Corner: Expectations Exceeded
8-4. And headed to a bowl game. With a potential Heisman Trophy finalist. Not bad.
When the 2009 Stanford Football season began, it was all about "cautious optimism" for the Card. As it turned out, the Cardinal's regular season came to a close in a way that many of us hoped for, but few of us actually predicted.
Many of us thought Stanford's offense would be a strength. Few of us thought the offense would perform at the level it actually did. There really isn't much more to say about Toby Gerhart. When he needed a career performance on national TV to punch his ticket to New York, he provided it. Toby made the Notre Dame defense look like Tiger Woods' driveway.
All told, Toby probably just put the finishing touches on the greatest individual season for a Stanford player since John Elway in 1982. If it wasn't for Ernie Nevers, Toby unquestionably would have to be considered the greatest running back in Cardinal history. He will never have to buy his own meal in Palo Alto ever again. After his eligibility is completely exhausted, of course.
Andrew Luck was "The Truth"…and then some. I liked Luck when I saw him at the Spring Game in April. I loved Luck after I saw him at Wake Forest. Usually, freshman quarterbacks hit the wall at some point (see: Matt Barkley) and/or spend a couple of games making the mistakes quarterbacks make when they're trying to figure it all out.
Luck never had one of those "learning curve" games. He got off to a slow start against Oregon State, and he made poor throws against Cal. That's as close as he got. There was never a game in which Stanford had to work its way out of a hole because of Luck's poor decisions. When Toby passes the torch, it will be to Luck. And after a debut season like Luck's, that is a very, very promising prospect.
Many of us thought Stanford as a team would be improved from last year, but had trouble placing them above the middle of the Pac-10. Here, I think Stanford also outperformed a bit. I don't think anyone other than Cal would argue that Stanford is the best team in the Pac-10. But as it stands right now, against which teams do you not like the Card's chances?
I can think of two teams: Oregon and Oregon State. That's it. I think Stanford can compete with and beat every other team in the conference. That includes U$C. That includes Arizona. And that includes Cal. (stop fooling yourselves, Weenies…Stanford played a C-/D+ game against cal and still almost won.) But on the whole, I think the Cardinal, as it stands right now, are an upper-tier team in the Pac-10. And if they're not, they're really close.
While 8-4 with an explosive offense seemed a bit ahead of expectations, it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility. Even so, the regular season ended with some truly stunning sights. I'm not going to lie to you…as I watched the postgame scene unfold, as fans rushed the field with joy, as Toby Gerhart was being interviewed on live national TV somewhere in the middle of the mob scene of fans chanting his name, and as the overhead camera swooped over the crowd that had amassed on the field, I had only one thought: "This is happening to us? Really?"
"I dreamed that gametime finally arrived, and a standing-room only crowd was rocking Stanford Stadium. It was a back-and-forth affair, with the drama building to a critical crescendo with time running out.
And, of course, I dreamed that Stanford somehow won the game on the last play. The students swallowed the field in a sea of red. Players were being carried off the field by the fans. Grown men were openly weeping in the stands, amazed by the sight they thought they might never see again: a living, breathing, jumping Stanford Stadium with the football team to match. Every Stanford fan capturing the memories that would stay with them for the rest of their lives."
Of course, a visit from the ESPN College GameDay crew was also part of that dream, but just about everything else in that vision (even Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit calling the game) actually happened. To us. Really. Except maybe the weeping part.
And the sleigh ride isn't over yet. More could still happen to this team. There is still a bowl game to play. In all likelihood, there is a Heisman Trophy ceremony to watch next week.
There is also an unquestionable buzz surrounding Stanford Football right now, a buzz that I've never sensed in my 16 years of covering the Cardinal. Not in 2001, which is still the best and most complete Stanford team of my era. Not in 1999, which ended with all of us in Pasadena.
Trust me on this. I work for the company that, for better and for worse, sets the agenda for what sports fans talk about. I walk down the hallways. I talk to many of the folks you actually see on TV and hear on the radio. They all agree that Stanford Football is a hot topic, one that resonates nationwide. The buzz surrounding this team is a powerful one. I'm not sure that has ever been the case during my Cardinal career.
Keep in mind that, as good as this season has been for Stanford, it still could have been even better. If the ball bounces differently, if a bogus clipping call doesn't get enforced in Wake Forest, and if some interesting in-game decisions against Arizona and Cal fall in the Card's favor, we're talking about an 11-1 team.
