Obvious fact: a successful week. Not-quite-as-obvious: it wasn’t just successful for the 68 points scored or the stout defensive performance; it was indirectly successful for Stanford—its competitors did stuff that will help us.
Here’s how that worked: first, the conference improved its reputation. Despite Cal choking so violently that it required immediate esophageal surgery, Arizona beating Iowa meant that the conference gets more respect which enhances the odds of a second BCS bowl invitation, which just might end up being Stanford. It won’t be The Bowl That Shall Not Be Named, but it’ll be pretty darn good. Second, UCLA demolished Houston 31-13—which had gotten some hype as a potential BCS bowl team itself, and which was expected to beat UCLA—which means either (negatively) that Houston was not as good as people believed or (positively) that UCLA is much better than we believed in the wake of Stanford’s 35-0 mugging, which would mean (by extension) that Stanford’s win over UCLA is much more impressive than we thought. I’m leaning a little more to the latter, given just how awful and poorly-coached UCLA appeared in at home just a week earlier. So the week not only ended with a week but a better expectation on (most of) the remaining games. Good piece of business, that.
Week One, Sacramento State, Home: WIN, 1
Week Two, UCLA, Away: WIN, 2
Week Three, Wake Forest, Home: WIN, 3
Week Four, Notre Dame, Away: Here’s a game whose outlook improved over the course of the last week. Stanford’s dominating two teams consecutively and suppressing each of their offenses lends credibility that the team is “for real,” though we can’t necessarily know that for sure until the real hard tests come across—Autzen versus Oregon, obviously—which is one side of positive news. The other side of positive news is from Notre Dame, which lost to Michigan State, a middling Big 10 team. It’s hard to take this result too literally—Michigan State won, after all, with the benefit of a fake FG on fourth down in overtime—but on the other hand, this marks the second consecutive game that the Irish have surrendered over 450 yards with strong per-play averages (each time with 8.0+ YPA and 4.5+ YPC); given that Michigan State and Michigan use such different systems, and given that Notre Dame’s defense stunk last year, I think it’s more likely at this point that Notre Dame’s defense sucks than the alternative. Meanwhile, as to its offense: it is probably slightly worse than last year, when it wasn’t good enough.
Odds of victory: 60%
Previously-Assessed Odds of Victory: 50%
Week Five, Oregon, Away: We learned nothing about Oregon in its 69-0 whipping of Portland State.
Odds of Victory, Same as Before: 15%
Week Six, USC, Home: Just read the point from two weeks ago. Once again, USC had trouble with an seemingly-inferior opponent—hell, Minnesota even led USC at one point in the third quarter, and only its lack of offensive imagination kept them from making a full game of it (context: mighty North Dakota State just beat Minnesota this year). At a certain point, it’s easier to conclude USC’s not a good team than it is to make excuses about its poor performance. Apparently the pollsters disagree with me: USC is ranked 20th by the media.
Odds of Victory: 75%
Previously-Assessed Odd of Victory: 70%
Week se…Washington state we all know
Odds of victory: 99%
Week Eight, Washington, Away: No shame in losing to Nebraska; they’re a good team—they’re ranked top-ten, though I suspect that’s a tad excessive. The point is that Nebraska is much better than Washington. But the scale of the victory should disturb Washington fans and encourage Stanford ones: Nebraska put up 50+ points (keep in mind this was a team that last year appeared to play offense as if the Wing-T were the model formation: they played a 9-7 game!) and made Jake Locker look like an unpoised JaMarcus Russell. Is Stanford as good as Nebraska? Likely not, I’ll guess, though I suppose it’s possible when everyone’s said and done we are. But still: that’s quite a beat down; an encouraging one, actually.
Odds of victory: 65%
Previously-Assessed Odds of Victory: 60%
Week Nine, Arizona, Home: As with the last two years, this Arizona game will likely be a fulcrum point on which the entire season turns. If we win it, we’re comfortably upper crust in the conference; lose it, and there are troubles. So it’s not exactly wonderful that Arizona beat Iowa, a team that’s very good, and did so in poised fashion. Given that the series has been very even, the heart-palpitations-inducing in recent years, and the offensive style difficult to deal with (still not sure the Stanford defensive backs have the one-on-one tackling capabilities to stop Airzona’s death by paper cut offense), I think this game is now a toss-up.
