Big Game Notes, Pac-12 Championship, Playoff Redundancy, Heisman, NFL Hypocrisy
Notes of note from around the world of college and pro football.
Big Game: Stanford beat Cal 23-13 in a game that was closer than the score might indicate. The Bears were victimized by a missed field goal and a roughing the passer penalty that kept alive Stanford's game-clinching drive.
Speaking of which, Stanford’s return to a conservative play-calling—after four straight games when the Cardinal opened up the exciting, productive passing game and scored 158 points—kept Cal in the game. Case in point: Stanford ran the ball on three third and long situations (two third and 13s, and one third and 12), failing to get the first down on each occasion.
For the season, Stanford ranked 122 out of 129 FBS teams with 108.3 rushing yards per game. On the other hand, the Cardinal ranked 19th in passing offense with 287.1 per game.
Despite those numbers, Stanford ran the ball 35 times for 92 yards in the Big Game and threw the ball only 29 times, gaining 237.
This year’s Big Game will also be remembered for being won by a defensive back. Stanford’s Paulson Adebo was simply astounding. He made two incredible interceptions, one a one-handed grab in the end zone, the other returned for a near pick-six to the Cal three yard-line, and also broke up a half dozen passes. A redshirt freshman, Adebo is already one of the best defensive players in the country.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Berkeley, with a big crowd of 57,857. Unfortunately, there were lots of empty seats in the Stanford section, a reflection not only of a somewhat disappointing season, but also the decline in season ticket buyers since the imposition of a ridiculous seat-license plan two years ago.
Pac-12 Championship. The night before Big Game, the Pac-12 Championship was played at Levi's Stadium.
The ugly title game fittingly summed up the 2018 season as well as the current status of the league. To wit:
Washington and Utah played an uninspired, boring game without an offensive touchdown. I actually fell asleep watching it in the third quarter.
The Pac-12's officiating woes were again on display. There was an egregious no-call on the final play of the game when Husky defensive back Byron Murphy (the game MVP), committed obvious pass interference, which would've given Utah one more chance from about the Husky 20 yard-line.
Once again, the game was poorly attended. The crowd was announced as 35,000 but appeared less than 20,000. As noted last week, neutral site games don’t work in the Pac-12. This isn’t the SEC. The Pac-12 Championship did well when it was played on the campus of the highest ranked team. That’s where it belongs.
The biggest response from the sparse crowd came during the trophy presentation when commissioner Larry Scott was roundly booed.
TV Numbers Fall Further: There are lots of possible reasons for Scott’s unpopularity, but earlier in the week the conference announced that the Pac-12 network had been dropped by AT&T…which means that the network is now being distributed to only 17 million homes.
Contrast this with the SEC (almost 70 million) and the Big Ten (60 million), and you can understand why the fans were booing. Given the disparity in revenue being distributed to Pac-12 schools versus their SEC and BIG counterparts, it wouldn’t be surprising if the conference’s athletic directors were booing, too.
Playoffs: As expected, Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma were selected to play in this year’s College Football Playoff. Georgia made it interesting by nearly upsetting the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game, but the prospect of three Power Five conferences being excluded from the playoff tipped the balance in Oklahoma's favor and the Big 12 champ Sooners got the No. 4 spot.
Same Old, Same Old: Familiarity may breed contempt in the College Football Playoff if the same teams keep getting in year after year. Consider that in the five years of the playoff, only 10 teams have participated. The conference disparity is even more telling. Here’s the breakdown on conferences and teams:
SEC (6)—Alabama (5), Georgia (1)
ACC (5)—Clemson (4), Florida State (1)
Big 12 (3)—Oklahoma (3)
Big 10 (3)—Ohio State (2), Michigan State (1)
Pac-12 (2)—Oregon (1), Washington (1)
Independent (1)—Notre Dame
Just another argument for expanding to eight teams asap.
Heisman: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been the favorite all year, but I think Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray will win the Heisman after another last weekend’s surprising turn of events. Murray, the Oakland A’s No. 1 draft pick in the recent MLB draft, had his typical outstanding performance in the Big 12 title game, but Tua was hampered by a leg injury and went to the sidelines late in the game.
Enter Jalen Hurts, who’d posted a 26-2 record as Alabama's starter in 2016 and ’17 before being replaced by Tagovailoa in the CFP Championship game last January, whereupon the freshman orchestrated a thrilling come-from-behind win in overtime.
This time, Hurts came off the bench to complete seven of nine passes for 82 yards and score the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard scamper.
You know your program is in good shape when your backup quarterback was the SEC Player of the Year two seasons ago.
And Finally: In the hypocritical world of the NFL, kneeling for the national anthem seems to be a more serious crime than domestic violence. Note how Colin Kaepernick can't get a job because he didn't stand for the national anthem, but guys who beat up their girlfriends routinely get a second chance.
It won't be long before someone claims former Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt, who lied to his team but was done in by a TMZ video of him assaulting a woman.