It seems bewildering that Stanford’s loss to Utah felt worse than the losses to Notre Dame and Washington a year ago, but I can’t say it didn’t.
All losses suck, but the worst part about this one is that, while 2012’s defeats were bitter, bare-knuckle fistfights in which the other team was as fortunate to win as Stanford was to lose, Utah dominated the game. That’s not to say that Utah blew Stanford out, because the Cardinal were six yards from eking out a victory in Salt Lake City, but the Utes controlled the tempo for most of the game. So, as a suddenly competent UCLA squad approaches the Farm, I still have Utah on my mind.
I’m not going to say that I went through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). Fan grief isn’t real grief and it would be both callous and misguided to compare the two. There is a neat framework for fan (and real) emotion, but there are a number of other stages that the model doesn’t represent, the most resounding of which is disappointment.
I watched UCLA’s escape against Utah before Stanford’s game and it was more than apparent that Utah was a very good team. The Utes have simply had some horrendous luck before. Utah didn’t win because Stanford lost. Utah had a clear and coherent game plan and, more importantly, players that could carry that game plan out.
Ultimately, I progressed to acceptance in near record time, skipping most of the steps along the way. If Stanford plays as it did against the Utes, and I’ve said this before, it has no business being in the national championship game.
But disappointment—that was definitely real. This was my first year as a Stanford student in which the Cardinal had national championship aspirations. Although, in hindsight, last year’s squad was a few breaks from battling for the crystal football. The Pac-12 Championship, however, was entirely a matter in which Stanford controlled its own destiny, and though pretty much nobody expected Stanford to win the Rose Bowl, the Card did it anyway.
Coming off a Rose Bowl win, expectations for Stanford this year resembled the hopes of the Andrew Luck years. I sent in my early application to Stanford a couple days before the undefeated, fourth-ranked Cardinal took on Oregon and lost, 53-30. I would have applied early to Stanford anyway, win or lose, but since I’d already submitted my Common App, the question was academic.
Of course, I hadn’t actually gotten into Stanford at the time. But I watched the game in the school café with a rabid Duck fan, and as Stanford crashed to earth in the driving rain, our reactions were polar opposites of the other’s.
Disappointed in 2011 and disappointed early in 2012, last year’s team was not expected to win big, but it did win big. It didn’t submit itself to the mercy of scheduling chaos; it was an agent of chaos. Alabama can thank its lucky stars for Stanford, because without the Cardinal, it would not have sniffed the national championship game. Meanwhile, Oregon was left to rue what could have been.
Like the 2012 team, this Stanford squad still controls its Rose Bowl destiny. It could conceivably lose one more game in conference and still go to Pasadena.
Ranked at No. 13, Stanford needs 11 teams above it to lose. Two are on its schedule –UCLA next week and Oregon. Four SEC teams will likely beat each other up, but to what degree? One may well survive. Likewise, I expect one ACC team out of Florida State, Clemson and Miami to emerge unscathed. Ohio State, Louisville and Baylor have fewer contenders left on their schedules, but perhaps the computers will finally dock them for their strength of schedule.
None of these teams can glide through the regular season—every team can lose. Now, without some degree of luck, the Card will indeed have to revise its aspirations. But after pain and disappointment there is nothing left to feel except hope. The real hope that remains for the Cardinal, bitterly slim though it is, is that chaos has happened before. Quite frankly, it’s the one thing that a college football fan can count on.
Winston Shi is in denial of the emotional pain that is still coursing through him from the loss. Offer him some advice on how to cope at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.