Odds of victory: 50%
Previously-Assessed Odds of victory: 60%
Week Ten, Arizona State, Away: Arizona was within a made extra point of tying Wisconsin and going into overtime in Madison, which is impressive even when you consider the plain fact that Wisconsin is probably overrated: after struggling to put away lowly San Jose State and Arizona State in succession, it’s probably fair to say Wisconsin isn’t that good (which dilutes whatever “moral victory” factor you might ascribe to Arizona State.)
Odds of Victory, Same as Before: 80%
Week Eleven, Cal, Away: Cal is a funny team. Funny as in, so bad, they’re funny. It should be well-known that Cal hasn’t made it to the Bowl That Shall Not Be Named since 1959, but it’s not, which leads me to the observation that Cal is very bad about being bad: not only are they tortured but they’re failed to cultivate a Red Sox, Cubs, Cleveland, Bills-esque aura of lovable, sympathetic futility. And it’s not as if they lack for writers to popularize their futility—Cal counts some fine writers as alumni (e.g. Joan Didion). The problem is that they are uninterested in performing the yeoman’s task of cultivating such an aura of futility for the school, which at the very least would inure the public to the totally predictable Cal pratfall this Friday.
It was totally predictable, as I said: you have an away game against a tough opponent that Cal should beat (particularly if it wants to shed that futility) and everyone assumes will beat, except they don’t, being trampled 52-31. What’s the worst indicator for Cal for the rest of the season, particularly in Big Game? Is it the defense? By the Michigan principle, not as much: Nevada’s offense—which some Cal apologists have taken to calling “gimmicky”—is so different than Stanford’s that it’s difficult to take many lessons other than, “My! Cal can’t read an offense or tackle!” which might simply indicate a general sense of confusion about a…totally common offensive formation. No, the most negative indicator was Kevin Riley. At most schools, Kevin Riley would not be allowed to amass such an accomplished record at choking, but Cal is the kind of school that nurtures its students into fulfilling their talents, which means that Kevin Riley must be given every opportunity to choke. It’s hard to say what was the chokingest throw or decision made by Kevin Riley last Friday: was it either of the two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six? Was it the ball on 3rd and 6 that burned a vapor trail approximately four feet above its tall intended target’s outstretched hand? Perhaps you prefer the mysterious overthrow on a potential touchdown pass that beat its intended receiver (who had, in turn, beat the nearest defensive back by about two steps) by about three feet? I myself find this decision to be most amusingly chokalicious: late in the game Tedford went for it on 4th and 6 in the Nevada’s red zone because a field goal just wouldn’t do. A fine choice, theoretically—if Harbaugh did it with Luck I would very much approve. Except this is Kevin Riley, who proceeded to draw a delay of game before making an awful throw incomplete. This is your choker, Cal fans.
In these straightened times, it’s worth asking whether Cal is getting the most bang for its buck. It’s currently paying—through various budgetary maneuvers and what have you—Jeff Tedford the sum of $3 million a year, which makes him one of the top ten or so best compensated college coaches. In addition, Cal is retrofitting its stadium and building all new facilities. And it’s worth asking whether it’s worth it. If your first commitment is to winning, is the person to commit to really Jeff Tedford? He hasn’t had a competent quarterback since six long years ago and a shaggy-maned savior in Aaron Rodgers. He also has a consistent record in getting blown out embarrassingly by an apparent peer or inferior team for the past few years now. Apparently his best quarterback at this point is a one who chokes so vigorously and frequently that he requires constant supervision by trained medical professionals. This raises questions about whether Tedford is, if not the guy, a tguy who might plausibly take you all the way. On the other hand, perhaps their first commitment isn’t to winning. That’s an acceptable decision to make, given Cal’s unremitting record of creative, existence-negating futility for its fans. You don’t see Vanderbilt thinking it can win the SEC, for example. But if that’s the case, why spend the money?
Cal can’t decide whether it wants to embrace its utter suckitude or struggle vainly against its utter suckitude. On the gridiron, this is excellent. As someone who’s concerned about the state of higher education in California, not so much.
Odds of Victory: 75%
Previously-Assessed Odds of Victory: 60%
Week Twelve, Oregon State, Home: We learned nothing about Oregon State this week, which is just the way Oregon State likes it.
Odds of Victory, Same as Before: 50%
Expected Wins: 8.69
Previously-Assessed Expected Wins: 8.34 (DELTA: +.35)