The Oregon Ducks’ stunning 38-35 loss to the USC Trojans had repercussions throughout the college football world, some of which affected the Stanford Cardinal.
While Stanford took care of business in their own Big Game, the 31-28 win over rival California could have meant so much more if they had just beaten the Ducks. Instead, the Cardinal were forced to watch a team who beat them 53-30 lose to a team they beat 56-48 in triple overtime.
In the short-term, the Ducks losing to USC will elicit many conflicting emotions from Stanford, a team that has undoubtedly run through a gamut of emotions. What’s critical here is to recognize which feelings are fleeting, and which will linger into the postseason and beyond.
For those of you wish to take a dive inside the mind of the Stanford Cardinal, follow me as I attempt to decipher what the Oregon loss really means for the Palo Alto side long-term. It will not be an easy descent, nor a straightforward one, but by the end we might achieve enlightenment.
Oregon’s loss to USC in Eugene must have initially satisfied a Stanford squad that probably still believes they’re better than the Ducks.
See, the Cardinal might say, we actually beat USC on the road, and you couldn’t even handle them in your own house. Autzen Stadium, once home to 21 consecutive Oregon victories, is one of the loudest stadiums in the country. If you couldn’t capitalize on that advantage, you deserved to lose.
Going down 14-0 to a team they should have beaten is exactly the flat start Oregon didn’t need. Just as they squandered their shot at a national title in the previous week, Stanford must have been incredibly satisfied to see the Ducks do the same.
It’s always good to see a division rival lose so spectacularly on a national stage, and Oregon’s loss to SC was no exception in the eyes of the Cardinal. Now that they’ve lost their second game of the season, think of all the possibilities that emerge…
Premature excitement should have coursed through Stanford veins after learning of Oregon’s blunder.
“We’re back in control of the Pac-12 North,” Stanford must have thought. “We can make the Pac-12 title game! We control our own destiny!”
“Since Oregon is now 9-2, and we’re 10-1, we’re on the fast track to a Rose Bowl berth, even a national championship,” speculated jubilant Stanford scholars. “The BCS math is finally working in our favor! The Pac-12 crown is ours to lord over all puny opposition!”
Pop the champagne Stanford, Oregon lost. Go do whatever it is you guys do to celebrate. Paint mustaches on statues in the Rodin Sculpture Garden, stage a kegger in the Oval, or just get dizzy in Dinkelspiel Auditorium; whatever catches your whimsy. Chop down tall trees with that axe you just retained, the battle for Pac-12 supremacy is all but over.
Maybe, in your excited revelry, chance a look at the BCS and conference standings to cement the celebratory atmosphere. Only positives there, right?
Wait a minute…
“We’ve been had!” Stanford might angrily proclaim. “Oregon’s loss to USC doesn’t catapult us into Pac-12 front runners or even gives us an edge in their division. The Duck’s first loss was outside the conference to LSU, thus making our conference records equal at 7-1 with the tiebreaker going to Oregon!”
Suddenly, all the misbegotten euphoria surrounding Stanford dissolves into a furious, rage-filled haze. With Oregon facing cream-puff Oregon State to close out their conference campaign, they will almost certainly represent the Pac-12 North and beat whatever D-II squad emerges from the South. A ticket to the Rose Bowl is as assured to be punched for Oregon as it is out of the reach of Stanford football.
The recent BCS rankings have been unveiled, putting Stanford at sixth while Oregon settles at 10th. With an all-SEC top three, Stanford has no shot at a BCS title game even if it hammers Notre Dame, somehow wins the North, and wins the inaugural Pac-12 title game.
Cue the throwing of chairs, the riots, the tantrums and accusations of unfairness by Stanford. How could Oregon lose to USC? A one-loss Oregon was the only way the Cardinal were ever going to get back into the title discussion. Now they have to face the stark, frustrating reality that the team they lost to got beat by a team they already beat.
For that very reason, Stanford should be feeling another, less hot-blooded emotion alongside anger…
Stanford should feel ashamed of themselves for losing to a team so apparently beatable. Oregon’s loss to USC underlines the ever-present subtext to the Ducks’ win over Stanford: the Cardinal should have won that game.
Stanford was predicted to win. They were at home with everything to play for. They had a methodical offense, a decent defense, and a Heisman candidate under center. How could they lose? David Shaw probably still mouths that last sentence every night at the blank, unfeeling ceiling before nodding off.
Fast-forwarding to Oregon-USC, it isn’t hard to argue that the Ducks should be ashamed of themselves for losing to USC. Oregon’s sole offensive trick is their speed. While the use of his timeouts would have saved time for extra plays, Chip Kelley did not deign to use them until it was too late. He gambled on his offense executing with the clock running down, and a catastrophic pass out to the flat for a loss proved him wrong.
Honestly, the game was lost well before that. To allow USC a 21-7 halftime advantage in a game Oregon was supposed to win by two touchdowns is shameful, especially in front of the home crowd. Sure, the comeback was nice, but that kind of effort should have been there from kickoff.
From a shame standpoint, the Cardinal and Ducks are one in the same. But for the Stanford program in particular, there will also be a profound sense of…
Oregon’s poor result in Eugene puts in sharp relief the colossal opportunity Stanford must regret to have missed.
