Clardy's Corner: The elite fans edition

DL Matt Masifilo likes a packed house

Dana Holgorsen is my hero. Two weekends ago, the West Virginia head coach led his team into a packed house at Mountaineer Field, as 62,056 watched the home team take on LSU in the college football game of the week. Last weekend, on a rainy Saturday in Morgantown, an announced crowd of only 46,603 showed up to see West Virginia host Bowling Green. The actual number was much smaller.

Holgorsen's reaction during his Tuesday news conference? "All I heard was how much [Mountaineer football] meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia. ‘This [is] the NFL team in town, and we're gonna be there to support you.' Well, having 40,000 people at a game isn't doing that."

Wow.

How could one-third fewer folks show up to Morgantown the week after the biggest game that program has played in quite a while? Holgorsen had some theories. "Bad weather, it was cold, it was wet. The environment was terrible. [The kickoff time] was relatively early. Maybe you didn't respect your opponent. No matter what the excuses were, our players didn't buy into it. But obviously our fan base did."

Holgorsen wasn't through yet. "I can give you some excuses [why people aren't going to show up to their upcoming home game against UConn game] now. Playing a team that's 2-3. Well, they should be 5-0. Playing at noon. Well, who cares? Get up!…Are we going to have a good crowd or are we going to have nobody there?"

And, the dagger. "LSU played well in front of 62,000 of our people. Then they turned around, went home and played a 1-4 Kentucky team at noon and had 95,000 people there. You wanna talk about an elite program? That's one. I don't know about this place."

Ladies and gentlemen, Dana Holgorsen.

When I heard those sound bites on Tuesday afternoon here in Pittsburgh, I cheered. From a business standpoint, it was great audio that should make for great talk radio around these parts for the rest of the week.

But my cheers also came from the heart. Dana Holgorsen said what I would have loved to hear Jim Harbaugh say last year, instead of merely moaning, "our fans didn't even bother coming" to the Washington State game.

Dana Holgorsen said what I hoped Tyrone Willingham would say when his bowl-bound Cardinal teams played to less-than-capacity crowds at home instead of sidestepping those kinds of questions completely.

Granted, Holgorsen could have probably been a bit more diplomatic about his thoughts, and a bit more tactful about sharing them in front of a roomful of reporters. And even though Holgorsen is keeping it real, this could very well be a case of when keeping it real goes wrong…especially if his tactics backfire on him and his program. You don't exactly win your customers over by calling them out.

But I applaud his candor. And his overall point resonates. An elite program isn't made up of just the players, coaches, and support staff. The fans play a large part of it, too. You can't call yourself an elite program if you're not playing to a capacity crowd in every game. That applies to road games, too.

You can't call yourself an elite program if too many of your fans are whining about kickoff times, and doing everything short of begging the athletic directors and TV networks to set kickoff times to fit your own personal schedules. I would imagine that if LSU announced a 6 a.m. kickoff for one of its games, not a soul would complain. And the stadium would be packed and ready to go well before kickoff.

You can't call yourself an elite program if too many of your fans stay home from games against lower-profile opponents. I remember when people openly admitted last year that they stayed away from that Washington State game because the Cougars weren't a good enough opponent. To those folks, I'll ask the same question I asked last fall: when you buy a ticket to a Stanford football game, whose team are you there to see? Ours? Or theirs?

Stanford is not an elite program. Not on the field or in fan support. Not right now, anyway. But I have noticed that complaints about kickoff times and opponents seem to be in shorter supply this year. So are empty seats. Obviously that's all a function of the on-field product. But still, those are certainly good signs.

That's why I was encouraged to see what I saw on The Farm last weekend against UCLA. A national audience finally saw what a sold-out Stanford Stadium looks like. My buddy Ray texted me during the game and reported that the crowd was full and loud. Everyone who was at the game, whether they were Stanford fans or not, looked like they had a really good time. Well, judging from all the Facebook posts I saw, anyway.

