If you follow our football coverage in the next several days, you will notice that the matchup on Saturday between the Cardinal and Oregon is not an easy subject to handle for Stanford fans. But it’s a question I am starting to have to face more and more as I transition from my life as a young, naïve fan to someone who I think has at least a little perspective on the sports world: What do you do, when your team has almost no chance?
I guess I should also clarify that this is also a question I have to consider most strongly as a journalist, because as a fan, the easy answer, as “Mo Problems Mo Beyda” so eloquently put it, is to put the blinders on and be stupidly loyal.
But as a journalist, the question is both relevant and nuanced.
At the moment, my conflict centers around the unfortunate truth that the Oregon Ducks football team is the greatest show on turf since “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Chip Kelly has assembled a team of athletic freaks who race up and down the field at an unbelievable clip, and then someone let him recruit a quarterback who can actually throw the ball. Bullocks.
Stanford, on the other hand, is at times a confusing, exhilarating, maddening, scintillating and terrifying team.
The team puts so much pressure on the quarterback that it sometimes backfires, leaving gaps to scramble forward in the pocket or luring defenders into over pursuing. Then at other times, the quarterback never escapes and you end up with a #partyinthebackfield and some moderately entertaining sack dances. (I’m currently particular to Shayne Skov’s new one that seems to be a cross between doing the Cucaracha, punching someone in the face and shooting a bow and arrow.)
Earlier in the year I was having trouble believing that Josh Nunes could be victimized by dropped passes so many times. Then I just felt kind of sorry for him because after like three drops he would throw a duck that just made everything worse.
Every other game, Kulabafi shows up and goes crazy, setting records here and there and showing off a side shuffle lean in the gap that seriously has to be among the best in the country. I know he isn’t Toby, but he can certainly put the team on his back.
The list goes on, especially because as a student myself, it is impossible not to have class with these guys or see them at parties or become friends with them just because I’m a college kid who loves sports and they are college kids who love sports too. You can certainly choose who your friends are, but I refuse to exclude from that list the people on campus I probably relate to the most.
But then it comes times to face facts.
Like the fact that Oregon is No. 2 in the BCS for a reason, that reason being that the team has consistently been one of the fastest offensive teams in the country for the last several years and they have athletes on both sides of the ball that can match up with anyone. Like the fact that they hung 59 points on Cal, 52 on Washington and 70 on Colorado without trying. Oh and they beat Arizona 49-0. Oh, and they scored the most points anyone has ever scored on USC in a 62-51 road win. Like, ever.
There are other reasons the Ducks are favored, though. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan is in the first road start of his career and Stanford has been pretty weak on the road this year in general. The game is at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., and that crowd and stadium go nuts for the Ducks. Did I mention that it’s ESPN’s College GameDay?
These are all things that terrify me as a Stanford football fan. And they terrify me as someone whose job it is to cover the team as objectively as I can while still catering to my readership.
Is it OK for me to be optimistic about the team’s chances in the face of such odds? My answer is yes, if I truly feel that way. This week, I don’t.
I think Stanford is unfortunately a victim of the college sports scene that sees faces in and faces out every few years with not much time or proven method to evaluate talent in a highly efficient manner. If Kevin Hogan had progressed quicker in practice last spring or over the summer and earned the starting job, I’d like our chances more, and I honestly believe this team would be undefeated and in Notre Dame’s undeserved spot in the BCS right now.
That might make me a homer, but I think there is a difference between someone who can look at things objectively as a fan and come out and say when something’s not right, and the person who throws things out the window on either side to find whatever narrow angle fits their fandom.
So be warned, I will predict a Stanford loss for the first time this season on Friday because on paper this game is not all that close. But that won’t wipe the smile off my face on Saturday night if the Cardinal plays to its potential and the Ducks come out flat.
Miles Bennett-Smith can’t hit a receiver when moving to his left. To give him advice on fixing his footwork, email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @SmilesBSmith.