It was a glorious future Stanford had stretched out in front of them on the fabric of time. Shining images of them raising the Pac-12 trophy, the BCS championship trophy, and Andrew Luck hoisting the Heisman were once as clear to them as a gold-leaf fresco.
Then Oregon happened. Unfortunate, heartbreaking, dream-ending Oregon. Like a college football Terry Malloy, Stanford could have been a contender. They could have been somebody, but now are only left to bleed out on the waterfront of their once-pristine season.
All Stanford can do now is pick up the pieces of their shattered hopes. And hammer Notre Dame, but that’s no consolation for the prize they now most certainly regret losing.
This team was once a title contender, now it probably won’t even win its own conference division. It’s easy to imagine Stanford shedding tears of regret after watching Oregon go down, and those salty reminders will almost certainly lead to…
Whether it’s for Oregon’s loss or their own, you can’t fault Stanford for hosting a private pity party right about now. The Cardinal had a shot at everything, and blew it spectacularly.
“Woe is us,” a Stanford player might cry through dry, racking sobs beneath the arches of Memorial Church. Few would argue with him, especially if that player turns out to be Andrew Luck.
Part man, part possible professional quarterback, Andrew Luck’s Heisman resume took a hit when the Ducks lost to USC. He committed three turnovers against a defense that Matt Barkley sliced and diced with aplomb. Luck’s one loss now looks that much worse when the team that beat him looked so easily undone. Barkley for the Heisman, anyone?
Wallowing in self-pity can only last so long though. Once the immediate sadness recedes, Stanford is left with deep...
Why should Stanford be anxious after USC’s upset of Oregon?
Well, it frankly doesn’t look good for the program. Under the national spotlight, the Cardinal should be apprehensive about what their recent poor form and Oregon’s failings say about the Pac-12 as a whole.
If the best teams can be beaten on any given Saturday, how can the conference make the argument that it stand close to the SEC in class?
Loses like these only detract from the Pac-12’s ability to recruit against other power conferences, and does nothing to dissuade skeptics from writing that the Pac-12 can’t play real football. Those with an east-coast bias will use the Pac-12’s self-implosion out of the national discussion as further reason to hate on the west coast’s best football conference.
Stanford should feel anxious because they were the conference’s primary standard-bearers on a national stage. They should recognize that their successes or failures reflect not just their own program, but also the stature of the Pac-12 as a whole.
What is there left to feel after being embarrassed by a team who themselves were soon embarrassed? Stanford’s only predicable route is to sink into a lengthy…
Now that Oregon has lost again, cue the Cardinal to be depressed and filled with self-doubt.
“We suck,” a beaten Stanford player might painfully exaggerate. “The Pac-12 sucks. Football sucks. My life sucks. Nothing matters anymore.”
The Ducks' loss to USC will rightly put Stanford in a long-term daze. The students will all learn to forgive the team, but perhaps the team won’t learn to forgive themselves. A national championship and a conference title are high costs for one bad loss.
As the days drift on by, Stanford players will slowly cease to show up for practice. Instead, they’ll retreat to their Palo Alto accommodations so no one can see their pain. Eventually, they'll stop getting dressed, preferring to eat quarts of Ben & Jerry's in their pajamas while huddling around each other during Steel Magnolia viewings.
David Shaw will seek therapy, and Andrew Luck will routinely break his bathroom mirror every morning, screaming, “You’re so ugly!” as he bloodies his knuckles. Fans will take solace in basketball season.
How will the team rebound? What is there to do in the face of such darkness? How will they ever learn to smile again?
Stanford can only emerge from the thick mist of depression by questioning everything.
Who am I? Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God? What is love? Will I ever be happy? What does it all mean? Why did Oregon have to lose to a USC team we beat?
You know, the big issues.
Philosophical reconsideration is the only way for Stanford to really contextualize the width and breadth of what they’ve inherently lost by Oregon losing to an inferior team. A pow-wow among the Rodin statues has to be in order, along with a careful reading of Stanford’s world-renowned philosophical database. Only then will the team truly lift itself out of the dark box losing has trapped them inside.
By questioning the metaphysics of college football, Stanford can correctly put Oregon’s loss into perspective. Nothing short of that will help.
As the team struggles through complex rhetoric and lengthy logic games, let’s cut to the chase. What will the long-term impact of Oregon’s loss to USC have on the Stanford Cardinal? What earth-shaking ramifications will be rendered by a Pac-12 upset? What will happen?
Ultimately, Oregon’s loss to USC means nothing to Stanford. It changes nothing in the conference picture. With Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden choking away a perfect season to Iowa State, the Heisman is still Andrew Luck’s to lose.
Stanford and Oregon will most likely win their final regular season games, making the Ducks kings of the Pac-12 North. Oregon will most likely beat Utah in the conference championship and represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.
The Cardinal will probably take the Holiday bowl or maybe an at-large BCS bid as a consolation prize for a successful season they should be proud of. While it wasn’t what their fans might have wanted, it is what they’ve received.
In sports, we have ways to decide who the better team is: a game. Stanford lost to Oregon, so Oregon can be characterized as the better team. Their loss to USC doesn’t diminish that, or realistically affect Stanford in the long-term.