Stanford Slumps; Trojan Turnover
Stanford could be looking at its first losing football season in 11 years.
It’s still early, but the Cardinal’s streak of 10 straight winning seasons and 10 straight post-season appearances, including three Rose Bowls, appears to be in serious jeopardy.
After a 45-27 loss to UCF Saturday, in a game that was much more one-sided than the score might indicate, Stanford stands at 1-2, with heavily-favored Oregon on tap Saturday. Looking ahead at the remaining schedule, there are only three games that appear to be likely wins for Coach David Shaw’s charges: at Oregon State on Sept. 28, home vs. UCLA on Oct. 17, and home vs. Arizona on Oct. 26.
Stanford has owned UCLA in recent years, and the Bruins have regressed under Chip Kelly, but the other two games are far from sure things. Corvallis has been a tough place for Stanford to play over the years, and Arizona has quarterback Khalil Tate and a defense that held Texas Tech’s scoring machine to 14 points last week.
Otherwise, the schedule is full of excellent quarterbacks and ranked teams: Oregon (#16), Washington State (#19), Washington (#22), Cal (#23), and Notre Dame (#7), plus a Colorado team that upset Nebraska.
Three games into the 2019 season, Stanford has only seven touchdowns, two of which were scored by the defense. And speaking of defense, the Cardinal has yielded 90 points and 1,037 yards in its last two games.
UCF had too much speed, a brilliant freshman quarterback named Dillon Gabriel, and a host of talented receivers. The Knights played too fast for Stanford and, for the second game in a row, the Cardinal had no pass rush.
Costello Struggling: The offense has been plagued by injuries to linemen Walker Little and Foster Sarell, and quarterback K.J. Costello has not played well in his two starts (he missed the USC game with an apparent concussion).
Against UCF, Costello threw behind receivers, completed less than half of his passes, tossed an interception that was returned to the one-yard line, and had three other potential picks dropped.
It’s not all K.J.’s fault. His top three receivers—Trent Irwin, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Kaden Smith—were lost to graduation. This year’s group is not getting open very often (unlike Irwin, who was open all the time) and doesn’t have Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to out-jump and out-wrestle defenders for the ball. As a result, Costello has been forcing the ball to tight end Colby Parkinson and throwing up a lot of "jump balls” that have either ended up on the ground or in the possession of an opposing player.
We had predicted a 6-6 season, but that looks like a stretch now unless Costello steadies, a dependable possession receiver emerges, and Stanford develops a pass rush.
Jones Impresses: The one bright spot for Stanford at UCF was freshman running back Austin Jones. Stanford icon Touchdown Tommy Vardell coached Jones last year at Bishop O'Dowd HS in Oakland and raved about him. Tommy showed me some video on Jones last year over breakfast, and pointed out Jones’ vision, cut back ability and toughness. All were on display against UCF.
Shannon Sighting: UCF's defensive coordinator is Randy Shannon, the former Miami coach. Class act. Excellent coach. We had the pleasure of hosting Randy at the 2008 Emerald Bowl, when his team faced Jeff Tedford's Cal Bears.
Both head coaches have suffered some setbacks since then. Jeff was fired by Cal, had some medical issues, and coached in Canada for awhile, but now is doing great things at Fresno State.
Second chances are hard to come by for black coaches, but Randy could do something similar if given an opportunity by an astute AD.
Trojan Turnover: The once-proud USC Athletic Department has been undermined over the last decade by cronyism, incompetence and corruption (sounds a bit like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). A series of bad Athletic Directors and football coaches, along with illegal payments to basketball recruits and heavy involvement in the national admissions scandal, have brought failure and disgrace to Heritage Hall.
But the times may be a-changin'. Athletic Director Lynn Swann was forced to resign last week, and new president Carol Folt has launched a national search for his replacement. Odds are, it won't be a famous ex-Trojan football player, since Mike Garrett, Pat Haden and Swann didn’t work out too well.
In all likelihood, the new AD will be able to hire his or her own football coach. Clay Helton may have bought himself some time with a nice victory over Stanford, but Saturday's dis-spiriting loss to BYU in overtime probably sealed his fate. Unless Helton can beat Utah this weekend and win the conference, the new AD will be looking for a new coach.
Randy Shannon would be a great choice.
Mr. Hypocrisy: The California bill to allow athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness (NIL) passed by a 72-0 vote in the state legislature, and now goes to Governor Gavin Newsom for signature.
“We’re firmly against anything that would lead to a pay-for-play system,” said sanctimonious Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference.
This from the highest paid commissioner in college athletics. The man who makes $5.3 million per year from the labors of those athletes.
Collateral damage: Three straight losing seasons and declining crowds at Oracle Park have taken their toll on restaurants neighboring the Giants' stadium.
Last week, three long-time staples closed their doors—Pete's Tavern, Pedro's Cantina and Amici's Pizza. I've been to all three establishments many times and wish their owners, particularly our old friend, Pete Osborne, only the best. (Pete's other two local restaurants, Momo's and Mission Rock, are apparently still alive and well.)