Stanford Football: Cal Bears

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
"Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?"

The Pac-12 has been blown to smithereens. Forget everything you thought you knew. See you guys next week. We’re starting from scratch.

Words cannot do justice to the insanity that was Week 6 in the Pac-12. Arizona waltzed into Autzen Stadium and won, but that was just the appetizer. Another Hail Mary finish, a new FBS passing record, and multiple instances of end-game missed field goal drama later, Cal is now alone leading the Pac-12 North while Arizona is at the top of the Pac-12 South. So, in the midst of insanity, it's time to give out helmet stickers.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: The youngster racked up 92 rushing yards on only 13 carries (7.1 per touch). He also caught a critical 34-yard touchdown pass from Anu Solomon that proved to be the difference in Arizona's 31-24 win. During that emblematic play, Wilson turned Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu into "a fly on a windshield" -- if I'm allowed to steal the TV broadcast's perfect description. It's rare to see a true freshman lay the wood like that.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: Wright has posted more impressive games statistically, but his performance at Autzen Stadium enters Wildcat lore because of one last, iconic play. With Arizona nursing a one-score lead, Wright hunted down Marcus Mariota and ripped the ball away with one powerful swoop, sealing a massive win and evoking memories of Desert Swarm in the process.

Terron Ward and Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: The Beavers have been laboring to establish a consistent run game that complements quarterback Sean Mannion's efforts, and they got a solid ground effort from their tandem in Boulder on Saturday. Ward rolled up 102 yards (8.5 per carry), while Woods added 69 of his (5.3 per carry) to fuel a 36-31 win over Colorado.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: He caught a game-winning 46-yard Hail Mary from Mike Bercovici to silence the Coliseum as time expired. Is there anything else that can be said about Strong's sublime 10-catch, 202-yard performance? This guy is an NFL talent, and his efforts led the Sun Devils to a 38-34 stunner against USC.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: We'd already mentioned that Halliday was on pace to break the NCAA single-season passing record. Well, now he's on track to absolutely shatter it. Halliday's 49-for-70, 734-yard, six-touchdown performance set a new FBS record for passing yards in a single game. Houston's David Klinger held the previous mark (716 yards in 1990). The most astounding piece of this story: Halliday put on that aerial display without throwing a single interception, yet his team still somehow lost. Cal edged the Cougars 60-59.

Jared Goff QB, Cal: The sophomore's 527 passing yards combined with Halliday's 734 to make 1,261 total, also an FBS record. Goff's combination of pinpoint floaters and laser beams was spectacular and it was also efficient -- he averaged nearly 10 yards per attempt against a Cougars' defense that was actually coming off a solid performance at Utah the week prior. Most importantly, Cal escaped with a win. Memorial Stadium will be rocking next Saturday to welcome home Goff and his 4-1 first-place Bears. Yes, you read that correctly.

Utah defense: The Utes completely exposed UCLA's offensive line en route to a massive bounce-back 30-28 victory at the Rose Bowl. Whenever a defense combines for 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss against a team with a mobile quarterback like Brett Hundley, the entire unit deserves helmet stickers. So we're mailing a whole bunch of them to Salt Lake City, where the Utes are again sitting pretty in the midst of total chaos at 4-1. Remember, this is a team that had won only two road games over the past two seasons entering 2014. This defense has been an integral part of this season's 2-0 road start.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: Though the Utes' defense terrorized Hundley all night, Kyle Whittingham needed a bell cow to crank out yardage and move the chains in critical situations. That would ensure that kicking stud Andy Phillips was set at crunch time. Booker assumed that role, rumbling for 162 yards on 33 workmanlike carries.

Monday reset: A look around the Pac-12

September, 29, 2014
"This was supposed to be a boring college football weekend," our own Ted Miller tweeted. "But of course, 'Boring College Football Weekend' is the unicorn of sports."

Those simply don’t exist, especially in the modern inception of the Pac-12, where substantial conference depth has translated into frequent drama. USC manhandled Oregon State to finish this past Saturday’s action, but before that, only eight total points separated the three earlier games at the end of regulation.

Though there wasn't much hype entering Week 5, it ultimately blossomed into a fantastic Saturday of down-to-the-wire finishes. That means the sky’s the limit for Week 6, which features a truly robust six-game slate. Let's set the table.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Stanford at Notre Dame

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCoach David Shaw and Stanford face a crucial test against Notre Dame.
Bad news: Stanford’s Week 2 home loss to USC immediately erased much, if not all, of the Cardinal’s margin for error in the quest for a College Football Playoff berth. Good news: Saturday’s 20-13 road suffocation of Washington made it readily apparent that David Shaw’s program can still make up lost ground. The cold-blooded Cardinal defense that has made a name for itself stifling explosive Pac-12 offenses hasn't gone anywhere, and now it's returning to South Bend looking to purge controversial 2012 memories of Stepfan Taylor struggling at the goal line in overtime.

