Cal, USC...Stanford?: The Cardinal, Serious Contenders for Pac-10 Crown

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Cal, USC...Stanford?: The Cardinal, Serious Contenders for Pac-10 Crown
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

So you think you’re a contender for a Pac-10 Championship?

Well, get in line, because nine other teams are under the illusion that they are too.

Like all reality shows, the contest for the Pac-10 crown brings out a variety of participants, including those contestants that are obviously just here for the viewer's amusement. 

Washington State plays this fool quite well. They know when to put up a fight but also know when it's time to let the true stars shine. Their main purpose is to quickly weed out any pretenders. A struggle with the fool means you are no better than one.

Arizona. You seem like a team that would have foolish struggles, so in my best Hawk Harrelson voice I say, “He Gone” to the both of you.

Then there are those contestants that have just enough talent to get people interested in them, even though they secretly know things will eventually end in tragedy.

Washington captured the hearts of many with their upset of the unstable Trojans, but don’t be too quick in forgetting their winless season. An impressive collapse is in the Huskies’ foreseeable future where their true colors will undoubtedly shine.

UCLA has a pretty decent following that talks big, but when push comes to shove, they know that their offense relies on two freshman prospects who are filled with potential but are missing experience. Pac-10 defenses will devour this for breakfast, regurgitate it, and have it again for lunch. 

Arizona State’s inebriated collegiate fanbase still finds reason to go to games, but as they start to sober up, they will quickly learn that Dennis Erickson comes with a praying-to-the-porcelain-gods hangover. Just ask Oregon State fans how well old man Erickson did after having one impressive season in Corvallis.

Speaking of Oregon State...Beaver fans, let's face it. You used up all of your magic last year, and the Weasley twins won’t sell you any more. Welcome back to the middle of the pack. 

That leaves this contest up for grabs amongst the favorites and the underdog. 

Everyone knows the favorites: California, USC, and Oregon. 

These three teams have been touted as Pac-10 contenders for years, and one of these seasons, a team north of Thousand Oaks is actually going to take it.

Which happens to be exactly where you will find my underdog. 

Stanford. 

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing, but don’t be so quick to shoot this theory down.

Outside of a few areas on Stanford’s defense, the Cardinal actually can compete in talent at almost every position with the three Pac-10 bigwigs.

Freshman quarterback Andrew Luck is definitely talented and confident enough to run this position successfully. While leaning on a young quarterback can often be a crapshoot, Luck has actually looked much more comfortable in the pocket and throwing on the run than either Jeremiah Masoli, Aaron Corp, or Matt Barkley.

Luck also has the benefit of throwing to two wideouts who rank in the Pac-10’s top 10. 

Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen combine for more receptions and reception yards than any other receiver duo in the conference. These guys are big, strong, and run excellent routes. 

Thankfully, this gamble on the progressing freshman has a fallback plan.

Toby Gerhart is the heart and soul of this team, and he would be the best running back on the West Coast if wasn’t for that extraordinary beast residing in Berkeley. Gerhart paves the road for this offense with his brute force and his plethora of on-field accomplishments.

Both assets are outstandingly protected by what some call the best offensive line in the conference. 

Stanford’s O-line has only allowed two sacks, while USC, Cal, and Oregon have more than double that. In fact, the boys up front have allowed only seven tackles for losses, and that’s with the majority of their games coming on the road. 

The Cardinal defensive front line isn’t too shabby either. 

Sophomore defensive end Tom Keiser’s four sacks ties the conference lead, and fellow underclassman Chase Thomas accompanies him in that category’s top 10 as well. 

As we drift further into the Cardinal defense, we find ourselves in areas where they could definitely show improvement.

The Cardinal linebackers have looked infantile at times, but bruiser Clinton Snyder has great leadership and the ability to carry them. The senior linebacker is everywhere on the field and is always looking to take someone’s head off. 

He currently ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in tackles, and by the end of the year he could very well be leading that category.    

The Stanford secondary is where things get really shaky. 

The novice corps has faced inadequate passing attacks to start off the season, and while they have been improving, they have been less than impressive. An accurate quarterback has the potential to pick these guys apart, and if they can't keep games close, it may blow Stanford’s entire season out of the water.

But hey...no pressure.

However, playing from behind is unfortunately inevitable for Stanford, and when that time comes, seeing how this potentially explosive offense responds could silence any doubters.

The stumble out of the gate by USC and the possibility that Cal chokes in Eugene (or really anywhere else) emanates the hope that this could really be anyone’s year.

If Stanford can take care of business in Jim Harbaugh’s “defining” third year and enter the Big Game on Nov. 21 with no more than two conference losses, a piece of the Pac-10 crown could seriously be on the line in the Cardinal’s final conference game of the year.

And that is no joke.

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