That's also why I'm interested to see what the attendance will be for this weekend's game against Colorado. Stanford's yearly home game against UCLA/U$C is usually very well attended, but the Buffaloes matchup doesn't have anywhere near the tradition or juice, even though they are now in the Pac-11 family.

The good news is that Saturday's game seems to be close to a sellout as I type this. But I still need to actually see it happen on a regular basis. Anyone can sell out games that feature natural opponents (in Stanford's case, cal and the L.A. schools) and high-profile competition (Notre Dame). Anyone can sell out when College GameDay is on the scene, as we'll likely find out on November 12.

Games like these against Colorado are the true test of a fan base, and how much it all really means to them. So far, instead of being challenged by the head coach, Stanford fans have been up to the challenge themselves.

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RANDOM PAC-11 THOUGHTS

It's official. Andrew Luck is Superman…

Rough night for UCLA's Josh Smith. First Tyler Gaffney tackles him by yanking his hair. Then he gets rocked by Delano Howell at the goal line. I'm sure Smith felt some bumps and bruises on that postgame flight back to L.A…

When I watch Stanford square off against Colorado this week, part of me will go back to my very first Stanford football game: Stanford vs. Colorado on September 18, 1993. Steve Stenstrom hit Tony Cline in the back of the end zone with eight seconds left, the Card won 41-37, and I was hooked from there. What a great night that was. It's amazing to think that Stanford football has been so central to me for almost exactly half of my life…

Washington State scored two touchdowns in the final 2:35 to beat Colorado, but that game shouldn't have been anywhere near that close. The Cougars should have gone up and down the field on Colorado all day. If not for four Coug personal foul penalties in the first half, they would have. Only Colorado's young and depleted secondary (and some very questionable clock management) bailed Washington State out…

I don't think Wazzu is good enough to be a dangerous road team just yet, but mark my words: if you have to go to the Palouse this year, the Cougs are going to give you problems. Yes, that includes Stanford…

The tone for Washington-Utah was set right from the start with big hits from the Husky special teams and their defense. Washington forced a Utah fumble on the opening kickoff that was returned for six, and had big hits on Utah's first two plays from scrimmage. The Utes never seemed to be in it from there…

Arizona and U$C combine for 1,142 yards of total offense. Oregon State throws 66 passes. Marshall Lobbastael throws for 376 yards…and it's only the third-highest total in Pac-12 play from last week. Offenses have taken full control of football. And not just in college, either…

Stat of the Week: Arizona beat UCLA on October 30, 2010. They have not beaten an FBS opponent since…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… right now, it sure looks to me like only one team wants to win the NFC West…

Not a Pac-11 thought, but… it's almost like the folks at FOX said, "To those of forced to watch this crapfest called Vikings-Chiefs, we're sorry. We'll make it up to you by putting Gus Johnson on the call."…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Got a thought on this Corner? Drop me a line either at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc)... or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com...

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PAC-11 PICKS

Now that's more like it!

cal @ Oregon. (Thursday) Finally, I'll get a chance to watch the Bears play this year. Problem is, I don't think I'm going to get a good first impression. It's just too tough for a road team to win in that stadium right now. I like Oregon by 22.

Arizona State @ Utah I'm a bit disappointed by what I've seen of Utah so far, and the fact that Utes QB Jordan Wynn has a bum wing makes matters worse. I like Arizona State by 13.

Arizona @ Oregon State. As poorly as the Wildcat defense has been playing of late, the Beavers may be able to move the ball with ease against Arizona. But can OSU score sixes instead of settling for threes? Right now, I'm not convinced. I like Arizona by eight.

Washington State @ UCLA. Hang on a sec, let me flip this coin. Heads, Washington State. Tails, UCLA……and it's tails. Maybe I should pick more games like this. I like UCLA by four.

Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 4-0 (ATS). This year: 4-5 (straight-up), 6-3 (ATS). Last year: 23-13 (straight-up), 16-20 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy is in his 19th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 10th season of Cardinal commentary, 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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