Stanford is in the midst of what is widely considered to be the toughest two-game stretch of its schedule. A win Saturday means a road sweep of the only two trips that derailed the Cardinal when they faced a similar slate in 2012, so there is obviously a lot of stake entering this classic showdown (heck, in 2012, this game ultimately determined a spot in the national title game). One juicy battle is already set, and it pits Stanford's top-ranked pass defense (which has allowed only a single 100-yard passer in four games) against vastly improved Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (25 straight completions against Syracuse). The Cardinal defense is giving up only 4.7 points per game.

Team with the most to prove: Utah (at UCLA)

Coming off a muscle-flexing win in the Big House, Utah was enjoying life on cruise control against Washington State. The Utes jumped out to a 21-0 lead in front of their raucous home crowd, and the stars seemed to be aligning for a Week 6 Pac-12 South showdown between the undefeated Block U and fellow unbeaten No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Not so fast, shouted Mike Leach's crew.

Wazzu roared back late, overcoming a fourth-and-14 paired and a 27-14 deficit in the final quarter to win 28-27. And, just like that, Utah had returned from its big early season splash to the dreaded land of questions.

Was the Utes' early season offense really that good, or was it just picking on very shoddy Idaho State and Fresno State defenses? After winning just two road games in two seasons prior, did Utah's victory at The Big House actually signify a turnaround, or was Michigan just a corpse of a football team?

Utah will enter the Rose Bowl with a chance to push aside the Wazzu loss and prove its impressive start was no fluke. The Bruins are bubbling with confidence after hanging 62 points on Arizona State, so this is a true litmus test for the Utes.

Most desperate team: Colorado (vs. Oregon State)

There is no pleasant way to lose in double overtime, but the Buffs took an especially gut-wrenching route in Strawberry Canyon. First, they blew an early 21-7 lead. Then, they wasted a sensational late Bryce Bobo touchdown catch that forced extra time in the first place. And in a game dominated by a severe lack of effective defense -- Cal and Colorado became the first teams in FBS history to both throw seven touchdown passes in one game -- the Buffs were, ironically enough, ultimately denied by the Bears’ defense in a second overtime goal-line stand.

Colorado is now 2-3, but most sobering is the fact that this 59-56 loss dropped them to 4-25 in Pac-12 play since entering the conference in 2011. Oregon State visits Boulder next weekend after mustering only 181 yards of total offense in a disheartening 35-10 loss at USC.

A glance at the Colorado schedule calls for intense urgency now: At least on paper, this coming contest against the Beavers looks like the Buffs' best chance to rack up another win this season. The Los Angeles schools loom after the bye, and there is also a trip to Autzen Stadium waiting in late November.

Diamond in the rough game: California at Washington State

Consider the dazzling offensive display that Cal and Colorado flashed this past Saturday: the aforementioned 14 touchdown passes (tying an FBS record) and the 913 passing yards. Then consider the mind-boggling numbers that Washington State quarterback Conor Halliday is on pace to post this season: After Saturday's 417-yard performance, he has a nation-best 2,318 yards and 20 touchdown passes in just five games. Assuming Washington State makes a bowl game, Halliday is on pace to become the first college quarterback to surpass 6,000 passing yards in a single season.

So if anyone is familiar with the results of mixing gasoline and fire, this game might be the football equivalent. It features two high-scoring offenses coming off confidence-building wins, a pair of shaky defenses, and two coaches hungry to capitalize on an opportunity to make a valuable dent in the Pac-12 standings. Though Leach has a chance to return to .500, Cal's Sonny Dykes can move to 4-1 as his team nears the meat of its schedule.

The true hidden intrigue here might come from Wazzu's defense, which tightened the screws down the stretch at Utah. How will the Cougars fare against explosive Cal youngster Jared Goff?

The week’s top chance at vengeance: Oregon (vs. Arizona)

The spotlight almost always focuses on Oregon’s loss to Stanford last season, but it’s important to remember that it was the Ducks’ later stumble at Arizona Stadium that ultimately derailed the team’s BCS train and rerouted it to the Alamo Bowl. After the Cardinal’s 2013 loss to USC, Oregon had a golden opportunity to again smell Roses, but the Wildcats quashed those by administering a humiliating 42-16 beatdown in the desert.

The Ducks say that catastrophe has helped them develop valuable perspective when it comes to preparation, and Thursday night's rematch offers a chance for Oregon to put November 23, 2013 in the past.

Remember that this is a showdown between undefeated teams. Arizona is still buzzing after Austin Hill snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with his Hail Mary catch against Cal. The Wildcats have proven they can score in bunches season, but keeping pace with the Ducks in that regard presents an entirely unique challenge.

