Stanford an intriguing matchup for SEC heavyweights; more Mailbag
Pro-style Stanford better suited to beat LSU or 'Bama than spread team would be
Oklahoma's loss was shocking, but it doesn't crack the top five upsets of BCS era
Plus: Bob Stoops' critics, UCLA's real problem, Oklahoma State's edge and more
|The Mandel Initiative|
|Dan Rubenstein of the Solid Verbal joins Stewart and Mallory to relive Michigan State's "Rocket" play and discuss whether Stanford could match up with LSU or Alabama.|
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of covering my first game at Stanford Stadium. It was, without question, a vastly different scene from my usual Saturday travels. Caddy corner from Town and Country Village, where patrons can brunch on organic buckwheat pancakes and tofu scrambles at award-winning restaurants, the stadium sits shiny and clean, rebuilt from scratch in 2005. Tailgating fans unfolded their picnic tables and sipped wine from cups under the shade of the tall picturesque trees that cloak the surrounding parking lots. The Stanford band, befitting its quirky reputation, included members dressed as Darth Vader, R2-D2 and Jabba the Hutt.
In sight and sound, it was entirely different than visiting Alabama or LSU. However, the football team that took the field that night and ran for 446 yards against Washington may bear the closest resemblance nationally to those SEC heavyweights.
Just how good is Stanford? Its ground assault against Washington reminded me of those old Nebraska/Oklahoma beatdowns of the Big 8 era, only Stanford has an all-universe QB that barely had to break a sweat.
-- Alex, Las Vegas
Should college football fans who want the SEC title reign run to end be rooting for Stanford? The Cardinal continue to play the most physical brand of football not seen in the Southeast, have a strong running game, and oh yeah, the best quarterback in the country. I feel like Stanford would be the prefect team to match up with LSU or Alabama.
-- Josh Peterson, Omaha, Neb.
Stanford is the rare team one has to see in person to truly appreciate. For one thing, it hasn't played a high-caliber opponent since Virginia Tech in last year's Orange Bowl, so it's hard to read too much into the week-in, week-out blowouts. (Though it's quite the feat to become the first team in 75 years to win 10 straight games by at least 25 points.) It's also hard for many people, including me, to shed the stereotype that Stanford is a bunch of overachieving three-star recruits who can't possibly be as talented as the other championship contenders. The next two NFL drafts will debunk that myth, when most of the Cardinal's offensive line and two or three of their tight ends will get selected.
As Josh suggests, Stanford may well match up better with LSU and Alabama than most teams from a stylistic standpoint. At the core, the Tigers and Tide are where they are because they dominate the line of scrimmage. If someone's going to take them down, it's probably not going to be a spread team like Oklahoma State or Clemson. The result of such a matchup would probably be very much like the LSU-West Virginia game; Alabama's and LSU's defenses are too fast and too sound to let receivers or running backs run wild in open space.
But Jim Harbaugh built Stanford to win in the trenches. Its goal, like Alabama's and LSU's, is to wear down the opponent. David Shaw throws in numerous wrinkles, from the Wildcat to halfback passes to rotating three or four different backs and using three tight ends in the passing game, but it all starts with a standard pro attack. And then there's Andrew Luck. On both his touchdown passes against Washington's admittedly terrible defense, there was no apparent open receiver when he released. That's because Luck was throwing to the exact spot where he knew his receiver would end up based on the coverage. That's awfully hard to defend.
But Stanford is certainly fallible, and so far lightly tested. This week brings its first real road challenge at USC. It will be interesting to see how Stanford's defense -- still much more of an unknown than its offense -- handles Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Oregon, which hung 52 on Stanford last season, visits a couple weeks later. Even if they survive the season unscathed, the Cardinal could fail to reach New Orleans due to their questionable schedule. But my guess is that the more people watch, the more they will become intrigued by the possibilities of an SEC-Stanford matchup.
OU's loss brings to mind a good debate: What is the most shocking upset ever by a team with a legitimate, crystallized opportunity (more likely very late in the season) to play for a national championship. By that I mean a No. 1 or 2 team losing to an opponent that's shown little sign it's capable.
-- Michael Newman, Los Angeles
Timing plays such a big factor in the shock value that Texas Tech-Oklahoma does not even crack my top five of the BCS era, 28-point spread or not. It still happened in October. I'd go with:
1. Pittsburgh (4-7) beating No. 2 West Virginia (10-1) in Morgantown on the last night of the 2007 season. Four years later I still don't understand how it happened.
2. Kansas State (10-3) destroying No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) 35-7 in the 2003 Big 12 championship game. The Sooners were so dominant to that point they were garnering "greatest team of all time" talk. Of course thanks to the old BCS formula, they still got to play LSU for the BCS title.
3. Michigan State (4-4) knocking off No. 1 Ohio State (8-0) in Columbus on Nov. 7, 1998. The Buckeyes hadn't won by fewer than 17 points all season, and the Spartans' coach at the time had gone 23-20-1 in four seasons. His name was Nick Saban.
4. Texas A&M (10-2) taking down Kansas State (11-0) in the 1998 Big 12 title game. UCLA's loss to Miami earlier that day had cleared a path for the Wildcats, and K-State blew a 15-point fourth quarter lead.
5. UCLA (6-5) beating BCS No. 2 USC (10-1) 13-9 at the Rose Bowl on the last day of the 2006 season. The Trojans had won seven straight in the series, including 66-19 a year earlier, and Karl Dorrell was the Bruins' coach.
Does Bob Stoops have an eternal free pass? It seems like every year since his national championship, Oklahoma is the consensus favorite, only to do something like lose at home to a 30-point underdog. Some coaches have websites created by their fans to have them fired, while OU fans can't bring themselves to dismantle the Bob Stoops shrine they keep in their garages. What would it take for him to be subject to just a little scrutiny?
-- Greg Stange, Roanoke, Texas
Well one particular cartoonish ESPN talking head/OU homer you may be familiar with has already called for Stoops' dismissal. Anyone else who feels that way really needs his head examined.
Saturday's loss was indisputably embarrassing, but there's a reason it and certain other regrettable defeats (the USC title game blowout, the Boise State Fiesta Bowl, etc.) stand out: The Sooners lose so infrequently. Stoops has an .808 overall winning percentage, an 81-19 record against conference opponents and a 43-16 mark against ranked foes. He's won seven Big 12 titles in 12 seasons. Is there any school in the country that wouldn't take that?
Stoops' biggest problem has been perception. He raised the bar so high by winning a national championship in his second season, but 11 years have now passed without another. He's obviously going to take criticism every time the Sooners fall short again. But winning national titles isn't easy. Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne each coached for multiple decades before winning their first. And Stoops has a higher winning percentage than Hall of Famers Paterno and Bowden.
For the second time this season, Miami has embarrassed a team in the lower part of the Top 25 (by nearly identical scores), and for the second time, remains unranked the next day. Can you explain why?
-- Mark, Melbourne, Fla.
Yes. Miami is 4-3.