Heck, if wide receiver Chris Owusu hangs on to the rock on the first play from scrimmage in Corvallis, allowing the Cardinal to keep pace with the Beavers in the first half, who knows what sort of things we're talking about right now?
But the facts are that we're talking about an 8-4 Stanford team that's finally bowl-bound after eight long, torturous years. We're talking about a legitimate, likely finalist for the Heisman Memorial Trophy, our first in 27 years. And the entire nation is talking about a Cardinal program that is on the rise and being noticed as a potential long-term player in the Pac-10.
For the first time in a long time, when it comes to football on The Farm, it truly is "all right now".
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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Remember Harlon Barnett, former defensive back for the New England Patriots? You might know Barnett better as the guy who is forever being spun around in different directions by Barry Sanders in that all-time great NFL Films highlight. Well, just as Barnett and Sanders will be linked forever, Notre Dame CB Gary Gray will also live forever as long as this Toby Gerhart highlight keeps running…
Now it's looking like Cal's Jahvid Best's season might be done. Tough break for a great running back…
Am I missing something? When the media goes through the coaching carousel as it always does and spins through the list of hot candidates and capable coaches, how come OSU coach Mike Riley's name never gets brought up? I'm just saying…
Rick "Who, Me?" Neuheisel calls a timeout. Pete Carroll calls for a bomb. Then the Trojans strut and preen and hoot and holler and act like they haven't won a football game before, and a near-riot ensues on the field. I couldn't believe what I was seeing as it unfolded. Sure, Neuheisel didn't need to call that timeout while U$C was trying to run out the clock. But Carroll calling for the deep ball was even less necessary, and it made what should have been a meaningless final minute into a potentially dangerous situation. And for what? What point was Carroll trying to prove exactly? My dad still tells me, even to this very day, "Son, always take the high road. Don't ever be That Guy." Rick Neuheisel started it, but Pete Carroll became That Guy. And I lost a lot of respect for him on Saturday night…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…I've seen Oklahoma State's offense look bad at times this year, but they sunk to new lows during Bedlam. 12 punts through three quarters? 106 yards total? I know a lot of unhappy 'Pokes fans right now…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…which team has a better BCS résumé right now, Texas or TCU? Not an easy answer, is it?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…no one is beating the New Orleans Saints. No one. Certainly not at the Superdome…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…this is the last official Clardy's Corner of the 2009 season. But for the first time in the Corner's history, there will be at least one Stanford Bowl Edition of the Corner coming your way later this month! These Corners started in the 2002 season, which is exactly when Stanford's bowl drought began. I'm glad that drought is over, because for a while there, I was starting to wonder if it was my fault!
As always, thanks to Lars, Jim, and Carridine, who make sure that The Bootleg is always operating with the EUTM that true Cardinalmania demands. Thanks to Daniel Novinson for all his help this year…and for putting up with me every week! I owe you a beverage since we weren't able to grab one in Winston-Salem.
Of course, the biggest thanks go out to you, the Stanford fans. It's always great to hear your feedback, and it's even better to meet with you in person! Thanks for supporting these Corners, thanks for agreeing, thanks for disagreeing, thanks for dropping me a line…in general, thanks for being a part of these columns!
The next Corner will come your way sometime around Stanford's bowl game. Could be before. Could be after. Could be before and after. I don't know. But I do know that it has once again been a blast to bring these Corners to you every week. Go Stanford!
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at email@example.com. The best e-mails will be answered in the next Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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Oregon State @ Oregon. I have to really, really like you if I'm going to pick you to win if you're the road team at Autzen. And trust me, I like Oregon State. I really like Oregon State. But I like the Oregon defense's ability to make more crucial plays than the Beavers' defense. That's why I like Oregon by 13. Enjoy Pasadena, Duck fans!
cal @ Washington. The Bears may be best served by using a ball-control offense like they did in Big Game. Jake Locker tries hard, but his defense lets him down when it matters most. Again. I like cal by 9.
Arizona @ U$C. At first, it looked like Arizona was going to run the Sun Devils out of the stadium quickly. If Arizona starts fast again this week, they'd better keep their feet on the gas. Problem is, I'm not sure they're consistent enough to do it. That's why, as much as I'd like to, I'm having trouble picking them to win this game. This won't be easy by any stretch, I don't think, but I like U$C by 6.
Last week: 3-0 (straight-up), 1-1-1 (ATS).
This year: 24-9 (straight-up), 18-14-1 (ATS).
Last year: 30-6 (straight-up), 24-12 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com.
Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com (unless we are running behind and can't provide Troy the respect he deserves and don't publish it until Thursday, like this week). Ha! You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
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