The Sweep: 2009 Outlook

Next year's non-conference schedule does Stanford no favors, but we still think the Card should have just enough to reach bowl eligibility. Which games are the likely wins, likely losses and tossups, and if "The Sweep" could run Stanford's AD, what would the football schedule look like? Plus, we close with our picks and open with our Top 25, as always.

Week 13 Poll

1. Florida (Change: 0)
2. USC (0)
3. Oklahoma (+2)
4. Texas (0)
5. Alabama (+1)
6. Penn State (+2)
7. Utah (0)
8. Texas Tech (-5)
9. Ohio State (0)
10. TCU
11. Oklahoma State (+1)
12. Boise State (-1)
13. Missouri (0)
14. Ball State (+1)
15. Oregon State (+2)
16. Georgia (-2)
17. Cincinnati (+5)
18. BYU (-2)
19. Boston College (+2)
20. Oregon (+3)
21. Nebraska (+5)
22. Mississippi (+4)
23. Pittsburgh (-3)
24. Florida State (+2)
25. Georgia Tech (+1)

IN: Mississippi, Nebraska, Florida State, Georgia Tech
OUT:  Michigan State, Miami, Maryland, LSU
ON DECK: LSU, Northwestern, West Virginia, Michigan State

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2009-10 Stanford

The moment the final horn sounded in Berkeley, next year began already for the optimistic Stanford fan. Sure enough, I log onto The Bootleg and see some pretty smart people breaking down Stanford's 2009-10 schedule game-by-game. Most conclude that the Card will finish in a bowl game. I'm hopeful, but not so sure, and so I wanted to make sure to get my two cents in...

Though the Sagarin ratings look like they're hosted on a website that's trying to convince you that the world is heading toward a fiery demise, and only your three shipments of $19.99 can save us (whatever that font typeface is formally called, they should rename it "crazy man"), the ratings are the best snapshot comparison of all the teams in college football, and not just the Top 25. Vegas spreads and the BCS both lean heavily on Sagarin's numbers, which have proven themselves accurate year after year after year. They're the gold-standard of computer ratings, and if we add 2.8 to every opponent Stanford gets on the road next year (italicized) and subtract 2.8 from every opponent that has to visit Stanford (bolded), here's what we get:

USC (11/14) 93.4
Oregon St. (10/10) 85.9
Wake Forest (9/12) 80.4
Arizona (10/17) 77.6
Cal (11/21) 77.2
Oregon (11/7)  76.1
Stanford 71.4
Notre Dame (11/28) 69.3
Arizona St. (10/24) 65.8
UCLA (10/3) 62.8
San Jose State (9/19) 60.1
Washington St. (9/5) 55.7
Washington (9/26) 51.2

Another great thing about these ratings is that a unit difference in rating translates into a point difference in the spread. Thinking of any spreads of greater than a touchdown as likely wins or losses, and categorizing the rest as tossups, here's what we see:

Likely losses
Stanford (+22) at USC
Stanford (+15) at Oregon State
Stanford (+9) at Wake Forest

Likely wins
Stanford (-9) vs. UCLA
Stanford (-11) vs. San Jose State
Stanford (-16) at Washington State
Stanford (-20) vs. Washington

Stanford (-6) vs. Arizona State
Stanford (-2) vs. Notre Dame
Stanford (+5) vs. Oregon
Stanford (+6) vs. Cal
Stanford (+6) at Arizona

That feels right. Obviously teams will not be exactly as strong as they are this year, and if you think Stanford will improve more than the average Pac-10 team (a fair assumption, I'd think), then maybe these estimates are conservative.

Quick Takes

- Another reason for optimism: the schedule does the Cardinal absolute wonders next years, with four of the five tossups at home. Stanford has only five road games, and three of them (USC, Oregon State and Washington State) have such a clear-cut favorite that it's just as well the Card play those teams on the road. Save the home-field edge for the games where it will matter.

- If Stanford's making a bowl, they'll need to ride the same wave they did this year: start out strong (the Card should start 4-1) and then hang on for dear life. Oregon, USC and Cal again close out Pac-10 play.

- The non-conference schedule continues to be a silent killer. How do Stanford fans feel about keeping Notre Dame on the schedule? Decidedly mixed. Now, knowing that if we replaced Notre Dame with Podunk U., this year's seniors would have left with two bowl bids, how do fans feel about such a tough non-conference schedule? The same situation could well happen next year -- say Stanford's 5-6 and needing a win to reach its first bowl since 2001. Would you rather be playing Notre Dame or Yale?

- Speaking of Yale, here's my non-conference scheduling strategy if I'm the AD.

San Jose State is brilliant, keep them every year as Game No. 1. We should win 85 percent of the time.

