Random Thoughts on the Bay Area Sports Scene, Pac-12 Football
It was nice to see a good crowd in Stanford Stadium for the Big Game Saturday, the last one with Stanford and Cal in the Pac-12 Conference. Next year the two archrivals will face off as members of the ACC.
Some observations about the Bay Area teams:
Stanford: Regardless of what happens next week against Notre Dame, this initial season of the Troy Taylor Era at Stanford has been a success. He's built the foundation for his program, established a positive culture, installed most of his offense (though limited by the lack of talent on hand) and fielded a resilient, competitive team in most games.
The college football pundits, including this one, had the Cardinal pegged for a bleak season with a couple of wins. Instead, Taylor's boys have won three, with three others (Sac State, Arizona and Washington) where they were within one play of winning.
His biggest challenge going forward will be to develop a running game and a pass rush. Taylor needs to recruit a big time back. This year's team couldn't run the ball consistently, with quarterbacks Ashton Daniels and Justin Lamson as the team's two top rushers.
It wasn't that long ago that Stanford boasted running backs like Tommy Vardell, Glyn Milburn, Toby Gerhart, Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love.
Benedict Umeh: Speaking of recruiting, there was a great story in the SF Chronicle this week about top recruit Benedict Umeh, who has been diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Disease, but is in remission, planning to enroll at Stanford in January to participate in spring practice.
Congrats to Stanford's Taylor for standing by his commitment to Umeh, telling him he epitomized everything Stanford tries to be, when many coaches would've bailed.
I'm friends with the Umeh family, have spoken with Benedict at length, and can attest that he is a very impressive young man.
Cal: Cal's Bears have finally learned to win some close games, holding on to beat WSU 42-39 and Arizona State 24-21 this year. The 50-49 heartbreaker to USC would've been nice, too.
The Bears can go to a bowl game if they beat UCLA next weekend in the Rose Bowl.
The big stories this season have been the 1000-yard rushing performance of their best player, Jaydn Ott, who gained 166 in 36 carries in the Big Game, and the emergence of quarterback Fernando Mendoza. They should do well in the ACC next year.
Civil War: Don't miss Friday night's Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State.
Depending on what happens with Oregon State after this season--Pac-2, Mountain West or some combination--this could be the end of the classic series. Which would be a damn shame.
Yesterday Washington and Washington State agreed to meet in the Apple Cup for the next five years. Oregon and OSU need to do the same with the Civil War.
Last year the Ducks had a 31-10 lead, but OSU came back to win 38-34. This year's game should be another doozy.
Oregon will advance to the Pac-12 championship game with a victory, setting up a matchup between leading Heisman candidates Bo Nix (Oregon) and Michael Penix Jr. (Washington).
OSU is playing to prove it belongs in a Power 5 conference and earn a spot in one of the New Year's Six bowl games.
I like the Ducks in Eugene in another nail-biter. I also like them to beat Washington in the Pac-12 championship game and advance to the College Football Playoff.
Of course, that pick is contingent on Oregon coach Dan Lanning not making any more idiotic decisions to go for it on fourth down.
Ohio State-Michigan: Saturday's schedule is topped by No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 2 Ohio State in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines will be without head coach Jim Harbaugh, serving a three-game suspension for his school's sign-stealing antics.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy seems lost without Harbaugh on the sidelines, and Ohio State has been improving since running back TreVeyon Henderson returned from injury. I like Ohio State in an upset.
Trojan Blues: Back on October 9, when USC was undefeated (6-0), we predicted the Trojans were going to fall apart because of their awful defense. We wrote:
"SC's upcoming schedule has to make Lincoln Riley's head spin: this Saturday at Notre Dame; Oct. 21 Utah; Nov. 4 Washington; Nov. 11 at Oregon; Nov. 18 UCLA. With its underperforming defense, I believe SC will lose three of those games."
Turns out I was being charitable. The Trojans lost all five, and easily could've also lost to Cal but squeaked out a 50-49 win.
So Caleb Williams' final season ends at 7-5. USC is now 7-7 in its last 14 games, certainly not what the suits in Los Angeles were hoping for when they brought in Riley from Oklahoma at $10M per year.
On the Brink: Stanford's women's basketball team is off to a great start, having demolished No. 9 Indiana by 30 points and moving up to No. 6 in the national rankings. Yesterday's overtime 82-79 win against Duke was as entertaining a college basketball game as you'll see this year.
In addition to superstar Cameron Brink, a candidate for College Player of the Year, the Cardinal has been getting great play from forward/center Kiki Iriafen. Both players had career highs yesterday, Brink with 29 and Iriafen with 27.
Brink, who only converted 64.7 and 61.5% of her free throws as a freshman and sophomore, improved to 84.8% last year and now has made 72 consecutive free throws, only three short of the NCAA record of 75. Sometimes practice does make perfect.
Golden State's Slump: Just when we thought the Warriors had regained their footing, thanks to Steph Curry's brilliance and the surprising strength of the second unit led by Chris Paul, the bottom fell out.
The big culprits have been two of the mainstays on the Warriors' championship teams--Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Thompson's shooting has been downright pathetic so far this year, and Green threw an insane headlock on OKC's Rudy Gobert that resulted in a five-game suspension.
Thompson seems to have lost confidence in his shot. He may be pressing in the final year of his contract.
Niners' Gold: The 49ers seem to be back on track after a three-game slump, scoring impressive wins over Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. That's what the return of the best offensive tackle in the game, Trent Williams, and dangerous wide back Deebo Samuels, will do for you.
In my mind, the 49ers have the best running back (Christian McCaffrey), offensive lineman (Williams), linebacker (Fred Warner), defensive end (Nick Bosa) and fullback (Kyle Juszczyk) in the game. Not to mention the second best tight end, George Kittle, and two of the top 20 wide receivers in Samuels and Brandon Aiyuk.
And Mr. Irrelevant, the brilliant Brock Purdy, has become one of the best five quarterbacks in the league.
A's Slither Away: The hypocritical, greed-driven MLB owners unanimously approved the relocation of the Oakland A's to Las Vegas, spewing many of A's owner John Fisher's lies about the Oakland community and civic leaders in the process.
It would be poetic justice for the A's deal in Sin City to fall apart, forcing them back to Oakland with their tail between their legs.
Best option of all, of course, would be for Fisher to sell the team to Joe Lacob or another owner who'd actually try to field a winning team and treat the fans with respect.
Giants Shopping: Ok, Farhan Zaidi, please do something meaningful. Re-signing Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater isn't going to get it done.
A few suggestions: Shohei Ohtani (obvious), Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, for starters.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!