49ers' Slide; Michigan's Mess; Bay Area Heartbreak; NIL Numbers; Luck Boosts Stanford
Three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were hailed as the best team in the NFL after crushing Dallas, the league's top-ranked defense, 42-10.
Coach Kyle Shanahan's boys had won five straight to open the 2023 season, scoring 30 or more points in all five games and allowing only 13.6 per contest.
Now, suddenly, the team everyone--including this writer--had ticketed for the Super Bowl has lost three straight.
The once impenetrable defense has given up 661 yards passing the last two games, and the offense has only scored 17 points in each of the losses.
Wunderkind quarterback Brock Purdy, who hadn't thrown an interception in nine games, has thrown five in the last three, including four in crunch time.
There's no joy in 49erville today.
But it's not time to panic. Yet. Last year the 49ers started 3-4 and still made it to the NFC championship game before Purdy's injury ended their season.
A welcome bye week will give coach Shanahan and his staff a chance to take stock and make some necessary changes, especially on defense, where new coordinator Steve Wilks is struggling.
And time to consider trading for a proven cornerback or offensive lineman.
And time for stars Deebo Samuels and Trent Williams to heal. Their absence has no doubt contributed to the 49ers slump.
It's a long season. The Niners have plenty of time left to right the ship.
Michigan's Mess: What's going on at Michigan? Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff have now been involved in three scandals this year.
Harbaugh sat out the first three games of the season in a self-imposed suspension for recruiting violations, one the Wolverines hope will prevent more severe sanctions from the NCAA. Harbaugh apparently bought some recruits a cheeseburger and then lied about it to the NCAA.
Earlier this year, offensive coordinator Matt Weiss was discovered to have illegally accessed computers and emails in the athletic department offices. Weiss was fired for cause in January after "accessing university email accounts without authorization."
And now the sign-stealing scandal involving staffer Connor Stallions, which has become the biggest story in college football.
Stallions, a low-level assistant, ran an elaborate operation to illegally videotape sideline signaling and steal signs from future Michigan opponents.
Stallions apparently bought tickets, in his own name no less, to 30 Big Ten games at 11 different schools. All the purchased seats had vantage points of the sideline, with video surveillance showing a person in Stallions' seat recording the sidelines with his smart phone.
He also bought tickets for games at four schools outside of the Big Ten who were in contention for the College Football Playoff and tickets to the 2021 and '22 SEC title games, according to ESPN.
In all, Stallions bought tickets to more than 35 games at 17 stadiums around the country. He hired at least three other people to attend games and film sidelines to steal teams' signals.
Although Harbaugh claims he was unaware of Stallions sign-stealing activities, video shows Stallions standing next to Michigan coordinators and sideline coaches signaling to their defense during last year's Ohio State game. Five weeks ago, after returning from his three-game suspension, Harbaugh stood in front of reporters and claimed Michigan set "a gold standard" for rules compliance and would implement new policies to "make sure I don't ever get sidelined again.
"We've done an incredible job," Harbaugh said then. "We've gone to the nth degree to follow every rule."
Harbaugh is an excellent coach, but his world view begins and ends with football. Nothing else matters.
Throughout his tenure at Stanford, university and athletic department officials were always holding their breath in fear that he would do something to break NCAA rules.His attitude then, as now, was that winning football games is the most important thing in the world and coaches should do whatever it takes to win.
First CFP Rankings: Tomorrow afternoon the first College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings will be released.
My guess is that the committee will only focus on on-field activity and not be influenced by the Michigan sign-stealing fiasco.
So expect the Wolverines to be ranked in the top four along with Georgia, Florida State and Ohio State.
Ducks Rising: Each week I am more impressed with Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, who destroyed a tough Utah defense on Saturday.
Nix and Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., are now the top two candidates for this year's Heisman Trophy, followed by Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
With USC fading and Utah having absorbed its second loss, the Ducks and Huskies figure to meet in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec . 1, with the winner likely advancing to the College Football Playoff.
Bay Area Heartbreak: Both Stanford and Cal lost heartbreakers Saturday afternoon. The Bears, who led by 14 at one point, fell 50-49 to USC when a two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete in the final minute. The Bears appeared to be incontrol in the fourth quarter, but fumbled a punt on their own 18, handing the Trojans a gift touchdown that tied the game.
Stanford battled the No. 5 team in the country on even terms, but fell to Washington when a dropped fourth-down pass scuttled a drive for the potential game-winning field goal.
Cardinal QB Ashton Daniels was every bit as impressive as the Huskies' Penix, completing 31 of 50 passses for 367 yards and a TD, and rushing 18 times for 85 yards and two scores.
NIL Numbers: According to Opendorse, the leading marketplace platform for NIL deals, the average starter at big time football programs now takes in $100,000 per year, with 80% of the money coming through collectives. Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham says "NIL is the most important thing in college football. It's the most important thing in recruiting, which is the most important thing to your program,."
NIL has also given coaches an excuse for losing. Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops, after losing to Georgia a few weeks ago, said "fans have a right to complain...I just encourage them to donate more, because that's what those dudes are doing. I can promise you Georgia, they bought some pretty good players. You're allowed to these days. We could use some help."
USA Today's Dan Wolken, one of my favorite sportswriters, reacted to Stoops' quote: "So when you get your ass kicked in 2023, you tell your fans to buy better players."
Good Luck: Stanford's NIL collective, Lifetime Cardinal, has been boosted by the involvement of Andrew Luck, the former Stanford great who twice was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
Luck is a member of the board of directors of the collective. Luck told the San Francisco Chronicle that he and his wife, former Cardinal gymnast Nichole Pechanec, are sponsoring the school's freshman gymnasts.
Although the collective hasn't been officially endorsed by the athletic department, Stanford's coaches are understandably thrilled that their school is dipping its toes into NIL waters.
The founder, former Stanford soccer player Allen Thorpe, told the Chronicle that the collective has raised $4 million for NIL payments to Cardinal athletes.