Game No. 2 is Duke or Rice. We get to travel to a talent-rich area every year, plus we look good playing a smart school, and when we beat them, it's huge for recruiting since we're often fighting for the same kids -- two birds with one stone. They almost had it right with Wake, except we're 30% favorites, not 80% favorites to win that one. More on Wake in a bit. If we start becoming better, gradually build up to Northwestern or Vanderbilt or Wake, but only when our program's at a place where we are strong favorites in that game. For now, stick with Duke and Rice.

Game No. 3 is Division I-AA. If we want to do home-and-homes with Harvard or Yale or Princeton, it's a safe win, the media will eat it up for some good publicity, we get to go out East for the alums and recruits out there, and when we win by 30, we remind everyone that we're not a Harvard or Yale or Princeton. If we want to do UC-Davis (I know, I know) or some other non-Division I-A California school, that sounds great with me too. Whoever it is, just make sure it's a win.

We'd get some flack for having an easier schedule, but that'd be the whole point. Point to this season, point to Walt Harris' 5-6 season, point to the fact that every SEC and Big 12 and Big 10 and heck, just about any other BCS team schedules as many wins as possible, and point to the fact that with nine conference games, we still enjoy one fewer cupcake than everyone else.

Playing Notre Dame annually is such a Stanfordy, hopelessly utopian, "we are not Nebraska" notion. No one remembers how hard our schedule was this year or three years ago, they just remember not seeing us in a bowl. No one cares that Texas Tech played Eastern Washington, SMU, Nevada and Massachusetts out of conference. They were undefeated and No. 2 in the country heading into last week. Would swapping one of those teams with TCU really helped their cause? We're playing Notre Dame out of what, the chance to be on national TV when the Irish were the only TV school 15 years ago and this abstact notion of fairness? I'd rather have win No. 6, thank you very much.

Building a winning football program is hard enough at Stanford that we need to exploit every advantage we can find, instead of actively making the schedule one of the toughest in the country. Toughest academics, toughest schedule, winning seasons. Pick two, Mr. Bowlsby.

- Speaking of awful scheduling, Wake Forest and Notre Dame crop up next year. Those are two very losable games, but if we drop them it's not like we're playing a Florida -- neither team is that good that we'll get any credit. With Wake Forest in particular, I feel it my duty to point out some of the following in response to irrational optimism I've seen on the board:

The last time we won a road game against an opponent with a pulse was when exactly? USC last year?

This year, we played USC, Cal, Oregon, TCU and Arizona State on the road. We got thoroughly outplayed by all five, blown out on the scoreboard by all save for Oregon. Wake is better than half those teams and we must travel further. Why do we have a good shot?

Also, West Coast teams do horribly on the East Coast. The 5:30 a.m. wakeup call is brutal. Look at Cal falling behind Maryland 21-0 this year. Heck, even in the NFL, where players are a lot more used to the travel, West Coast teams started something like 0-12 on the East Coast this year.

I think next year's Wake is this year's TCU: a game everyone's really confident about... until 6 p.m. Saturday.

Bottom line

We're safely 4-3 with five tossups, so it seems likelier than not we will go bowling next year, for the first time in far too long! The front of the schedule's pretty soft, so we won't really know what to expect from this team until we play the Arizona schools in mid-October. I'll project a 2009 record of 6-6, which shows how small the margin for error is. If only the AD would schedule smarter (easier) out-of-conference, and we could be looking at 8-4 next year.

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We close with our picks section, also known as Don't Quit Your Day Job:

Last week:    Big wheels keep on turning... big favorites keep on rolling. Oklahoma, Penn State and Utah: thank you. I'm awful at picking bowl games, so let's send this season out on a bang this week...
3-0 straight-up, 3-0 against the spread.

25-11 against the spread, 29-7 straight-up .

Georgia Tech (+8) at Georgia
Both teams are overrated, but I do think Georgia's better. Plus, Georgia's defense has too much speed for Tech's option attack to amount to much of anything. One game against Miami doesn't make up for the prior five. As much as I hate picking the team whose fans bark at you, I know favorites have seemingly beat the spread in 75 percent of the games we've picked this year. We're dancing with the girl we brought.
Georgia 27, Georgia Tech 13

Oklahoma (-7) at Oklahoma State
Bob Stoops is better than anyone at putting up big numbers on opponents he should decimate. Oklahoma State falls into that category: I'm taking bets on whether the Pokes find their defense or one of the Big 3 goes bankrupt first. Plus, Oklahoma's playing for style points right now.
Oklahoma 45, Oklahoma State 24

Oregon (+3) at Oregon State
The Beavers have won six in a row, but they've beaten each of the Arizona schools by two points during that span. Oregon State's defense is better and they're undefeated at home this year, but, then again, the officials will be pulling for USC, err, Oregon. Obviously, Jacquizz Rodgers' health is a huge key for Oregon State, and with his status unknown, I think Oregon's the safer pick.
Oregon State 27, Oregon State 24 

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