This week's top chance at redemption: ASU (at USC)

One can be sure that Arizona State players and coaches will wince more than a few times this week. They will be watching film from their brutal 62-27 home loss to UCLA, a game highlighted by the Sun Devils' atrocious tackling against Brett Hundley and the Bruins' potent offense.

A trip to the Coliseum always offers a shot at redemption, but No. 16 USC is coming into this game bristling with confidence after smacking Oregon State, 35-10. The Trojans performed exponentially better defensively against the Beavers than they did in their previous game at Boston College, but ASU -- fresh off a 622-yard performance against UCLA -- will provide a new challenge for USC, even if quarterback Taylor Kelly (questionable) is not yet ready to return from injury.

Saturday offers two potential outcomes for these teams: ASU will either re-emerge in the Pac-12 South race following that ugly loss to the Bruins, or USC will further entrench itself alongside its crosstown rival as one of the firm leaders of that division.
When the San Francisco 49ers hold their local pro day next Friday, 14 former Stanford football players will be in attendance, according to a source.

From the 2013 Stanford team, the list includes S Devon Carrington, OG Kevin Danser, OT Cameron Fleming, RB Tyler Gaffney, DE Ben Gardner, FB Ryan Hewitt, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds, ILB Shayne Skov, RB Anthony Wilkerson, OL Khalil Wilkes and OG David Yankey.

The entire group was recruited to Stanford when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was the head coach. Fleming and Yankey are the only players not to play in a game for Harbaugh -- they both redshirted in 2010, the coach's final season.

Defensive end Josh Mauro is expected to be there late because he will be returning from a trip to New York, where he will meet with the Giants, according to an NFL source. He will not work out with the 49ers, but met and had lunch with Harbaugh at the NFL combine.

Wide receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson and cornerback Terrence Brown, both of whom did not land on NFL rosters as rookies last season, will also work out. Brown graduated, but left with a year of eligibility remaining and was among the Cincinnati Bengals' first round of cuts during training camp. Patterson was not in a training camp last year.

It is unclear how many will work out. In the past, some of the high-profile draft prospects from Stanford have attended this event in street clothes.

Criteria for the local pro day stipulates the players must have either played at a local college or have a hometown connection to the area. Several players are also expected from San Jose State and California.

Former USC defensive end Morgan Breslin (Walnut Creek Las Lomas), Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick (Danville San Ramon Valley) and San Jose State quarterback David Fales will be among those in attendance, according to sources.

An official list with the complete list of attendees has not been made public. There is usually about 50 players on hand for the event, few of whom have a legitimate chance at being drafted. The event is tailored more for for players looking to earn a camp invitation.

Former Stanford safety Michael Thomas is an example of a player who attended the 49ers local pro day, didn't get drafted, signed as a free agent and then made the team's practice squad. He was eventually added to the Dolphins' 53-man roster after spending nearly two full seasons with the 49ers.

Stanford quarterbacks coach and former player Tavita Pritchard participated at the 49ers' local pro day in 2012. Pritchard, then a defensive assistant at Stanford, had not played football since 2009, but was brought out primarily to throw passes.

Spring position breakdowns: TE

February, 28, 2014
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: Terrence Miller was listed on the team's depth chart as a tight end, but he wasn't a traditional tight end. After catching 40 passes for 467 yards in 2013, he's out of eligibility. Former quarterback Josh Kern backed up Miller and is one of four tight ends listed on the roster.

Arizona State: Chris Coyle (29 catches, 423 yards, 4 TD) is a big loss for the Sun Devils and his primary backup, Darwin Rogers, also is out of eligibility. De'Marieya Nelson and Marcus Washington are the most experienced of the four tight ends on the roster, which will grow by one with the addition of recent signee Brendan Landman. Landman is expected to redshirt after playing left tackle during his senior year in high school.

California: There is no tight end position in Cal's offense, which was a factor in Richard Rodgers' early jump to the NFL. Rodgers was switched from tight end to wide receiver last season upon coach Sonny Dykes' arrival.

Colorado: Senior Kyle Slavin is atop the depth chart after catching nine passes in 2013. Sean Irwin played minimally as a freshman, but his role is set to increase. Three other tight ends are on the roster, including Connor Center, who did not play football in high school.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesOregon's Pharoah Brown made 10 catches, two for touchdowns, in 2013.
Oregon: The Ducks have a trio of players who gained significant experience in 2013 in Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis. Brown started five games, Mundt had a 121-yard receiving game and Baylis started in the Civil War game against Oregon State. Koa Ka'ai and Davaysia Hagger will provide depth, but they don't appear on track to make much of an impact on the depth chart.

Oregon State: With Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith both returning, the Beavers arguably have the best tight end tandem in the conference. Hamlett had 40 catches for 364 yards and Smith added 25 for 343 yards. Kellen Clute (19 catches, 159 yards) also contributed to the passing game and Tyler Perry, who will be a fifth-year senior, is an important run-blocker.

