A few days ago, Stanford Football held its open scrimmage under another obscenely gorgeous August Saturday on The Farm. While many Cardinalmaniacs checked out the proceedings from the rails, a few Stanford legends took it all in from the sidelines. Among that group was former Cardinal WR Ed McCaffrey, who went on to a very productive pro career, winning three Super Bowl rings along the way.
I can only imagine some of the things that must have been going through McCaffrey’s mind as he watched the scene unfold in front of him. Those practice fields he was standing on were familiar, but everything else surrounding them—the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, Stanford Stadium 2.0, more than just a dozen or so half-interested onlookers checking out the practice—must have been almost alien to him. Clearly, this is not Christian McCaffrey’s daddy’s Stanford football.
It has been 24 years since Ed McCaffrey last suited up for the Cardinal, but you don’t have to go back that far to see how much has changed around Stanford football. In October 2005, I left the Bay Area. In March 2014, I returned. How far this program has come in between makes for one of the best stories in college football.
The most apparent change is, well, the players themselves. I mean, have you seen the kids who play for Stanford now? They’re speedy. The offensive linemen are nasty. And not only are they growing freshmen bigger these days, those bigger, speedier, and nastier freshmen are coming to The Farm.
New starting linebacker Blake Martinez is one of those youngsters. The hard-hitting junior spent time getting to know the Stanford media on Tuesday, and he remembered that when he first stepped on campus as a freshman, he weighed 240 pounds.
240-pound freshman linebackers? At Stanford? My jaw dropped when Martinez said that. GoStanford.com’s Mark Soltau probably heard me utter something under my breath that would have broken one of the Commandments, too.
Stanford football passes the eye test. They look good stepping off the bus. The first time I noticed it was when the Card traveled to Notre Dame in 2010, and I watched the team literally step off the bus. Everything just felt different.
Some of it was obvious—look at the size of these kids!—but much of it was subtle. There was a confidence that oozed from the players and coaches, a “we-can-beat-anybody” feeling that was unlike anything I’d noticed before from a Stanford squad football squad. Even the fans who where there to greet the team upon arrival in South Bend seemed to feel it, too.
I knew right then that Stanford football had passed a threshold of sorts. 47 months after that chilly, cloudy day in South Bend, the Cardinal can truly boast a big-time college football program. But not only does it look the part, it plays the part, too.
The stadium has most certainly changed. I stumbled onto the Pac-12 Network’s replay of Stanford-Washington 1982 a couple weeks ago, and it was almost shocking to see how the old girl looked. A lot of memories in that place. And I don’t really miss it one bit. Stanford Stadium may no longer be the most state-of-the-art football stadium in the Bay Area, but it’s still light years from the old version.
The changes aren’t limited to Stanford football. The biggest subplot for the college football season ahead is a change that many fans felt long overdue: the expiration of the BCS, and the dawn of the College Football Playoff. Finally, the sport will decide its champion in the purest manner possible.
And while going to Pasadena on January 1 is always special, this year it will be even more so, as the Rose Bowl hosts one of the semifinal games. How cool would it be to see the Card there for a third straight year?
Oh, and instant replay has changed things in college football, too. It certainly would have produced a different outcome had a replay crew been on hand the last time Stanford hosted UC Davis. That was a pick by Nick Sanchez, I just know it.
That doesn’t mean that everything about Stanford football has become completely alien to the product it was just nine years ago. Some things never change, like the tailgate scene. Or the band.
Something else that apparently hasn’t changed is Stanford fans’ ongoing unhappiness with the kickoff times. Early kickoffs interfere with other stuff, while late kickoffs are too late. And Friday games are completely out of the question.
Look, I’m not a fan of this year’s schedule, either. And, as I’ve mentioned before, if you want to complain that some kickoff times aren’t set until six days before the game, I will fight that fight with you. But the funky schedule means television coverage, and television coverage means money. That’s just how it works in college football today.
It’s all part of the evolution of things. Fortunately, Stanford football has totally morphed into something that is completely unrecognizable to its 2005 self. Big, speedy, nasty football players at all positions. A student section that rocks the house. A head coach who seems in tune with his players. A national profile. And a stadium that’s worthy of housing it all.
This isn't your daddy’s Stanford football. Heck, this isn’t even your Palm Treo’s Stanford football. And I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
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So, as mentioned above, I am back in the Bay Area. Since March, I have been hosting evening sports talk shows and Oakland A’s pregame & postgame shows on San Francisco’s 95.7 The Game!
It has been a blast so far (the A’s have certainly helped see to that), and it has been a dream come true to finally return to the best place on Earth. It was also pretty cool to throw away my snow shovel, too. Oh, did I mention that “the fiancée” in last year’s Corners will henceforth be known as “the wife”?
I do plan on talking a lot of college sports during my talk show, but I will also say that it needs to be a two-way discussion. So, when I talk Stanford and college football, I look forward to taking as many of your phone calls, texts, and tweets as possible along the way!
I look forward to spending a lot of time on The Farm again, seeing a lot of old friends, crashing some of your tailgates, and talking Stanford with you on the airwaves.
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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
Yes, I know the Pac-12 is loaded with quality quarterbacks, almost literally from top to bottom. But to me, this conference will be won by the team that has the defensive depth and the open-field tackling ability to slow down all these go-go offenses. Those two things have decided the conference for years, and I don’t expect that trend to stop this season…
Oregon No. 1 in the Pac-12 North, and Stanford No. 2? Look, I can easily see the Card representing the division in the Pac-12 Championship Game. But as of this moment, that order still seems about right…
So Sandy Barbour is now the athletic director at Penn State, eh? Two things are more important than anything else in State College: football and fundraising. Barbour didn’t exactly have the best track record in either of those areas at cal, did she? Good luck, Sandy, I suspect you’re going to need it…
Maybe I’m missing something. But why do I not quite believe that UCLA can make The Leap just yet?
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… for $1.3 billion, you can build a stadium with the most opulent club lounges and luxury suites in sports, put a museum on the premises, install a rooftop garden on the suite tower, lock up huge events like the Super Bowl, WrestleMania and the NHL’s outdoor series, even add a cobbler station in the press box dining area…but you can’t put down a suitable playing field? It’s almost like 49ers football itself is an afterthought at Levi’s Stadium…
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Once again this season, I’ll be putting my reputation on the line every week with my Pac-12 picks. Well, not this week, since I’ll only be picking conference games. And not next week either, since U$C-Stanford is the only conference matchup and I don’t pick Stanford games. See you in two weeks for Arizona State-Colorado, then!
Last year: 35-10 (straight-up), 24-21 (ATS).
Troy Clardy hosts evenings 7-11 p.m. and Oakland A’s pregame & postgame shows on San Francisco’s 95.7 The Game. The 2014 season marks his 22nd year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 13th 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 follow him on Twitter @TroyClardy.
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