College Football Roundup: Bay Area Beat Downs
No one—and I mean no one—could have predicted what happened in the Bay Area last weekend. A Cal team coming off three straight losses thoroughly dismantled the nation’s No. 8 team, Washington State, 37-3. Then Stanford exploded for over 500 yards in total offense and completely shut down Oregon, 49-7.
Washington State had been averaging 40 points per game; Oregon had been averaging 33. Together they scored 10 points.
The Ducks, to be fair, were playing without starting quarterback Dustin Herbert. But they scored 45 points against Cal despite losing him early. And in previous years, the Ducks have often had a field day against Stanford. In fact, in the last 12 games of the series, Oregon had averaged 39 points vs. the Cardinal, scoring over 50 three times. This time, Stanford held the Ducks to 12 first downs and 33 yards through the air, intercepted two passes, forced a fumble and blocked a punt (returned for a TD). It was the largest margin of victory for Stanford in a series that dates back to 1900, and Oregon's lowest scoring output in 10 years.
So, after disappointing losses to USC and San Diego State, Stanford is suddenly in first place in the Pac-12’s North Division after four straight conference wins (UCLA, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon). The Cardinal should have no trouble with Oregon State on Oct. 26, then will take on Washington State in Pullman and Washington at home in two matchups that will determine the Division championship.
Bears Bounce Back: As noted previously, we’re big fans of what new coach Justin Wilcox is doing in Berkeley. Cal started with three impressive, come-from-behind wins, then played USC on even terms until the fourth quarter. But in the last two weeks, the Bears suffered embarrassing losses to Oregon (45-24) and Washington (38-7), prompting some observers to suggest that the three wins were a fluke and that Wilcox should replace struggling quarterback Ross Bowers.
Cal’s defense—and Bowers—silenced the critics with a masterful performance Friday night. The Bears harassed WSU’s outstanding quarterback, Luke Falk, throughout the evening, sacking him nine times and forcing five interceptions and a fumble.
Remember…this is the team that allowed over 42 points per game last year.
Offensively, Bowers passed for 259 yards and a score, but the real highlight came on a seven-yard touchdown run when he executed a near-perfect flip over a pair of defenders at the goal line. It’s in the genes, apparently. Bowers’ mom is a gymnastics coach.
With a 4-3 record and winnable upcoming games against Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State, Cal has a real shot to become bowl eligible this season. The folks down the road at the Foster Farms Bowl have to be licking their chops at the prospect of, say, a Cal vs. Northwestern matchup.
Playoff Blues: The Pac-12's playoff hopes took a big hit with WSU's loss to Cal and No. 5 ranked Washington's 13-7 stinker at Arizona State. The conference's best hope now appears to be No. 11 USC, which has recorded quality wins over Stanford, Texas, Cal and Utah, and plays at No. 13 Notre Dame this week. Stanford's two losses will almost certainly disqualify the Cardinal from the top four, even if it wins out.
Lovestruck: Another week, another outstanding performance from Bryce Love. The Stanford sensation torched Oregon for 147 yards and two touchdowns. And that was his lowest output of the season! Dating back to the days of Jim Brown and Gale Sayers, I’ve always thought a long run by a great running back to be the most exciting play in football. Love routinely gives us two or three of those per game. In fact, he has at least one run of 50 yards or more in his last nine games. His career touchdowns have come on runs of 93, 47, 48, 7, 56, 50, 49, 10, 75, 51, 53, 69, 61, 43, 59, 68, 5 and 67 yards. Love continues to lead the country in rushing with 1387 yards and 198 per game. He’s also averaging an other-worldly 10.3 yards per carry.
Heisman update: Though things can change, most experts believe the current favorites for the Heisman Trophy are Love and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who has less than half as many rushing yards as Love (649 in one fewer game), and is averaging 108 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry. Barkley, as we’ve noted previously, benefits from playing for the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, with almost all of his games kicking at noon or 12:30 p.m. Eastern, and having his highlights shown all day and night every Saturday.
The next two weeks will be very telling, as Barkley will be playing high-profile games against Michigan (at home) and Ohio State (in Columbus). If he leads the Nittany Lions to victory in those two matchups, he will be hard to beat.
Love, who tweaked his ankle against Oregon, has a Thursday night encounter with Oregon State on Oct. 26, but finishes with four straight important games against Washington, Washington State, Cal and Notre Dame. If he continues at his current pace, he also will be hard to beat.
So this could get interesting.
ESPN Flap: Washington Coach Chris Petersen ignited a media firestorm last week by complaining about late night kickoffs. Petersen said that the late starts—which are dictated by television networks—“hurt us tremendously in terms of national exposure” and that “we want to play at one o’clock.”
He isn’t alone. A number of other coaches have expressed similar concerns—including Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Stanford’s David Shaw, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and UCLA’s Jim Mora—citing the impact of late games on attendance, home field advantage, exposure to recruits and Heisman voters, and student-athlete welfare.
The blowback toward Petersen from ESPN was remarkable, particularly since he didn’t even mention the network by name. But the folks in Bristol have gotten thin-skinned. They ran a graphic over a sideline shot of Petersen, promoting their late night ratings, and four different ESPN announcers took issue with the Husky coach.
First, an indignant Kirk Herbstreit suggested Petersen “should be thanking ESPN” for the coverage. Later, during the 7:45 p.m. Cal-Washington broadcast, announcers Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore boasted about ESPN’s late night ratings, declared Petersen was “wrong,” and called him “cantankerous” and “irascible.” (Few who know Coach Pete would use those adjectives to describe him). Finally, in a petty stunt, sideline reporter Quint Kessenich placed three cupcakes on the field to ridicule Washington’s non-conference opponents.
Your humble blogger even took a hit from ESPN. After I had the audacity to agree with Petersen in my last post, an ESPN announcer attacked me for choosing to “support or condone” the “undermining of a fairly bargained for contract.”
A slight over-reaction perhaps?
If Petersen (or I) had suggested that the Huskies should refuse to suit up for late night games, the ESPN lads might have an argument. But all Petersen said was that he wanted to play in the afternoon.
Like every other coach in America.
Shaw weighed in again around midnight Saturday after the Stanford-Oregon game ended a little before 3:00 a.m. Eastern. “Our TV contract is what it is. Like I said, it’s been mostly good, but this is one of the negatives. You’ve got two really good teams, and nobody on the East Coast sees anything past the first half.”
The question now is, as my friend Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group noted, "Will ESPN bring the wrath" against Shaw. I'd be surprised, but then again some enterprising sideline reporter might pull out a creampuff during Stanford's next game to mock the Cardinal's season opening 62-7 win over hapless Rice.
Stranger things have already happened.