Stanford: A one-time strength of the Cardinal, tight ends weren't a significant factor in Stanford's offense in 2013, but the staff is hopeful that an influx of new players will change that. Stanford signed No. 1-ranked TE-Y Dalton Schultz, and he'll compete for playing time immediately. Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper -- all well-regarded tight end recruits -- are coming off redshirts and will compete with Charlie Hopkins, who started three games last season.

UCLA: There is no traditional tight end at UCLA, but Y receiver Thomas Duarte, who was recruited as a tight end, is coming off an exceptional freshman season. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Orange County native appeared in all 13 games and tied a school freshman record with three touchdown receptions.

USC: Losing Xavier Grimble early to the NFL is a blow and just two other scholarship tight ends remain from last season: Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. One of the nation's top tight ends, Bryce Dixon, signed with USC, but he wasn't among the group of four early enrollees.

Utah: The Utes were the only school in the country to send two tight ends -- Jake Murphy and Anthony Denham -- to the NFL combine, though Utah listed Denham at receiver. Siale Fakailoatonga, a former walk-on, was Murphy's primary backup on the final depth chart, and he caught two passes for 18 yards in 2013. Harrison Handley redshirted last season after enrolling early last spring and is a candidate to compete for playing time.

Washington: John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins' departure for the NFL was expected, and how the Huskies replace him will be an interesting process. Clearly, there's not a one-man solution for what they'll lose with Seferian-Jenkins, but the combination that the returning players provide is a nice mix of different talents. Michael Hartvigson and Josh Perkins have the most experience at tight end, but they should receive a push from Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu. Daniels, a highly-regarded receiver recruit who switched to tight end, was a special-teams standout in 2013 as a freshman, while Ajamu redshirted.

Washington State: Washington State didn't list any tight ends on the roster last season, but early enrollee Nick Begg will start his career listed there. The long-term plan for Begg is likely elsewhere.

Previous positions
Running back
Offensive line

Impact game: Pac-12 North

July, 5, 2012
Across the blog network and in conjunction with Blue Ribbon's previews today, we're taking a look at the impact game in each conference. We looked at the South Division earlier this morning, and now we turn our attention to the North.

Impact game: Stanford at Washington, Sept. 27

Significance: This was a much tougher call than the South's impact game of USC at Utah. Oregon is clearly the team to beat in the North, so all of the Ducks' games -- be it Cal, Stanford, Washington and even the unpredictability of Washington State -- are impactful. But only if Oregon loses. On paper and on film, Oregon is superior to all of the above.

So we then look at the mishmash of second-tier teams behind the Ducks -- Washington, Stanford and Cal. Any matchup involving these three would be worthy of this post. But we're going with Stanford at Washington because I think we're going to learn a lot about both of these teams -- and possibly start to see some shape to the division -- by the time this game is done.

For the Cardinal, who start the season with three straight at home, this will be their first road game with a new quarterback. And I don't care if you're going 20 minutes south to San Jose State or a couple of states north to Washington, starting on the road -- especially the first time -- is a lot harder than starting at home.

Both teams will have already faced elite competition by this point in the season -- the Huskies with their Sept. 8 jaunt to Baton Rouge and the Cardinal against USC on Sept. 15. For the Huskies, this kicks off the first of three straight games against the top three teams in our power rankings. They travel to Oregon the next week before hosting USC a week later. A victory for Washington will not only be a major confidence boost heading into the Oregon game, but it also gives us a good idea of who might be able to challenge the Ducks.

The same can be said for Stanford. A road win against a quality opponent can do wonders for the new QB's self-esteem. And for the Cardinal to be successful this year, the new guy is going to have to learn to win away from Palo Alto. Some of Stanford's toughest games are away from The Farm this year -- at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Oregon.

Last year's 65-21 thrashing by Stanford is still, no doubt, fresh in the minds of both teams. After giving up 446 yards on the ground to the Cardinal (among other defensive embarrassments), the Huskies have retooled the defense. This should be a pretty good measuring stick for both teams and will likely clear the North's as-of-now murky landscape.
With the combine completed, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have updated their respective rankings and boards. Kiper also offers his winners from the combine and those leaving us with questions.

Some of the Pac-12 winners include LaMichael James (Oregon, RB), Coby Fleener (Stanford, TE) and Matt Kalil (USC, OT).
If Fleener runs in the 4.5 range at his pro day, he could be in the first round. The Giants make sense. He is now an option as the first tight end off the board.

Question mark players include Vontaze Burfict (ASU, LB), Cliff Harris (Oregon, DB) and Marc Tyler (USC, RB).
(On Burfict) He already carries attitude questions, and Burfict needed to turn heads with workouts. Heads were turned, but for the wrong reason. He looked sluggish, to put it mildly. Once a first-round guy, he could be in the middle rounds if he doesn't recover.


