Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reassessing Stanford’s Schedule: Objectivity Is The New Optimism.

Well, well, well. 55-21, an even more dominating victory than the 51-42 victory over Oregon. With that, all sorts of announcements were made, for certain: Toby Gerhart, half man, half amazing, half tank (and yes, Toby warrants three halves); the Stanford offensive line is dominant; Andrew Luck is destined to be a top 10 pick, the only question is which draft…But there were smaller things in the performance which maybe didn’t capture the eye of the press but is nevertheless encouraging to the future like:

Andrew Luck: For all the raves about his performance—well deserved—there’s this to consider: Andrew Luck was not that good. His scrambling? Excellent, as usual. But I don’t want to sound churlish here; he simply was not as good as he could be. He overthrew quite a few long passes, and was just generally a little fuzzy. Consider this: Luck averaged 9.4 ypa before this game; against USC he averaged 6.5 ypa. His long pass today? 24 yards. That’s the lowest long pass he’s had so far this season. Now, again, the point here isn’t to nitpick, it’s to point out that Andrew Luck can be much better. And if Andrew Luck can be much better? Wonderful to contemplate, isn’t it?

Stepfan Taylor, 67 yards 8 carries: As I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t), Taylor will be a worthy successor to Toby Gerhart.

Shayne Skov: just, you know, his existence. The difference between him and the other linebackers at this point is the difference between experience and being a natural; Skov is the latter and if he’s a hard worker, he’ll get the former. He’s a great sign for a defense that will only need to be just-good-enough with Luck directing things on the other side of the ball.

Johnson Bademosi: who is oddly enough a pretty good coverage guy. Weird, huh? Glad he’s only a sophomore.

If you add it together—and I’ve highlighted these young guys because being objective in this case means being optimistic—our chances at Rose Bowl 2010 aren’t great (we don’t control our destiny, in one of the wonderful phrases sports have given us), but our chances at Rose Bowl 2011? Pretty good! We get Oregon State, Arizona, and USC at home; Cal on the road is a semi-road game, while at Oregon is the only really tough road trip I can think of. Meanwhile, the nonconference schedule lines up well for us also: Wake Forest at home (loses Riley Skinner), Sacramento State at home, and at Notre Dame is off a bye, and (we assume) will be going through chaos as Clausen leaves and Charlie Weis is fired.

The hitch, of course, is the defense, which will lose seniors Bo McNally, Clinton Snyder, Ekom Udofia and Erik Lorig. But it’s intriguing to note that Lorig has been out since UCLA, and Snyder, who’s contributed a lot over his career, has been out the past two games. Well, the defense did…just enough against Oregon and USC. And the group that was trotted out against those two teams should get better, by virtue of experience and new blood. Meanwhile, you lose Marinelli and Gerhart offensively (probably). Marinelli’s been great, but with the quality of offensive line coaching, is probably ultimately replaceable. Gerhart is irreplaceable. (Technically, he can come back for a fifth year, which would make the Cardinal offense nearly unstoppable). But there’s more than enough talent on offense to make up around the edges, I think.

So why I have I spent the last two grafs breaking down the chances for a Rose Bowl…next year? I’m guilty of dreaming: whenever you see two performances like that, you can’t help but wonder—how long can it last? And there aren’t many logical reasons at present to think it will end. (Well, yes there are: Jim Harbaugh leaving, injury, and overhyping talents of players. But still.)

And technically we’re still eligible for the 2010 edition of the Rose Bowl. Sadly, though, this is the likeliest of the unlikely scenarios which allow Stanford to get into the Rose Bowl:
Stanford beats Cal (Stanford 7-2 Pac-10)
Arizona beats Oregon (Arizona 6-2 Pac-10, Oregon 6-2 Pac-10)
USC beats Arizona (Arizona 6-3 Pac-10)
Oregon beats Oregon State (Oregon 7-2 Pac-10, Oregon State 6-3 Pac-10)

…And Stanford wins the tiebreaker over Oregon. But that’s awfully hypothetical and very unlikely, don’t you think? Better to concentrate on the still very gratifying possibilities of San Diego in late December.

In fact, let’s take a peek at the rest of the schedule, shall we?

vs. Cal
Why we’ll win: Cal’s not very good. I’m very surprised they beat Arizona, to be honest. But, they got a little bit lucky to win in the first place, what with their kicker having to make a tackle in order to stop the Arizona KR at the Cal 38 (for example), etc. And Stanford’s offense probably matches up better than Arizona’s Airraid offense against Cal. Furthermore, Kevin Riley is still shaky and Stanford can deal with shaky. My confidence is higher now than it was last week, and it was high last week.

(Also, not necessarily germane to this whole discussion, but it’s disgraceful that Tedford has systematically missed the point of the wildcat. Like, it makes me wonder whether he’s that smart. Every play is a direct snap, and every play he has Kevin Riley pretend to be a wide receiver, the combination of which is fairly easy to defend.)

Why we might lose: I still have this suspicion that the defense is fragile. Kevin Riley has had Good Kevin Riley Days, and it’s not exactly incredibly implausible to think that, hell, he can dismantle Stanford’s secondary (which, again, I am skeptical about). Also, Shane Vereen. Worse than Best, no question, but still pretty good. Good enough to make some good gains against Stanford, trust me.

Nonscientific odds of victory: 80% (+5% from last week)

vs. Notre Dame
Why we’ll win, probably maybe: Did you see Pittsburgh dismantle Notre Dame last night? It was pretty nice. Dion Lewis…quite the running back. Gerhart’s better. Bill Stull, definitely a steady, quality quarterback. Again, Luck is better. Notre Dame’s defense is terrible; watching it trying to defend the Stanford defense should be like watching a man trying to defend an oncoming locomotive. You might say, there will be blood.

Why we might very well lose, definitely maybe: Have you noticed our defense? Stanford’s defense has been less-than-stellar against good quarterbacks with athletes to throw to (or run with), and Notre Dame has that. They’re overrated, to be sure, but even discounting for ratedness, they’re still more than capable of putting up points—plenty of them—on Stanford’s defense. Which means the margin of error may be low. I mean, think of this: Stanford’s had two flukey fumbles and has gone 10-for-10 TDs in trips to the red zone. That’s an extraordinary run of luck, even for a very good offense like this one. It doesn’t take much fudging with the numbers to produce losses (on the other hand, if Chris Owusu catches that ball on 4th-and-1 against Arizona, you know what? Stanford is 7-1 in conference and in the catbird seat for the Rose Bowl. Just think about it. Actually don’t: that might make you ungrateful. This is all good here.)

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