Clardy's Corner: Biggest game in Card history

"This is the biggest regular-season game for Stanford Football in at least 40 years. And this may be the biggest regular-season game in Stanford Football history."

I hate to say this. I really do. But I'm not here to tell you want you want to hear. Hell, I'm not here to tell you what I want to hear. I'm here to tell you what I think, and deep down, at this very moment, I believe this to be the honest to God truth.

Stanford Football is overrated.

It's not Stanford's fault. They're just letting the college football system work for them for a change. And part of that system is what happens when you make a statement against Notre Dame in front of their own fans, their own TV network, and Touchdown Jesus.

Everybody watches Notre Dame. Fighting Irish faithful, casual fans, Notre Dame haters, poll voters, everybody. And most of those people still associate Notre Dame Football with greatness and glory and automatically assume that the Irish are always a good team (whether it's the truth or not).

This means when your team beats Notre Dame, your team's image and your team's value automatically becomes inflated. After all, if you beat the University of Football in America, as Michael Wilbon calls them, that means you must be really good, right? (U$C fans think this way about their team, too. After all, it's all about them. Just ask Mike Garrett.)

Even though Notre Dame has not come close to being the Notre Dame they were back in 1990, that perception still seems to prevail among most college football fans and experts. It also creates one of the more interesting paradoxes in sports: beating the most overrated program in college football makes you overrated as well.

So when the nation sat down to watch Stanford play Notre Dame on Saturday, they saw a Cardinal team beat up Irish QB Dayne Crist in the first half, then beat down the Irish defense in the second half. They learned what Cardinalmaniacs have known all along about Owen Marecic. And they saw a Stanford team that seems to be coming together at the right time.

(They also saw Manti Te'o. Manti freaking Te'o. Oh. My. God.)

A convincing win on national TV. And the perception that not just anyone beats big, bad Notre Dame (even though we have plenty of recent evidence suggesting otherwise). Put those two together and there Stanford sits, the No. 9 college football team in the land. It's the first time Stanford has cracked the top ten in football since the cool kids wore Cross Colours.

I was surprised when I got back to Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and saw the polls myself. But I saw Stanford's new ranking as a function of the Cardinal merely reaping the benefits of not just beating Notre Dame, but doing it in convincing fashion and—most importantly—in full view of millions of eyeballs.

If the Cardinal had gone on the road to an undefeated Kansas State and served the Wildcats up a similar beatdown in Manhattan, would the voters have rewarded Stanford with a top-10 ranking? Even though Kansas State seems to be a better team than Notre Dame? I seriously doubt it. But we're talking about a win over Notre Dame here, and to the victors go the spoils, especially when that victory comes at the expense of the Irish.

(By the way, I know I've brought this up before, but if you're new to these Corners, haven't seen this nugget before, or just want to be reminded of it, Notre Dame has not spent back-to-back weeks at No. 1 in the polls since Stanford played STUN-ford against them in 1990. Back to the Corner…)

Is Stanford really the No. 9 team in the country right now? I don't know. My gut says no. My gut says Stanford is slightly overrated right now. But one thing that I think is being underrated right now is the historical significance of this week's matchup at Eugene.

This is the biggest regular-season game for Stanford Football in at least 40 years. And this may be the biggest regular-season game in Stanford Football history.

In my 17-plus seasons of following Stanford Football, I've seen the Card square off against top-ranked teams. I've seen great players and great matchups. I've also seen Stanford take the field with a Rose Bowl bid directly at stake.

But this week's game seems bigger than those others. No. 9 Stanford at No. 4 Oregon is a perfect storm of star power, on-field matchups, potential history, and above all, hype. And the ESPN College GameDay gang will be there. That tells you everything you need to know.

Hopefully I put the true Stanford Football historians out there to work, but can you think of one bigger? I would imagine that the great Stanford-U$C matchups of 1969 and 1970 would have to be up there, but those are the only two games I can think of that might even match what we're experiencing this week.

This week's trip north also brings to mind a couple of other awesome Autzen moments for Stanford. In 2001, an underrated Cardinal squad came to Eugene, pulled off an impossible 49-42 comeback win, and shattered the Ducks' national championship hopes.

Meanwhile, it would be a compliment to call the 1995 squad that flew to Eugene underrated, because no one was rating that team's chances of doing anything big against the Ducks that day. But that non-rated Stanford team walked into Autzen Stadium, harassed Tony Graziani into throwing three first-half interceptions, and flew home 28-21 winners.

Stanford may indeed be overrated this week. I think the case can certainly be made. But do not underestimate this scenario: the winner of this high-stakes matchup not only has a leg up on making potential plans for January 1, but also may need to think about keeping January 10 clear as well. And I'm not talking about the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, either.

If Stanford happens to be that winner, they will truly have earned whatever rewards come from victory at Autzen.