Kiper also updated his top five players by position. The conference is well represented with Andrew Luck (Stanford, QB), James, Rhett Ellison (USC, FB), Fleener, Kalil, Jonathan Martin (Stanford, OT), David DeCastro (Stanford, OG), Burfict and Bryan Anger (Cal, P) and appearing in the top three of their respective position groups.

Finally, the rankings. No shock that Kiper and McShay both have Luck as the No. 1 overall pick. Here's McShay's take:
Luck's combine workout showed he is more athletic than most thought, and combined with his once-in-a-generation skill set he appears to be a lock as the No. 1 overall pick to the Colts.

Other conference players appearing in McShay's top 32 are Kalil, DeCastro, Martin and Brock Osweiler (ASU, QB).

While McShay ranks Robert Griffin III second, Kiper has Kalil in the No. 2 spot.
Kalil confirmed that he is a good athlete for his position. The tape is great, and it's hard to see him falling outside the top five. The plus for him is he might not need time to develop at right tackle, a common break-in spot for many left tackles.

Breaking down next year's games

January, 6, 2012
Well, apparently I rattled up quite the hornet's nest a couple of days ago in the mailbag by taking the under in a reader question wanting to know my opinion on the over/under for 8.5 for wins for Stanford next season.

Most seemed to think I was being too harsh and that nine or 10 wins were more likely than the seven or eight wins I'm forecasting. (This total doesn't include a bowl game, mind you).

OK, I'm not afraid to show my work on a way-too-early analysis of each game. Naturally, this is based off the personnel we know is available, the assumption there are no catastrophic injuries and little more than gut feelings.
  • Sept. 1 vs. San Jose State: Cardinal will be multi-touchdown favorites and will cruise behind a monster running attack. Good game for the new signal caller to get his feet wet. Win (1-0).
  • Sept. 8. vs. Duke: Offense won't be as vanilla as the week before as they start adding new elements for the first-year starting quarterback. There will be a couple of mistakes, but Geoff Meinken will stiff-arm the Cardinal to a comfortable victory. Win (2-0).
  • Sept. 15 vs. USC: I don't see this as a blowout that some seem to think it will be. The Cardinal will control the clock with the rushing attack and David Shaw has always been a very good play-caller against USC. But the Matt Barkley-led Trojans finally get a win over Stanford. Loss (2-1).
  • Sept. 22 Bye: Good time to recover from first loss of the year and prep for first road trip of the season.
  • Sept 27 at Washington: What? You mean we have to play outside of California? Tough place to play and Keith Price is only getting better. Maybe the Huskies will have some defense to speak of? No Chris Polk hurts, but the Cardinal still won't be able to keep up. The one thing that might sway this is Stanford coming out of the bye week. But I wouldn't expect 446 rushing yards this time around. Loss (2-2).
  • Oct. 6 vs. Arizona: Students are finally back on campus and realize there is a football game. Not sure what to make of the Rich Rodriguez Wildcats yet, but Stanford should be the better team and getting Arizona earlier in the season is always helpful when a new coaching staff is involved. Win (3-2).
  • Oct. 13 at Notre Dame: I'm expecting the Irish to have their third quarterback controversy of the season by this point. Stepfan Taylor has a huge game on the road and continues to be the most underrated running back in the conference. Cardinal pull this one out. Win (4-2).
  • Oct. 20 at Cal: A Big Game before Halloween? Spooky. New quarterbacks are always good for at least one road loss in games they are favored to win. Given the magnitude of this game, this might be that one. Loss (4-3).
  • Oct. 27 vs. Washington State: Cougars throw for 400 yards, but Cardinal score more points. Win (5-3).
  • Nov. 3 at Colorado: Buffs still not ready to make a move. Cardinal cruise. Win (6-3).
  • Nov. 10 vs. Oregon State: With bowl eligibility locked up, the Cardinal are looking to improve their postseason status. Whoever is playing quarterback has the offense figured out and Taylor will surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight year. Should be a great way to honor him on senior night. But this could also be a trap game. OSU played a lot of youth last season that has to grow up sometime. Win (7-3).
  • Nov. 17 at Oregon: Yeah ... not going to happen. Loss (7-4).
  • Nov. 24 at UCLA: I think this could be a swing game for both teams. But my best guess is UCLA is still a year away from making real noise. Win (8-4).

Stanford lunchtime links

January, 5, 2012
Lots of chatter today about Stanford's schedule.

