College Football Roundup: Love Realized

Last week we opined that Stanford running back Bryce Love is “for real.”

We were wrong.

Love is decidedly “unreal.” I’ve been watching, covering, and promoting college football for 50 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like Love’s performance on Saturday against Arizona State.

The numbers are pretty amazing: 25 carries for 301 yards; touchdown runs of 61, 43 and 59 yards; another 49-yard run to set up a score; new Stanford single game rushing record, ahead of Christian McCaffrey, Toby Gerhart, Darrin Nelson and Tommy Vardell; 1088 yards rushing in just 5 games; 11.1 yards per carry.

But the numbers tell only part of the story. To watch Love is to realize that rarely has there been such a combination of raw speed, elusiveness and power. We all knew Love was fast, but this year he has displayed much more of an ability to make people miss and to break tackles. The biggest revelation has been his strength. He’s now as effective between the tackles as he is on the edge.

We’re watching something very special here.

Heisman talk: Love’s performance the last two weeks has vaulted him into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Right now the favorite is probably Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley stamped himself as a contender after rushing for 1496 yards and 18 TDs last year, including a terrific performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. So far in ’17 he’s rushed for 574 yards, caught 27 passes for another 386, returned a kickoff for 98 yards and even thrown a TD pass.

Love has almost twice as many rushing yards as Barkley, but he has a few obstacles to overcome. Because the various TV networks—who control kickoff times—must fill their late broadcasting windows with West Coast teams, most of Love’s games this year will be night games, which limits his exposure nationally. So far he’s played four late and only one early game (ASU), and that was televised on the Pac-12 network. (More on that in a minute). Stanford has four more night games already scheduled—at Utah this weekend, vs. Oregon next weekend, at Oregon State Oct. 26, and vs. Washington Nov. 10—and at least one of the remaining three times TBD figures to be late. That’s nine out of 12 night games, which not only can finish after 2:00 a.m. on the East Coast, but also limit Love’s exposure on the pre-game, post-game and halftime highlight shows. By contrast, Barkley plays at noon or 12:30 every week and his highlights are shown all day.

Next, although most of their games are aired on ABC, ESPN, or Fox, Barkley has a big advantage over Love when their games are televised on conference networks. The Pac-12 Network reaches about 15 million homes; the Big Ten Network reaches about 60 million.

Finally, team success is vital in Heisman voting and Penn State is currently 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country, while Stanford is 3-2 and unranked. Stanford has six tough games remaining—Utah, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, Cal and Notre Dame. The Cardinal will need to win at least four of those (along with a projected easy win vs. Oregon State) to give Love a chance against Barkley and the other top candidate, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

Empty Seats: You might think that a rare 1:00 kickoff, the presence of the most exciting player in the country, and a high-scoring opponent with a quarterback from the Bay Area (Novato’s Manny Wilkins) might translate into a big crowd at Stanford Stadium on Saturday. You’d be wrong. The stands were less than half full. The actual crowd was about half the announced attendance of 44,422. (Apparently, Sean Spicer has been estimating the crowds at Stanford this year).

What’s wrong here? Stanford has a good team with a great running back and a promising new quarterback. The stadium is quite comfortable, with none of the access, heat and parking problems that plague that facility down the road in Santa Clara. The team gets plenty of publicity. Tickets are reasonably priced. The pro teams in the Bay Area have had—or are having—down years. (The Warriors haven’t started yet). On the same day the Cardinal played before fewer than 25,000 in Palo Alto, Oregon drew a full house of over 55,000 to see the Ducks beat the Cal Bears.

One factor could be the unfortunate seat license policy that Stanford athletic honchos adopted this year, which required ticket buyers in 10 sideline sections to cough up about three times as much money to renew their seats or become new “season ticket members.” So a fan who’d normally pay $1,078 to purchase two tickets on the 30-yard line, now had to ante up an additional $1,000 per seat. Bottom line: a tab of $3,078 for a pair of tickets to six home games.

Not surprisingly, a lot of loyal Stanford fans decided to walk, rather than be gouged for the additional payment. And new customers didn’t rush to take their place. As a result, there are lots of empty seats in Stanford Stadium and plenty of tickets available on StubHub for every game.

Who’s Number One? I don’t have a ballot in the AP poll, but if I did, Clemson would be my top-ranked team. No offense to Alabama, but Clemson has beaten three teams ranked in the top 15—Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. Alabama, conversely, has played only one ranked team, Florida State. The Seminoles were No. 3 at the time but have since dropped out of the rankings after an embarrassing loss to North Carolina State.

Navy Thrives: One of the most under-publicized and under-rated coaches in America is Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. Niumatalolo, who apparently could’ve had the BYU job last season but chose to remain at Navy, has built a consistent winner at Annapolis, reaching bowl games in eight of his nine years and registering a number of big upsets. Last year the Midshipmen shocked previously unbeaten and No. 6-ranked Houston and also surprised Notre Dame. Their triple option offense is very difficult to prepare for, and they play hard-nosed, disciplined defense despite having a huge size disadvantage in every game they play.

Navy is 4-0 this year and should qualify for a bowl game once again. We were privileged to host the Mids in the 2004 Emerald Bowl and the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and both experiences were among the highlights of my career. Great people, first class in every respect, led by Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, one of the savviest and most creative administrators in the business.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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