Stanford mailbag: Oregon fallout

John in Stanford, Calif. writes: Why does this season feel so much different from last season, when we could theoretically end up with the same record and the same loss? It seems that last year Stanford was an unexpected winner but now people are screaming "overrated" and such despite the possible same record. Is it just because this year Stanford started out rated higher as opposed to rising to the ranks.

Kevin Gemmell: That's exactly the reason. Expectations are/were higher. The second Andrew Luck announces he's coming back, the spotlight grows. Then Jim Harbaugh leaves, the spotlight gets bigger. Then they are a preseason Top 10, and then the nation's longest winning streak, and then the Heisman talk and then... and then... and then...You get the idea. It all compounded and manifested Saturday night. The drop is always faster than the climb.

Eric in San Francisco writes: Well Kevin, that stunk. Can you try to shed some light for me on why Stanford didn't seem to be running the ball more (even before going down in the second half). It felt to me like the Cardinal were consistently getting about 4 yards per carry, even when it was obvious they were going to run. Combined with the fact that even early in the game Luck looked off, why not just run power over and over. The Stanford O-Line seemed to get a great push against the Ducks, and I feel like the Card could have just pounded it all night (see the Washington game). Why didn't they? And how much did losing Delano Howell hurt?

Kevin Gemmell: I liked that the Cardinal were staying balanced -- and they did come out running in the second half. If you look at the plays to start the second half – following the 59-yard touchdown to Josh Huff, the Cardinal ran twice and then Luck was sacked on third-and-2. LaMichael James fumbled the ensuing punt and then Coby Fleener dropped a ball on first down, Stanford ran, then another incomplete to Fleener and a missed field goal. Then Oregon went up 36-16 at the 7:36 mark of the third and they had no choice but to start throwing. As for Howell, big loss. It's one thing to know you're not going to have Chris Owusu and Zach Ertz, because you can game plan around it. But they were counting on Howell for the full 60. Too hard to adjust on the fly for a loss like that. You just have to put in the next guy knowing he can't do what Howell does.

JJ in Albuquerque writes: Of the 90-plus people on Oregon's roster, I'd dare guess maybe five guys, 10 if they were lucky, could get by the Stanford admissions dept. Everyone is now looking to ask Stanford for why'd they lose? Or how can they get to the next level? The almost greater question is how have they gotten this far with the ever present recruiting restrictions they have? They've done a superb job of recruiting what they could get -- mainly size and smarts. They've gotten strong and tough enough (ie. improved strength program) to mow down many teams. Getting Oregon type speed though is all about recruiting ("You can't teach speed"). That's the next level! It remains to be seen if Stanford can get enough of these types of players past the admissions guys.

Kevin Gemmell: JJ, your point is well-taken and I completely agree that they have done a great job recruiting. But it appeared that this year Stanford had the pieces in place because of that prior recruiting. You have four potential first-round picks on the roster and you have arguably the two best players in the country at (what I consider) the two most important offensive positions -- quarterback and left tackle. It didn’t happen this year -- so it's not out of the question to wonder if it ever can.

Willie in Silver Spring, Md. writes: Kevin, tough night for the Cardinal and Oregon surprised with speed and defensive pressure. Otherwise entertaining game and with Boise going down at home, sure does set the table for rematch. Either LSU vs. Alabama or LSU v Oregon in championship game. If Oklahoma State wins out they would face LSU...that is unless LSU loses to Georgia in SEC champ game...So much football left eh?

Kevin Gemmell: Indeed, Willie. Though I don't think Oregon surprised. I think Stanford knew exactly what clubs Oregon had in its bag. They were just better. But there's a lot of football left for Stanford. The Fiesta Bowl still seems like a strong possibility if Stanford wins out, and back-to-back appearances in a BCS bowl game is nothing shake your hand at. Tough loss for Boise, though like Oregon for Stanford, it was one we circled. TCU always plays them tough going back to their bowl games in back-to-back years a couple seasons ago. I think we’re looking at Oklahoma State and LSU -- though I’d like to see Oregon get another shot at the Tigers. They were as complete a football team Saturday night as I’ve seen all season.