Stanford 2012 schedule set

January, 4, 2012
Here's a look at Stanford's schedule in 2012 (all games on a Saturday unless otherwise noted). Let the win-loss debate begin.
  • Sept. 1 San Jose State at Stanford
  • Sept. 8 Duke at Stanford
  • Sept. 15 USC at Stanford
  • Sept. 22 Bye
  • (Thursday) Sept. 27 Stanford at Washington
  • Oct. 6 Arizona at Stanford
  • Oct. 13 Stanford at Notre Dame
  • Oct. 20 Stanford at Cal
  • Oct. 27 Washington State at Stanford
  • Nov. 3 Stanford at Colorado
  • Nov. 10 Oregon State at Stanford
  • Nov. 17 Stanford at Oregon
  • Nov. 24 Stanford at UCLA
  • Nov. 30: Pac-12 Football Championship Game (just for those of you with extra high hopes).

First thoughts:
  • Nice to open up with three straight at home, but a big challenge early against USC. The bye week right afterward helps getting whoever is at quarterback ready for his first trip as a starter to Washington.
  • Traveling to Notre Dame is always tough -- no matter who is playing quarterback. Takes away the sting of back-to-back road games when you don't have to leave the region to play Cal.
  • About the Big Game being played so early, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said this through a release from the school: “The October 20 date for Big Game is 2012 is certainly not our first choice but the conference is governed by the will of the majority and we have a duty to respect the outcome of the vote. We will work with California and the Pac-12 office to advocate for the Big Game and all rivalry games to be scheduled toward the end of the season in future years.”
  • By my count, Stanford should have bowl eligibility by, at the very least, the end of the Colorado game -- though the Notre Dame-Cal stretch will be critical. Winning both would be outstanding, splitting would be passable, but dropping both could be a momentum killer because the Cardinal have three very winnable games (home to WSU, at Colorado, home to OSU) heading into Oregon.
  • Would rather face UCLA with new coach Jim Mora early in the season while things are still getting sorted out. By the final week, the Bruins will know what they are doing (for better or worse). Plus, depending on how things play out, it's not out of the realm of possibility that UCLA might need that final game to clinch bowl eligibility.
  • The extra time to study in between Washington and Arizona will be helpful for prepping against the new-look, Rich Rodriguez-led Wildcats.
  • Having five of the final seven games on the road is going to be rough. But better to have it that way than five of the first seven on the road with a new quarterback.

As previously mentioned in the mailbag, I see eight wins -- though I wouldn't be shocked at seven. Anything over eight would be a bonus and anything under seven would be a disappointment. I think the schedule works out nicely for a team with a new quarterback and one that will certainly be under the spotlight once again next season, albeit for different reasons than this year.

Chairman talks Axes and O's

November, 20, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- The only things Brad Moylan and his compatriots were missing were earpieces, dark sunglasses and wrist microphones.

Moylan and his team are tasked with protecting one of Stanford’s great treasures -- the Stanford Axe. To the winner of the Big Game goes the Axe. And Saturday night, with the Cardinal topping Cal 31-28, it was assured that the Axe would remain in the care of the Stanford Axe Committee for another year. Or at least, it’ll take every possible precaution to make sure it stays in Palo Alto.

When the Axe is outside of its nuclear-silo-esque-defense-system-encasement/vault in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on the Stanford campus, it is chained to two members of Stanford’s Axe Committee at all times. Moylan is the chairman of the committee, and for the second year in a row, he was chained to the Axe during the Big Game.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said the 20-year-old Stanford junior, who is majoring in Management, Science and Engineering. “I was also chained to it last year when we won it at Berkeley. That was a remarkable experience. Once the game is over and you run back to the team, you feel like a pinball being thrown around because everyone wants to grab it.”

The history of the Axe is sorted. Google to your heart’s content and you’ll find some pretty crazy stories of its passing -- some legitimate, some not -- between the two Bay Area schools over the years. Chalk some up to legend, others to fact.
From the Handbook of Stanford University:

In the time since the initial theft and recovery, the Axe has been stolen by Cal twice and reappropriated by Stanford three times. In 1946, Cal students stole and then returned the Axe after the Chancellor announced that no Cal students were involved and that those who were would be subject to expulsion (obviously, experimentation with illicit drugs in Berkeley started much earlier than commonly thought). Two years later, Stanford borrowed its Axe from the case in Berkeley and relocated it to more pleasant surroundings (it turned up on the golf course). In 1953, Stanford went up 3-2 when the Axe disappeared from its display case at Cal again (always well-mannered, the Cardinal visitors left a five dollar bill to pay for the broken glass). After a dry spell, Cal evened up the score in 1967 by heisting the blade from its Stanford case. Mysteriously, the thieves left no visible signs of entry on the case. The miscreants subsequently photographed the Axe atop the Tribune Building in Oakland.

Stanford has gone through several stages of protection throughout the history of the Axe. From the Axe Guard to the Axe Commission -- there was even a time when the band was in charge of it, according to Moylan.

