A Week to Remember, Stanford Hoops, Staying Put

Last week’s five college and NFL playoff games provided ample evidence of why we love football.

Alabama 26, Georgia 23: On 2nd and 26, after absorbing a 16-yard sack, Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throws a 41-yard TD pass to win the national championship in overtime.

New England 35, Tennessee 14: Tom Brady and the Patriots, who've appeared in seven of the last 16 Super Bowls, put on a clinic in dispatching the Titans.

Philadelphia 15, Atlanta 10: With Atlanta knocking on the door in the final seconds, the Falcons' Julio Jones, considered by many the best receiver in football, slips down in the end zone, scrambles to his feet, and mis-times his jump for Matt Ryan's floater; the ball goes through Jones' arms, falls incomplete, and the Eagles win.

Jacksonville 45, Pittsburgh 42: The Jags convert two early Ben Roethlisberger turnovers, then hang on for dear life in a real barnburner.

Minnesota 29, New Orleans 24: After the incomparable Drew Brees brings the Saints back from a 17-0 deficit and positions his team for what appears to be the game-winning field goal with 25 seconds left, the Vikings win it on a miraculous 61-yard pass on the final play.

Quarterback Shocker: Tom Brady was a gimme, but it’s safe to say that no one, and I mean no one, would’ve predicted that Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum would be the other three starting quarterbacks in the NFC and AFC Championship games this weekend. Keenum and Foles are only in the lineup because of injuries to the Vikes’ Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford and the Eagles' Carson Wentz. Bortles has been booed as much as cheered in Jacksonville this year.

Yet here they are on the brink of the Super Bowl, while established stars Brees, Ryan and Roethlisberger have been sent packing.

Why? The Jags, Vikes and Eagles have the best defenses in the league.

Stanford Hoops: These are exciting times for Stanford basketball. Second-year coach Jerod Haase has the Cardinal playing at a level not seen in a long time.

We're used to excitement when it comes to Stanford women's basketball, with legendary coach Tara Vanderveer seemingly taking her teams to the Final Four every season. But the men's team has languished in recent years, only reaching the NCAA Tournament once in eight years under former coach Johnny Dawkins. This despite the presence of four players who'd go on to the NBA--Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Anthony Brown, and (briefly) Chasson Randle.

Haase's team has won four straight to jump into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 Conference with Arizona. The Cardinal, after blowing a 17-point lead to California at the free throw line, swept UCLA and USC at home, then beat Washington State and Washington on the road. It was the first Pac-12 road sweep by the Cardinal in eight years.

The team has good size and quickness, and a nice blend of seasoned veterans and promising freshmen. The vets include 6'8" bull-in-a-China-shop Reid Travis, one of the top big men in the conference, talented but erratic 6'9" front-liner Michael Humphrey, and 6'5" three-point marksman Dorian Pickens.

The frosh group, rated one of the top 15 recruiting classes in the country last year, has potential stars in 6-3 point guard Daejon Davis, 6-8 small forward Kezie "KZ" Okpala and 6-9 leaper Oscar Da Silva.

Okpala, himself a former point guard, grew 10 inches in high school and led his team to the California state high school championship last year. Davis originally committed to Washington, but switched to Stanford when Husky coach Lorenzo Romar was fired.

Romar's firing was the best thing to happen to Stanford basketball in awhile. On Saturday Davis returned home to Seattle and led Stanford to a 73-64 win over Washington.

The young Cardinal still can't make free throws, shooting just over 50% from the line, and Davis is prone to turnovers. But the future looks very bright at Maples Pavilion. A big litmus test awaits this week with home games against Arizona State and Arizona.

Love Returns: That huge, collective sigh of relief you heard late Monday night emanated from the Stanford football office, as Bryce Love, the nation’s top running back, opted to return to the Farm for his senior year. Love is simply the most exciting player in the country. He rushed for 2,118 yards and had 13 runs over 50 yards in ‘17...and he played the last half of the season on a bum ankle. With four top underclassmen turning pro—tight end Dalton Schultz, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks—Stanford could ill afford to lose its biggest offensive weapon.

Niumatololo Stays Put: As noted in our previous post, several media outlets reported that Navy coach Ken Niumatololo was offered the head coaching job at Arizona. On Sunday, he decided to remain at Annapolis. The same thing happened two years ago when Niumatololo, a devout Mormon, was apparently headed to BYU and then withdrew at the last minute.

The Arizona job would've given Niumatololo the chance to coach in a Power Five conference, compete for a spot in the playoff, and inherit a team with lots of talent. (Not to mention make a lot more money). But Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk is a very persuasive guy.

And Navy is a very special place. If you've ever been to an Army-Navy game (and I've been lucky enough to be on the field for two of them), it's an experience you'll never forget. The young men Niumatololo coaches are a different breed. Along with the players at Army and Air Force, Midshipmen have responsibilities and time demands unlike any others in college football. They are under-sized in every game. But they've beaten Notre Dame, Pitt and Missouri in recent years.

Having spent a lot of time with Ken and his wife, Barbara, I know that money and prestige aren't the most important things to them.

They made the right decision.

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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