Topsy-Turvy Sports Scenes in Bay Area, LA

“Oh my,” as the late Dick Enberg used to say, how things have changed in the sports world in both Northern and Southern California.

Here in the Bay Area, the two college football teams are undefeated and ranked in the top 25, while the two professional teams are struggling.

In baseball, the Oakland A’s, who finished in last place in their division the last three seasons, are headed for the playoffs, while the three-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants are finishing their second straight miserable season.

Fortunately, the Warriors open practice this week and are likely to restore some order by winning another NBA title.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the two traditional college football powers, USC and UCLA, are both under water. The Bruins are 0-3 and the Trojans had to squeak by Washington State to improve to 2-2.

When was the last time both Stanford and Cal were ranked, and neither USC nor UCLA was ranked?

Had to be a long, long time ago.

Let’s take a look at the key players.

Stanford Steals One in Eugene: As one of my old coaching friends used to say, “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” To put it mildly, Stanford was extremely lucky to win the game Saturday night in Eugene. The Ducks dominated the Cardinal and were a yard from salting things away late in the third quarter, when a bad snap sailed over the head of QB Justin Herbert and was picked up by Stanford linebacker Joey Alfieri, who raced 80 yards for a touchdown. So instead of 31-7, it was suddenly 24-14.

The other “gift” came with 51 seconds left, with Oregon nursing a 31-28 lead, when running back CJ Verdell fumbled and Stanford recovered. That led to the Cardinal’s game-tying field goal as time expired.

Recall that the fumble occurred on a second-and-two play. If rookie coach Mario Cristobal had his QB take a knee on second and third down, and Stanford used its final time out, there would’ve been less than 10 seconds remaining on fourth down. At that point, a quick punt, deliberate safety, or QB sneak would’ve either run out the clock or left Stanford with—at best—a couple of seconds for one hail Mary. All preferable to having a freshman running back fight for extra yardage and give the game away.

Along with the game balls for Cristobal, the Oregon center, and Verdell, Stanford had a number of heroes who came up big.

Quarterback K.J. Costello and wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside again combined for two touchdowns. Costello was impressive in crunch time, leading the Cardinal on a three-play drive to cut the Oregon lead to 31-28 and again in setting up the game-tying field goal after Verdell’s fumble.

Tight ends Kaden Smith, who had six receptions, and Colby Parkinson, who tipped the ball to himself for the go-ahead TD in overtime, were both outstanding.

Defensive back Paulson Adebo was beaten much of the night by the Duck’s all-world receiver Dillon Mitchell, who had 14 receptions for 239 yards. But after Parkinson’s TD, Paulson broke up three straight pass attempts to Mitchell in the end zone and Stanford intercepted on fourth down to clinch the victory.

Next up is Notre Dame, and if Stanford beats another ranked team on the road, its resume will be as good as any team in college football.

Cal-Oregon: This week the surprising and unbeaten Bears host Oregon in Berkeley. The Cal defense has been superb so far this season, but hasn’t faced a team with Oregon’s speed or a quarterback with a fraction of Herbert’s talent. The big question is, will the Ducks bounce back from a heart-breaking loss, or will they be deflated by losing a big game they should’ve won. I think Cal will have its hands full.

USC Exhales: The Trojans came from behind against WSU, then had to block a last-second field goal attempt to escape with a 39-36 win. Freshman QB JT Daniels showed more maturity than in his previous two games and may be growing up before our eyes. This week SC travels to Arizona, a tough place to play. The Wildcats’ pre-season Heisman candidate Khalil Tate has taken a back seat to running back J.J. Taylor, who rushed for 284 yards in a win over Oregon State.

Bruins in Must-Win Situation: After three embarrassing losses in non-conference play, Coach Chip Kelly’s Bruins travel to unbeaten Colorado, listed first in the AP’s “also receiving votes” category (equivalent to a No. 26 national ranking). UCLA needs a win in the worst way, while the Buffs are eyeing the Pac-12 Southern Division title in a year when both LA teams are down. Colorado should send the Bruins home at 0-4.

49er/Raiders: The outlook for both Bay Area NFL teams is pretty grim. Tough break for the 49ers, staging a comeback against the high-octane Kansas City Chiefs, then losing franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a knee injury.

As for Oakland, no one, including this writer, expected the Raiders to be 0-3. Then again, none of us expected them to be stupid enough to trade Khalil Mack, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL.

A’s/Giants: Both teams have had a rash of injuries, and both have received surprising performances from an assemblage of young and retread pitchers. It’s not this simple, of course, but the biggest reason the A’s have 94 wins and the Giants have 72 is the disparity in home runs. The Giants have 130 and the A’s have 214. The Giants’ top home run hitter has 16, while the A’s have five players with more than 20, including vastly under-recognized league-leader Khris Davis with 45.

Enough said.

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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