Gunning For An Upset!
It was just as surreal as I'd expected it to be, even though I really had no idea what to expect. As I took to the sizzling field in
There were several reasons why
As most Cardinal fans know, that epic trashing was following by a resilient run to the Rose Bowl — as well as a home victory over Texas the next year - further proving that the margin of our opening setback was due far more to awe than athletic differential. When Stanford (5-3, 4-2 Pac-10) hosts No. 7 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) this afternoon, its key to executing an upset that would uproot the current college football landscape may hinge on reversing one of sports' most widely accepted clichés — that the name on the front of the jersey is far more important than the name on the back.
For the sake of maintaining unity and selflessness within a team, that axiom is apt. But when analyzing an elite opponent, the opposite is true. Focusing on the storied name stitched across a foe's jersey front only leads players to overestimate the relative simplicity of their actual task. Staring directly at any of the Duck's ghastly uniform combinations has been known to cause nausea and seizures, as well, but that's another issue. What Stanford's players must remember today is that they're not lining up against Oregon's lofty ranking, nor the program's impressive recent resume, or even the raucous home crowd that has fueled most of its landmark victories — including last week's 47-20 dismantling of USC. The Cardinal must simply compete against another group of 18- to 22-year-old student-athletes for a few hours.
As obvious as that statement sounds, it goes forgotten with shocking frequency. Nearly every Saturday, a highly ranked team looks to be floundering for its last breath, only to be let off the hook by its underdog opponent (i.e.
A victory would make Stanford bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001, but it wouldn't even approximate the program's most shocking triumph in recent history (that, of course, being the 2007 road upset of 41-point favorite USC). A Cardinal win wouldn't come close to the Pac-10's biggest shocker of the season, either (recent doormat
The Stanford squads I played on from 1999-2002 went 5-9 against ranked opponents, including 3-4 against top-10 teams. None of our "upset" victories shocked us, but in hindsight, some were more improbable or extraordinary than others. Our 2001 team had similar talent to No. 5 Oregon and far more heart than No. 4 UCLA. Though reeling off several momentum-changing plays in a 49-42 comeback thriller that ended the Ducks' 23-game Autzen Stadium win streak and sent them to their only loss of the year was monumental, it wasn't as inconceivable to many as our 27-24 triumph over No. 5 Texas in 2000. Not only had the Longhorns gored us by more than half a hundred the previous year, but we were coming off our third-straight loss to
Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick was visibly pained each time he reluctantly gave a compliment. But in our first offensive meeting after corralling the Longhorns, he issued one that was simple, heartfelt and undeniably true. "It wasn't perfect," Diedrick said of our performance, "but you got after them for 60 minutes." True upsets typically aren't thorough or pretty. They're narrow, gritty and sometimes lucky. When an unranked team romps over a highly ranked squad, it's not an upset so much as proof that rankings are inherently imperfect and misleading. We did not dominate
The first game of my college career wasn't the only surreal one; it was the first of 44 dream-like games I played for Stanford. Every time I took the field for a game's opening snap, I felt the eerie sensation of peering across the line of scrimmage at a defender I had read about in a media guide and watched for several hours on tape. There were always subtle surprises: "He's shorter than I thought"; "I wonder why he's wearing a knee brace"; "I didn't know he was that strong." But an important lesson I eventually learned is that my opponent was equally nervous, mystified and wary of me. We were both just college kids who loved to play football. We both had strengths. We both had weaknesses. We both comprised only one percent of our respective teams. I enjoyed the games and moments in which I felt dominant, but I learned that those instances would be rare against first-rate opponents, and that there was no shame in merely holding my own against a stud defensive lineman.
Such was the case in our 2000
The term "pressing" is infuriatingly overused by sports broadcasters when athletes make mistakes, but players are often inhibited by self-imposed stress when they believe a perfect performance is necessary to defeat a talented opponent. That's never the case.
Stanford needs to play its best
game of the season today, but it won't be perfect, and it doesn't need to be.
When highly ranked teams lose, they are often accused of reading their own press
clippings. But it's just as dangerous to get caught up in an opponent's
accolades. Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James and the rest of Oregon's speedy
spread-option attack are extremely talented, but they're also young,
mistake-prone athletes, as are Stanford's defenders. The Ducks' defense has
allowed just 11.6 points per game since its breakout performance against
About the Author: Greg Schindler, LSJU '03, was a four-year starter and four-year letter-winner for the Cardinal from 1999-2002, starting 42 of 46 games. After redshirting as a true freshman in 1998, he was the team's starting right tackle in 1999-2000 and the team's starting right guard in 2001-02. Prior to Stanford, Schindler starred at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, CA and was named a First-Team All-American by Prepstar in 1997. Following his Stanford career, Schindler was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent after graduating in 2003 with an English major, which, as you can see, he puts to excellent use here at The Bootleg!
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