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49ers Finally Win One, More Pac-12 TV Follies

Bill Walsh started 0-7 and finished his first season at 2-14. Two years later, the 49ers won the Super Bowl.

We’re not suggesting that the 49ers will be in the Super Bowl after the 2019 season. After all, we had to wait 10 weeks to write this column. But yesterday’s victory over the hapless New York Giants was another small, necessary step in restoring the once-proud 49ers’ franchise to prominence.

They’ve made a lot of good moves lately after some horrible mis-steps (Jim Tomsula? Really?) New General Manager John Lynch is an impressive, savvy executive who descended from the Bill Walsh Stanford tree. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has a background similar to the one the white-haired genius brought to San Francisco in 1979. Owner Jed York has wisely stepped aside to let his GM and head coach become the faces of the franchise. Team President Al Guido is a first-class guy who will astutely manage the club’s business interests and find ways to improve the Levi’s Stadium experience. The Lynch/Shanahan/Paraag Marathe brain trust engineered a strong draft, stole quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, and has restored discipline and enthusiasm to the locker room.

Those are all important positives. Yet the talent gap is still wide. So let’s be patient.

Truck Stop: Fox Sports 1 programming decisions are proving to be a major embarrassment for the Pac-12 Conference.

Friday night's Stanford-Washington game was the latest example. The league’s marquee matchup between the No. 9 team in the country and a team that has been to the Rose Bowl three times in the last six years was supposed to air on FS1 at 7:30. The lead-in was something called the National Camping World Truck Racing Series. Unfortunately, the race ran long, so at the last minute the kickoff was pushed back til 7:45.

When a crash extended the race even further, the network continued to air it on FS1 and moved the football game to FS2. Problem is, hardly anyone gets FS2. So fans in the Bay Area, Seattle, and other major markets missed the entire first quarter of the game, before the truck race finally ended and football coverage kicked in around 8:20 p.m.

This happened earlier in the season to the Stanford-Rice game, which was booted to the Fox Business Network. And Stanford-Washington State was set for a similar exile before being saved by a long weather delay in another game.

It’s bad enough that the Pac-12 is saddled with late kickoffs week after week—as we've noted in this space many times—but playing second fiddle to a truck race is downright insulting.

Somehow, I can’t imagine Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany letting that happen to the Ohio State-Michigan State broadcast.

Playoff Scramble: There are big changes afoot in the College Football Playoff rankings after No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Washington all went down to defeat over the weekend.

You can never be sure about what 13 people in a room will decide, but here’s our best guess as to what tomorrow’s CFP rankings will look like:

No. 1 Alabama (10-0)—still unbeaten after tough win on the road at Mississippi State

No. 2 Miami (9-0)—Canes dominated then No. 3 Notre Dame

No. 3 Oklahoma (9-1)—Sooners finally showed some defense vs. TCU

No. 4 Wisconsin (10-0)—Badgers held Iowa team that scored 55 vs Ohio State to 66 yards

No. 5 Clemson (9-1)—win over 3-6 Florida State was much closer than score indicated

No. 6 Auburn (8-2)—watch out Alabama!

No. 7 Georgia (9-1)—as expected, frosh QB Jake Fromm struggled in hostile environment

No. 8 Ohio State (8-2)—Jekyll and Hyde Buckeyes crushed Michigan State 48-3

No. 9 Notre Dame (8-2)—Catholics ambushed by convicts

No. 10 USC (9-2)—QB Sam Darnold has regained his magic

All You Need is Love: Bryce Love’s gutty three-touchdown, 166-yard effort against Washington Friday night may have been his most impressive performance of the season, even without the customary 60-yard run. Love played the game on a bad ankle and limped off to the sidelines on more than one occasion.

But the junior speedster rushed for 123 yards in the second half to lead his team to a 30-22 upset. In the process, he put Stanford back into the Pac-12 North Division race and put himself back into contention for the Heisman Trophy. Speaking of which…

Heisman Update: The trophy is now Baker Mayfield’s to lose. The Oklahoma quarterback had another stellar outing, throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for another 50 yards as the No. 5 Sooners thrashed TCU 38-20. Love is a solid second, as Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has had three straight sub-par outings.

Based on performances alone, the race should be a tossup between Mayfield and Love, but the Oklahoma star has the advantages of more daytime exposure, a better team, and three years of Heisman-calibre play.

Stanford has been a perpetual Heisman bridesmaid in recent years, with four second-place finishers (Toby Gerhard in 2009, Andrew Luck in 2010 and ’11, and Christian McCaffrey in 2015). Love has a chance to break the jinx if he has big games against Cal this weekend (in a rare 5:00 kickoff), in a high-profile matchup with Notre Dame next week, and against USC in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 1 (assuming the Cardinal gets in, which is contingent on a victory in the Big Game and a Washington State loss to Washington).

That’s a lot of ifs, but should Mayfield stumble against West Virginia Nov. 25 or in the Big 12 title game, Love has a shot.

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//

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