Stanford mailbag

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
4:00
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TJ in San Francisco writes: USC and Notre Dame are playing this week - who should Stanford fans be rooting for? We share more mutual opponents with USC so that would be the obvious choice since it would help us in the computer rankings more, but we play Notre Dame in our last regular-season game so it'd be a great chance to impress the voters if they're ranked. Also, does USC being ineligible for the BCS have any effect?

Kevin Gemmell: TJ, let me answer your last question first. Technically, no. But USC isn't eligible for the two BCS polls, Harris and Coaches. As Ted Miller over at the Pac-12 blog puts it, that could have an "out of sight, out of mind effect." However, USC counts in the computers, so if the Trojans are ranked at the end of the season with a loss to Stanford, pollsters will still give Stanford credit for a quality win.

So who do you root for? I'd actually say Notre Dame. Looking at the rest of the Fighting Irish schedule, it would seem that they have the easier road, and therefore are more likely to be ranked at the end of the year. USC still has to go through three ranked teams: Stanford, Washington (ranked pending the outcome of Saturday's game) and Oregon. If USC wins those games, it will lessen the impact of Stanford's wins -- assuming Stanford beats Washington and Oregon. If Oregon loses to Stanford, let's assume the Ducks will be 8-2 heading into their game against USC. A 10-2 Oregon team ranked 14th or 15th carries more weight than an unranked USC team that could potentially have three losses by that point. Cannibalization at its finest. You want a ranked 9-2 Notre Dame team coming into Palo Alto post-Thanksgiving.

Kind of makes your brain hurt, doesn't it?

Mark in Stanford, Calif., writes: Stanford needs a lot more credit than it's getting. Since when does a team that ended No. 4 in the country last year fall to No. 8 when it is undefeated and has the best player in the country and its defense is significantly better than last year? Since when does a team win every game by at least 25 points and have a 14-game win streak and be 8th in the country. We are being hated on big time!

Kevin Gemmell: A college football fan who feels his team is being disrespected? That's not the college football culture I know.

But in all seriousness, I see your point, Mark. However, I can't agree with it completely. The level of competition hasn't exactly been daunting. Stanford has taken care of business and thoroughly beaten the teams it is supposed to beat thoroughly. Win Saturday and you'll start to turn some heads. Win next week at USC and you'll start to sway some voters. Win on Nov. 12 against Oregon and you've got a legitimate gripe if the Cardinal are still in the lower half of the top 10. For now, enjoy the ride.

D. D. in Seattle writes: 1) What will it take to get the receivers going? Besides (Griff) Whalen, the receivers have been a non-factor. 2) Luck has not had much success with the long ball (+25 yds in the air). (Jamal-Rashad) Patterson was wide open against Washington State and his ball was short even though he has tremendous arm strength? 3) Cardinal secondary seems to give up quite a few completion on short routes. Is there a reason why they don't play a more pressing and physical man coverage? If they don't disrupt the timing of Washington's receivers or force Keith Price to find a second or third receiver, he will have a field day.

Kevin Gemmell: First, on the receivers. It would be nice to get them going, but with so many other options, Stanford is proving it can survive without them. I just wrote about this yesterday and the tight end stats are pretty staggering. Check it out here. Stanford has such a mismatch with the three tight ends, or "Tree Amigos" as they've dubbed themselves, they should just keep hammering away until someone stops them. And I don't see that happening anytime soon. If the wide receivers have to be role players, so be it.

Second: Luck's arm is fine. He made a bad throw. It happens. That's the first time in six games I've seen him under-throw a receiver on a deep route. If anything, sometimes he has a little too much pop on the ball. And there are at least five instances I can think of off the top of my head where a deep ball was on target and the receiver failed to make a play. He's got seven completions of 35 yards or more this season, including touchdown passes of 51 and 60 yards. If you're worried about Luck's arm strength, then you have run out of things to worry about.

Finally, on the cornerbacks. From the folks I've talked to about this, it's not the end of the world if they give up a few of the shorter routes -- so long as they make the tackle. I can only think of one instance this year when a defensive back got beat over the top. The defense has only allowed four receiving touchdowns, and only one to a wide receiver. Two were from a tight end and the fourth from a running back, neither of which fall under the cornerback's jurisdiction. The name of the game is keeping the other guy out of the end zone and the cornerbacks have done a great job at that this season.

But you are right, they have to disrupt Price. That's more on the pass rush than it is the cornerbacks. Price has shown to be very good this year at checking down to secondary options. So it's not so much an issue of forcing him to check down as it is forcing him to the ground in a pile of white helmets.

Great questions this week. Thanks for participating. Enjoy the game.

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