appraisals based on comparative talent, match-ups and medical reports. There are some tea leaves, bat wings and chicken bones thrown in there, too, but that's beside the point. The point is that they don't make their livings burdened by the sentiments and expectations weighing down on most of the folks who trudge into the stadium this time of year. 

Against this Nevada-inspired backdrop Buddy Teevens and his bruised, beleaguered Cardinal squad enters the arena Saturday as a rare favorite. Despite all that's gone wrong so far this year - and it could fill a couple floors in Hoover Tower - the folks in Vegas still like Stanford. But, then, they liked Stanford to be no more than a point away from Arizona State and within soft-conversation distance of 8th-ranked Notre Dame, too. And we all know what eventually transpired in those mismatches.

What are we make of all this? Just that Saturday's event is very large indeed for Stanford in terms of what its football team amounts to in Year One of the Teevens Era. Not to mention recruiting and the longer term. Ditto for the future of the head coach and certain members of his current staff. This may go down as the game in which the heat of the struggle, on and off the field, became so intense that it galvanized the team and shoved it into gear - or melted it into unrecognizable slag. We're not prepared to lay odds on either eventuality right now, but the oddsmakers will certainly factor it in as they handicap the Cardinal the rest of the year. Either way, it will probably be the last time you see the Cardinal favored this year.

If, indeed, the odds-makers are right then it could amount to a suspenseful, entertaining match-up - with maybe one or two plays deciding the outcome. If, however, this game reveals that the miscues and unforced mental errors that have doomed Stanford four weeks out of five this fall are the signature of this team, not just the correctable flaws of over-anxiousness and adrenaline-fueled pressing, things could get pretty ugly in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. And pretty fast. 

Stanford's spin machine won't be able to ascribe a shoddy performance Saturday by the Cardinal to an overwhelming foe. Neither will it be able to point to the infirmary as evidence that Buddy Ball wasn't at full strength: when you're a playing an underdog, even a slim one, the relative strengths and weaknesses are already discounted. Not that the spinners won't try, of course. That's what they're paid to do.

What Buddy Teevens is paid to do is run a Division 1A program and compete successfully at the highest level. Consistent with the mission of the university, the first responsibility is to ensure a rewarding experience for the student athlete. At Stanford, all of that translates into: "Just win more often than not, baby." If the metric for success is primarily the acquisition of more W's than L's, he has yet to demonstrate a natural aptitude for it, going back to a less-than-memorable stint at Tulane. And, let's face it, winning is a pretty important metric when it comes to how rewarded a student-athlete feels. 

How this team fares against Arizona may tip the balance of the campaign: win and you enjoy a surge of confidence, esteem and a "we can salvage this season" rush of self-assurance. Lose ugly, the way you have in three of the last four weeks, and the stadium train whistle becomes the metaphor for the train-wreck of 2002. 

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Stan DeVaughn is editor-in-chief of The Bootleg Magazine. This article will also be published on Saturday in the Palo Alto Daily News special Stanford Football 2002 Section. If you have not seen it, make sure to pick up a copy before the game on Saturday. Palo Alto Daily News is available for free everywhere in the greater Palo Alto area.


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