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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS

Wait a minute…who predicted two years ago that Stanford would be part of the featured game on ESPN's College GameDay? Oh that's right…it was this guy. He almost nailed the exact week, too...

Loved the defensive gameplan. Send Shayne Skov up the middle. Or bring Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser from the outside. Confuse Notre Dame's offensive linemen by going with two down linemen on occasion. And above all, tackle, tackle, tackle. Great scheme by Vic Fangio, and outstanding execution by the players…

Michael Thomas getting his ankle rolled up on wasn't the key play of the Notre Dame game. I just hope it doesn't become the key play of the Stanford-Oregon game…

No Stanford running back finishes his runs better than Stepfan Taylor. No Stanford running back has a more effective blend of speed and power than Tyler Gaffney. And no Stanford running back is more dangerous in the open field than Usua Amanam. I'd be willing to bet that Stanford's opposing defensive coordinators are losing just as much sleep this year worrying about stopping those guys as they did last year worrying about stopping The Guy…

Before the game, we heard rumblings that some special plays had been put in for Alex Loukas, and that we'd see them early on. I wasn't excited about that possibility before the game, and I was even less excited about the actual results of that package during the game. This is one of the few times during the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw Era where I thought the offensive braintrust stunted their own rhythm and went against the flow of the game (Notre Dame did the same thing when they went Wildcat near the goal line)…

I'll put it another way…when the Wildcat was threatening to take over the NFL a couple of years ago, someone asked New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft why his team never used it. Kraft responded by saying, in effect, "Tom Brady is our best player. Why the hell would we take him off the field?" I'm kind of feeling that way towards Stanford using situational quarterback substitution this year. It may have made some sense when you're taking out Todd Husak and bringing in Joe Borchard to change things up for a play or two. This year? Not so much…

Hey, Heisman voters, if you really want to think out of the box, how about putting Owen Marecic on your ballot?

From the time I walked into the stadium until the final whistle, my Notre Dame Victory March count: 36…

Interesting to note…number of NFL teams that sent scouts to Miami-Pitt: 25. Number of NFL teams that sent scouts to Stanford-Notre Dame: 4. And considering that Colts president Bill Polian was probably there only to visit his son (Brian, Stanford's special teams coordinator), the real number might be three…

I watched the game from the Stanford radio booth, with Dave Flemming on my left and Todd Husak on my right. You should have seen the stunned looks on our faces as we saw the scores roll in from Austin…

As someone who spent way too much of his life at Sunken Diamond, I'm not going to lie to you…it saddens me to see cal cutting their baseball program…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… there are some rumblings that the Big East might lose its automatic BCS qualifier status in a couple of years. After what I've seen from that conference so far this year, it's hard for me to make a case that they shouldn't…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… there's nothing like ACC football to make you reach for the remote…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… while making the drive from Pittsburgh to South Bend, I counted eight different speed traps Saturday morning on the Ohio Turnpike. I haven't seen that many cops on the freeway since the final chase in "The Blues Brothers" (by the way, they will nab you for doing 82 in a 65 zone. Ummm, so I've heard)…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… if you had told me that the NFL's only undefeated teams after Week 3 would be Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Kansas City, I would have asked you if you'd been partying with Lindsay Lohan again…

Thumbs up: Nevada. First AP ranking ever. Boise State is still the class of the WAC, but with the Wolf Pack trending up and Fresno State still dangerous enough, this doesn't look like it will be the runaway we thought it might be…

Thumbs down: Georgia. 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since 1993. (we've seen a lot of "firsts since 1993" in this Corner, haven't we?)

The finger: the talking heads that refuse to call out the Big 12. Whenever Oregon and U$C lose, the critics always see it as an opportunity to crack on the conference and use those losses as indictments against the entire league. But Texas hasn't been dominant at all this year, even before throwing up on itself against UCLA. Oklahoma has been largely unimpressive too, and it barely escaped Cincinnati with a win. Still, no one seems to be questioning the quality of football in the Big 12, especially when similar results for the top teams out West would cause everyone to dogpile on the Pac-9. Why is that?

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Scout.com's email is back. You can drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or you can e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox (if applicable).

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PAC-9 PICKS

Washington State @ UCLA. If they were kicking this game off in the Palouse, I'd be calling this the ultimate trap game for UCLA. But since it's not, I like UCLA by 19. I'm still not completely sold that the Bruins have turned it around, by the way.

Arizona State @ Oregon State. It's tough to win if you're the visiting team at Reser Stadium. It's even tougher if you can't do the little things right, can't hang on to the ball, and can't keep your composure. This is why I like Oregon State by 9.

Washington @ U$C. Last year, the Trojans played scared against the Huskies, and they paid the price. But trust me, nothing on Saturday should be scarier than the Huskies secondary. A couple of Barkley bombs make the difference here. I like U$C by 17.

Last week and this year: 3-0 (straight up), 1-2 (ATS).
Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).


Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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