But in 1982, the Stanford Axe Committee was formed (and we all know what happened that year).

The Axe will return to its vault for display. But whenever it’s out, Moylan and his crew will chain themselves to the mounted plaque and stand at the ready.

“To be chained to it and knowing what it means to the university and the players," Moylan said, "it’s really something else.”

What we learned about Stanford

November, 20, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- Five things that we learned about the Cardinal in their 31-28 win over Cal in the 114th Big Game.
  1. Ryan Hewitt is a monster: Well, we already knew this one, but the fullback/tight end/wideout/everything-hybrid was all over the field Saturday night for Stanford. He caught seven passes for 64 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass. He carried twice for 7 yards, both coming on third-and-1 scenarios on the same drive in the fourth quarter. He converted one for 3 yards and another for 4.
  2. A win is a win: And this team needed one. It doesn’t matter how. Rarely are football games beauty contests. And this one was far from a looker. But coming off of the Oregon debacle, it was the kind of game the Cardinal needed. They trailed early, but didn’t panic. They were pressured late and didn’t crack. It was a nice reminder for the team that even when Stanford falls behind, it can still catch up -- a lesson it seemed to forget against the Ducks.
  3. All hope is not gone: What a weird 24 hours in college football. A lot of crazy things have to happen -- like, say, four of the eight teams ranked ahead of the Cardinal all lose in one weekend. Oh wait, that happened. We’ll see what the BCS picture looks like later today when the new BCS standings are released. Remember, Stanford still has a major disadvantage in the computer rankings, so don’t get your hopes up too much. But it should be interesting to see how human voters make their peace with the USC-Oregon-Stanford triangle.
  4. Andrew Luck rebounds nicely: Either he was amped up for this game or he miscalculated his receivers’ speed because of the rain. Early on he was over-throwing everything. But he settled down and turned in a nice performance. Not over-the-top great. Not horrific. The pick wasn’t his fault (which you can say about five of them this season) and there was one dropped touchdown. Not on him. It was a good, steady performance while some other Heisman hopefuls wilted. No one seems to be able to run away with it. But if Luck can have another steady performance next week, the Trophy will likely be his.
  5. The tight ends are back: There you guys are. We missed you last week. Speaking with Coby Fleener after the game, the big man expressed his personal frustration over the performance of the unit last week. Fleener caught four balls for 64 yards and Levine Toilolo had three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-8 Toilolo had a drop, but made up for it a couple of plays later, using his height advantage on a 4-yard touchdown jump ball. With the injured Zach Ertz questionable for next week, the duo got the job done. But they are so much better as a trio.

Big Game rivalry lives up to billing

November, 20, 2011

STANFORD, Calif. -- David Shaw was having flashbacks. In seconds, the Stanford head coach and former Cardinal wide receiver was re-running every funky play and freaky scenario and wacky finish that have been historic staples of the Big Game.

Here’s the scene on a rainy Saturday night at Stanford Stadium: Cal scores a touchdown with 14 seconds left to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28. Here comes the onside kick. Anything can happen, right? A Cal recovery and Hail Mary? The ball bounces off of seven Stanford players and Cal converts a 65-yard field goal? It’s the Big Game. Seems plausible. At least at the time.

“I got The Play going through my head. I got the 1990 crazy game with the onside kicks going through my head,” Shaw said. “We just supported our defense. Even if they went down and scored, we made them take so much time off the clock. We knew if we got the onside kick the game was over.”

And it was. The onside kick went right to tight end Coby Fleener, who caught the ball on the one hop, cradled and dropped. No crazy bounces. No students or trombones appeared on the field until the clock read 0:00. Game over. Stanford wins the 114th Big Game. The Axe stays in Palo Alto for at least another year.

“There is still with 14 seconds – you’re thinking about The Play – you never know what can happen – ‘The band is on the field,’” said defensive end Ben Gardner, recalling Joe Starkey’s famous call from the 1982 game. “Luckily, the band stayed in their seats and Coby was able to recover the onside kick. He saved us.”

Aside from the late-game Cal heroics, it was standard Stanford. A slow start on offense before the Cardinal picked it up in the second half and – seemingly— pulled away behind two touchdown passes from Andrew Luck.

Andrew Luck
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck shook off an unproductive first half to throw two second-half touchdown passes.
The Cardinal were coming off their first loss of the season – a 53-30 schooling by the Oregon Ducks – that dashed (maybe?) their national title hopes. Luck in particular didn’t have that great of a game. Like his teammates, he was anxious to get back on the field.

“The best medicine, I guess is football when you’ve lost a game,” said Luck, who finished 20-of-30 for 257 yards, an interception (which came when Ty Montgomery slipped and fell on his route) and two touchdowns. “It was good to get out and play a quality opponent in a rivalry game.”

