Clardy's Corner: Welcome back, Pac-9 faithful

If you are a Cardinalmaniac, this is the week you have been waiting eight long months for. Finally, it has all come down to this defining moment. And from here, there is no turning back.

No, I'm not talking about a ninth season of Clardy's Corners…I'm talking about the kickoff for the 2010 season. And if the cards fall the right way, this season could be a great one.

These are indeed exciting times for Stanford Football, and for Cardinalmaniacs worldwide. Expectations have been raised, and that's a good thing. Last year, the Sun Bowl was a great reward. This year, I think a repeat trip to El Paso would be a disappointment.

But where do the Cardinal truly sit right now? And how can this season become one of the most memorable in Stanford history? Well, with the new season beginning, it seems like a good time to take inventory of Stanford football's haves, and my own personal wants for this year's squad.

Stanford has the best quarterback in the conference. Period. I will not argue this. Dawg fans can hoot and holler all they want. I don't care. Give me a choice between Jake Locker and Andrew Luck, and I'm not even letting you finish the sentence. I'm taking number 12.

Look, I like Jake Locker. He seems like a good kid and I like watching him play. Is he a better athlete and a better physical specimen than Luck? I think so, yes. But we're not talking about athletes here. We're talking about quarterbacks. And until Locker shows me he can complete medium- and long-range passes with accuracy and regularity (as Luck has), to me, he is not a complete quarterback.

The good news for Locker is that when it comes to quarterbacks, Steve Sarkisian can coach ‘em up. But until I see it for myself, I can't anoint Locker as the best in the conference.

(Oh, and by the way, in three seasons, Jake Locker has won nine games. Nine. That's it. Meanwhile, in one season, Andrew Luck has won eight. Just thought I'd point that out…)

Stanford also has as clear a shot to win the conference as I can remember. In my 17 previous years of following this team, there were always at least two or three teams that you just knew Stanford was not going to beat. Heck, some years there were about eight or nine teams you just knew Stanford was not going to beat.

This year? I'm having trouble finding that team that scares the hell out of me. Sure, Oregon State and Oregon will be bothersome. And yes, the Cardinal have some question marks (our secondary still concerns me). But every other team has glaring warts at critical positions too.

One team's warts off the field were so ugly, they're not even eligible for the Rose Bowl—or any bowl—this year! And since Clardy's Corner only recognizes teams that are not on major NCAA probation, the conference will be referred to in these Corners as the Pac-9. So there.

For the first time in a decade, Stanford football enters a season having a slightly higher local profile than cal. But as an added bonus, the Cardinal also have a little something that it hasn't had to start a season in quite a while: national juice.

A couple of my Corners from last year noted how much buzz Stanford Football seemed to be gaining as the season progressed, especially within the hallways at ESPN. Now, thanks to Luck's talents, Jim Harbaugh's headline-friendly way of coaching, and the Pac-9 being more wide open than the French border during a world war, the Cardinal have sustained that momentum and retained that juice.

Check out the New York Times' website, and you'll find a feature article on Andrew Luck. The New York Times. That's national juice. Watch the Worldwide Leader and see Kirk Herbstreit picking the Cardinal to represent the Pac-9 in the Rose Bowl. That's national juice.

My man Mel Kiper developed a bit of a man-crush on Stanford Football last year (which may or may not have been slightly influenced by his radio producer at the time). Judging from his list of the top NFL prospects, it looks like he's kept the faith. Right there at number two? Andrew Luck. That, folks, is national juice.

Granted, this time last year cal was coming into the season with some national juice, and by the end of September, all of cal's juice had been squeezed. Meanwhile, the Cardinal trickled in underneath the radar, and by season's end a lot of folks were drinking what Stanford was selling.

The Pac-9's best QB. Increased local and national interest. And a conference title that seems to be there for the taking. It certainly seems that Stanford Football has plenty. What more could a Cardinalmaniac ask for?

Well, as it turns out, plenty. For all the things Stanford Football has right now, there's one thing it doesn't have: a win. For all the talent this team has, for all the potential the season holds, and for all the respect Stanford is getting among some of college football's kingmakers, the Cardinal's record right now is still 0-0.

None of Stanford's dreams for the season ahead get realized unless those numbers start adding up in the win column. You don't get respect if you don't win games. It just doesn't work that way. Well, unless you're Jake Locker, it seems.

I want wins. I also want The Axe back. Enough said there. And I want to be looking for flights to LAX over New Year's. Enough said there, too.

Above all else though, I want to get this season started! Let the games begin. And go Cardinal.

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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS

As much as I like Jake Locker, and as much as I love Andrew Luck, the most exciting individual player in the Pac-9 is still Jacquizz Rodgers

This is the first time I have ever done this, but as the ninth season of Clardy's Corners begins, I am finally assigning you a bit of homework. Check out GoStanford.com's interview with Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby. Fast-forward to the 4:27 mark, and listen to the phrase Bowlsby uses to describe Jim Harbaugh. Then answer this question: is it just me, or does anyone else find that phrase a bit eye-opening?

I may not feature Quotes of the Week this season's Corners. That's only because I'm not sure anything will be able to top what has to be the Quote of the Year, courtesy of our old friend and former U$C athletic godfather Mike Garrett: "As I read the decision by the NCAA…I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Trojans. …With the penalty we got today I know we're bigger than life."

Wow. That quote right there—and the Trojan boosters who wildly applauded, stood, and threw up that stupid two-finger sign after he said it—perfectly sums up why I will always hate U$C. Forever…

Kudos to new conference commissioner Larry Scott for aiming high and trying to rope in the Texas Longhorns. But once that went out the window, did they really need to grab Utah and Colorado? Sure, Salt Lake City and Denver/Boulder are great road trips, but I'm not really sure how the Utes and the Buffaloes make the conference's product better…

Wait, what? Syd'Quan Thompson is in the NFL now? You mean he didn't return to cal for his 19th year of eligibility? Oh…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… on a personal note, I have escaped the Worldwide Leader! I left ESPN in January and moved to Pittsburgh (just in time for the snowiest February in that city's history), and I am working for CBS Radio's new all-sports station here. No, this town isn't covered in soot and smoke…the hills and the rivers make this place actually quite pretty! And outstanding German food is never far away. Now, if they can just get some taco trucks in this town…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… by the time you read this, I will probably be on a plane to Salt Lake City for Thursday's Pitt-Utah tilt. Do yourself a favor and check out dynamic Pitt RB Dion Lewis. I would tell you to also keep an eye on Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin (a bigger, stronger Larry Fitzgerald), but I'm not 100% sure the Panthers' new QB can get him the ball yet…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… at some point, Jerry Jones had the guts to show Tom Landry the door. At some point, Florida State finally had the guts to show Bobby Bowden the door. Legendary coaches don't always have to leave on their own terms. I'm talking to you, Penn State

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… hey, Roger Goodell, instead of cutting your preseason in half, how about telling your teams to cut their preseason ticket prices in half? I love the NFL, but it sickens me to no end that people are still being forced to pay full-price tickets for half-assed football…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Sorry, but I don't use Twitter. I do Facebook, but these Corners don't. So that means you're going to have to contact me the old-fashioned way...by e-mail! Always feel free to drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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PAC-9 PICKS

The Clardy's Corner tradition continues this season! I will pick all conference games both straight-up and against the spread (for entertainment purposes only, of course). And even though it's the Pac-9 this year, I'll still pick games involving U$C. I still won't pick games involving Stanford, though, so that means we'll fire these up in three weeks!

Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).
Last three years: 81-27 (straight-up), 63-43-2 (ATS).


Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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