One of the biggest story lines entering the 2009 college football season was whether or not USC was on the verge of an uncharacteristic down year.
The Trojans had lost a significant part of last season’s Rose Bowl team. They would be forced to start plenty of inexperienced players—including a true freshman, Matt Barkley, at quarterback.
After seven straight Pac-10 titles, many wondered aloud whether 2009 would finally see a new champion on the West Coast.
Perhaps it would be Cal’s year, many said. The Oregon Ducks were loaded with talent, others noticed. Some analysts warned that you could never count out Mike Riley’s Oregon State Beavers.
But Stanford? Who saw this coming?
I know I didn’t. I predicted the Cardinal to finish 5-7 overall and seventh in the Pac-10 standings.
Perhaps no team in the nation has been a more pleasant surprise in 2009 than Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal.
Not only has Stanford posted a 7-3 overall record (6-2 in conference) thus far, putting itself squarely in the Pac-10 title hunt, but the Cardinal have put together two of the most impressive wins in all of college football this season.
First came a 51-42 dismantling of a red-hot Oregon team, the team that just a week earlier had undressed USC in impressive fashion.
Then came the Cardinal’s chance at the Trojans in Los Angeles. The result? Maybe the most stunning final score of the season: a Stanford 55-21 shocker at the Coliseum.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Cinderella story of the 2009 season: the Stanford Cardinal.
So if you haven’t seen the arm of Andrew Luck yet, take a look. If you haven’t considered Toby Gerhart for the Heisman award yet, better wake up quickly—this guy may be the most underrated player in America.
And if you haven’t seen or heard a Harbaugh press conference yet, you need to check out one of the most quotable coaches in college sports, as well as a guy who will likely make his way to a major college (or pro) job very soon.
If you have just one game to watch this weekend, I highly recommend catching No. 25 California against the 17th-ranked Cardinal. With a Stanford win and an Oregon loss (at Arizona Saturday night), the Cardinal still have a serious shot at a Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Their story is as entertaining as it is remarkable—and it’s not done yet.
To week 12...
Five games you can’t miss this weekend
Well, this feels like old times again, doesn’t it? K-State and Nebraska battling it out for a trip to the Big 12 championship game. Shoot, even Bill Snyder is coming back for this one. Oh, he’s the head coach in Manhattan again? Guess that makes sense, then.
In all seriousness, K-State’s season has been pretty impressive when you consider where the Wildcats were coming from. Nebraska, on the other hand, has ridden one of the most wild roller coaster rides of any team in the country this season. The Huskers’ playmaking defense will be the difference-maker in this one.
Prediction: Nebraska 23, Kansas State 13
While this game has less significance to the Big 12 race than K-State-Nebraska, there still is plenty on the line in Austin this weekend. First, with a Texas win, the Longhorns clinch the Big 12 South and will play the K-State-Nebraska winner for the Big 12 championship in two weeks.
Secondly, and probably more significant, is the fact that Colt McCoy is one win away from becoming the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.
With both of those things on the line, the fact that Texas is averaging 41 points per game in its last four contests, and the added circus surrounding coach Mark Mangino at Kansas this week, you’ve got the makings of a blowout. But an entertaining one.
Prediction: Texas 44, Kansas 17
It is wild to think that it’s been just four years since this rivalry matchup was branded the “game of the century.” The 2005 contest had both the Big Ten title and a trip to the BCS championship game on the line. In 2009, the storylines won’t be quite as, shall we say, intriguing.
Nevertheless, it’s still Ohio State-Michigan—and as it is commonly said, you can’t count out anything in a rivalry game. But the Wolverines have lost four straight and seem to be struggling to slow opposing offenses.
For Ohio State, how Terrelle Pryor plays under the pressure of a big game in the Big House will be the key.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 23
This is one of several meaningful games in the weird and wacky Pac-10 this weekend. Oregon can clinch the conference crown with a win in Tucson. But beware of the Wildcats, one of many surprising teams in the league this season. Arizona has its own chance at a Pac-10 title, needing to win its remaining three games to earn a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
To win this weekend, the Wildcats have to get back to the strong rushing defense they’ve displayed for most of the season before giving up 176 yards last week to California. If Oregon’s rushing attack gets a chance to break out, the Pac-10 race will be over.
Prediction: Oregon 27, Arizona 24
This game starts just half an hour before Oregon-Arizona, meaning Stanford will still be in the hunt for a Pac-10 title at the time of kickoff. If the Cardinal can build an early lead, you’d have to forgive the players for peeking at the Oregon-Arizona score a few times.
For Stanford to do that, it will need to play better defense than it has the past two weeks. Lost in the huge wins of the past two weeks is the fact that Stanford gave up over 900 yards and 63 points in those contests. But it’s tough to see the Toby Gerhart train slowing down either. Expect lots of points, as well as another Stanford win.
Prediction: Stanford 38, Cal 29
For your viewing pleasure
No. 6 Boise State at Utah State (Fri. 9:30 EST, ESPN2): Boise State 41, Utah State 20
North Carolina at Boston College (Sat. 12:00 EST, ESPN2): UNC 26, BC 21
Minnesota at No. 13 Iowa (Sat. 12:00 EST, ESPN): Iowa 30, Minnesota 14
No. 4 TCU at Wyoming (Sat. 2:00 EST, The Mtn.): TCU 35, Wyoming 13
Connecticut at Notre Dame (Sat. 2:30 EST, NBC): Notre Dame 27, UCONN 20
No. 16 Wisconsin at Northwestern (Sat. 3:30 EST, Big Ten Network): Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 27
No. 14 Penn State at Michigan State (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Penn State 20, MSU 16
Kentucky at Georgia (Sat. 7:45 EST, ESPN2): Georgia 28, Kentucky 24
No. 8 LSU at Ole Miss (Sat. 3:30 EST, CBS): LSU 21, Ole Miss 17
C.J. Spiller (RB, Clemson)
Spiller has quietly launched himself into serious contention for the Heisman, ranking third in the country with 1,952 all-purpose yards. This week, Spiller and Clemson face Virginia (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC ), a team that gave up 268 rushing yards and 515 total yards to Miami two weeks ago. Expect Spiller to put on quite a show.