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Back to Reality

Back from a great vacation in the Big Apple, where we enjoyed walking everywhere from Central Park to Greenwich Village, went to a concert (Steely Dan), a play (“Mean Girls”…I was outnumbered!), two museums (9/11 and Whitney), ate lots of great food (Tessa, Catch, Locanda Verde, Gallagher’s), and discovered Eataly.

Now it’s back to reality, where injuries, upsets, ugly uniforms and terrific matchups are all part of the game.

Bay Area Blues: It wasn’t that long ago that Cal was 4-0 and ranked no. 15 in the country, and Stanford was bouncing back from a slow start with a stellar performance against Washington.

But both teams have been derailed by crippling injuries.

After Stanford starting quarterback KJ Costello was sidelined by a bad thumb, backup Davis Mills seemed to be coming into his own against Washington before suffering the latest in his three year run of knee injuries. Down to third string QB Jack West, Stanford was embarrassed by lowly UCLA, a team they’d beaten 10 straight times.

The injuries to Costello and Davis are part of a disturbing recent pattern for the Cardinal. The loss of five offensive linemen for the season has crippled the once proud Stanford running game, which ranks 112th in the nation, and kicker Jet Toner is now out for the year.

Cal, meanwhile, has lost three straight since QB Chase Garbers, coming off the best two games of his career, went down against Arizona State. His replacement, Devon Modstar, was ineffective (to put it mildly), before suffering an injury against Oregon State and giving way to true freshman Spencer Brasch, who also struggled.

So both teams are facing the prospect of having to play one or more games with their third string QB as they enter the critical part of the season...the stretch of games that will determine whether they qualify for a bowl or end up with a losing record.

The Bears (4-3) are in tough, with remaining games against No 12 Utah, Washington State, USC, Stanford and UCLA. Bowl eligibility, seemingly a lock just a few weeks ago, is now up in the air.

Stanford (3-4) has a winnable game this Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats, who have quarterback issues of their own. It’s Homecoming weekend in Palo Alto, so hopefully there will be more people in the stands than the pathetic crowd that turned out last Thursday night for UCLA.

Blacked Out: Every once in awhile, Stanford trots out these hideous all-black uniforms. They surfaced again last week against UCLA. It almost made me want to root for the Bruins.

I may be old-fashioned (Stanford '71), but I think teams should wear their school colors. Stanford's colors are red and white. The team nickname is the in the color cardinal, not the bird.

Apparently the players "like" wearing all black. No matter. As my old friend, the great SF Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins says, it's an "inconceivably bad idea." Bruce may be a Cal guy, but he’s spot on.

McCaffrey Returns: Another homecoming of sorts will take place this weekend when former Stanford great Christian McCaffrey leads the Carolina Panthers into Levi’s Stadium to meet the surprise team of the NFL—the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers.

It will be a fascinating matchup between the best running back in the league against one of the best defenses in the league.

World Series: Pitching was supposed to be the dominant theme in this year’s World Series between the surprising Washington Nationals and the heavily-favored Houston Astros.

The starting pitchers—Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke for the Astros, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez for the Nationals—have resumes that include Cy Young Awards, an MVP trophy, 20-win seasons, no-hitters, league best ERAs and strikeout totals…well, you get the idea.

They even throw a complete game now and then.

In a league dominated by relief pitching, the Astros and Nats buck the trend. This year, relievers threw 42% of all innings in the regular season, an all-time high, which equates to an average of 3 2/3 innings per game. Both World Series teams were considerably lower than the league average, coming in around 35%.

Yet last night in game 1, the hitters over-achieved, belting three home runs in a 5-4 Washington victory. The Nats scored all five runs against the previously untouchable Cole, while the 35-year old Scherzer gutted out five innings to get the win.

As Chris Berman used to say, “that’s why they play the games.”

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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