And despite the rain and the cold, the rivalry game proved to be as advertised. The Cardinal struck first. Following a Cal fumble, Montgomery scored on a 34-yard end-around. But after a Giorgio Tavecchio field goal and Luck’s interception – his fifth in four games – Cal took a 10-7 lead.

“It was tough sledding,” Shaw said. “We didn’t make some plays early in the game that I thought we should have and they took advantage of it and came storming back … It wasn’t pretty. But doggone it we fought to the end and got the win.”

The Cardinal returned to their ground game in the second quarter, rushing for 85 yards, which included a 6-yard Tyler Gaffney touchdown run.

Then Luck took off in the third quarter, completing 8 of 10 passes for 135 yards and tossing touchdowns to Levine Toilolo and Ryan Hewitt.

But Cal quarterback Zach Maynard wouldn’t let the Axe go that easily. He orchestrated a touchdown drive early in the fourth and the final-minute dramatics that ended with the onside kick.

Safety Delano Howell called it a character victory for the Cardinal.

“We understood that how we responded to the loss last week was a challenge to our character,” said Howell, who finished with seven tackles and a fumble recovery. “Grown men, they respond in a positive way. They don’t reflect on the past or use that in a negative manner or in an adverse way. In order to prove who we were as a team, we had to come out and make a statement tonight.”

And there were, of course, the standard missed tackles in the open field. Wouldn’t be a Stanford game without them. But it’s a win – and that’s exactly what this team needed in the wake of last week’s crippling loss to the Ducks.

“I think we were looser as a team,” Gardner said. “The nature of last week’s game, the national implications. Now we’re playing like a team with nothing to lose, because we don’t. We’re a team fighting for a BCS bowl and we know that. But we knew we had to come out and play looser than we did last week because we made too many mistakes last week and that’s partly because we were tight. At the same time, it’s Cal. We knew they’d try to punch us in the mouth. We had to play our game. It wasn’t always pretty. But we got the win and the Axe is staying here.”

For Luck, it caps a conference career that ends with back-to-back wins over Stanford’s oldest rival.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It will mean more once the season is over when you get to reminisce. But I feel very grateful and blessed to have won two games in a row against them and retain the Axe for at least another year.”

Final: Stanford 31, Cal 28

November, 19, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. – The Cardinal overcame a sluggish first half to top Cal 31-28 in the 114th Big Game. And, per usual for this gathering, it came down to the final minute.

Cal made a game of it in the fourth quarter, cutting a 28-13 deficit to 28-21 with 10:53 remaining. Zach Maynard connected with Spencer Hagan for a 3-yard touchdown pass, then converted the 2-point conversion to Marvin Jones.

But the Cardinal went on a 14-play drive, eating up 57 yards and 7 minutes, 40 seconds that ended in a 35-yard Jordan Williamson field goal – making it a two-possession game with three minutes remaining.

The Bears drove to the Stanford 1-yard line with 18 seconds left and C.J. Anderson scored to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28. But the Bears were unable to recover the onside kick. It went right to Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener, who made the catch in the air and then fell to the ground to secure the win.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shook off a bumpy first half to finish 20-of-30 for 257 yards and two second-half touchdowns. He also threw an interception for the fourth consecutive game – though it came when his receiver slipped on the wet grass.

Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery each had rushing touchdowns and fullback Ryan Hewitt and tight end Levine Toilolo had touchdown receptions.

Maynard finished 20-of-29 with 279 yards and two touchdowns.

Cal running back Isi Sofele rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries.

3Q: Stanford 28, Cal 13

November, 19, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- After an unsteady first half, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is finding his stride in the third quarter.

After overthrowing his receivers several times in the first half, finishing just 8-of-15 for 81 yards with no touchdowns and interception, Luck has blown up, going 8-of-10 for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter.

The first was a 4-yard jump ball to 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo, who redeemed himself after dropping a ball when he was wide open just a couple of plays earlier.

The second was a 9-yard touchdown pass to fullback Ryan Hewitt.

The Stanford defense has also picked up its game, holding the Bears to just 49 yards of total offense in the third quarter.

Halftime: Stanford 14, Cal 13

November, 19, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -- Observations from the first half of the Big Game.

Turning point: Stanford finally got its running game going in the second quarter. After rushing for just 27 yards in the first quarter (they average 64.3 in the first for the season), Tyler Gaffney plowed ahead for a 6-yard touchdown run to help the Cardinal regain the lead at 14-13. The Cardinal rushed for 85 yards in the second quarter and have 112 in the first half. Stanford is now averaging 7.5 yards per rush attempt.

Stat of the half: 58-of-59. Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 33-yard field goal in the closing minute of the first half -- marking the first time this season Stanford has failed to score in the red zone.

Best player in the half: Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen has sucked up everything thrown his way. He has six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Stanford hasn’t been able to slow him down.


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