Moments after Stanford lost to Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament thereby dashingthe Cardinals faint NCAA Tourney hopes I commiserated with Coach JohnnyDawkins. I said, Hey, get into the NIT,and go win the thing. He smiled wrylyand nodded.Exactly three weeks later, Coach Dawkins and his team havethe chance to do just that. A win over Minnesota will giveStanford its second NIT championship.Now I know what youre thinking.Some combination of Who cares? and, Great, so theyll be the 69thbest team in the country. Ill address the latter quip first: thats plain silly. Thanks to the automatic bids, there are atleast 15 teams in the NCAA tournament that are worse than the majority of NITparticipants. And yes, smarty pants, Irealize that being the 54th best team isnt anything to brag abouteither. But its not about that. Its about winning a championship, even onethat is secondary in nature. Winning a32-team tourney aint easy, regardless of the name on the marquis.As for who cares, I will say this: There are two types of teams that play in theNIT those that are disappointed by not making the real tournament andtherefore dont really want to be there, and those that had little or no shotat the NCAA but believe theyre moving in the right direction and see the NITas a stepping stone. Stanford clearlyfalls into the second category.This is, without question, a team on the rise. Granted, four seniors includingall-conference forward Josh Owens will move on; but the real nucleus of thegroup is a monstrous sophomore class.Combined with freshman stud Chasson Randle, theyre primed not only toget back to the big dance next season, but to contend for a conferencetitle. This team is peaking at the right time, and more fun towatch than it has been in years. Hugetalents like Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown are finally beginning to realizetheir potential. Aaron Brightspassion gives his 59 body a 69 game.There is energy, there is excitement.That is why fans should care. For Stanford, the NIT is a means to an end. Getting in means little; winning it means alot. It would be a significant step inthe rebuilding process that began the moment the Lopez twins announced theywere leaving two years early for the NBA.And hey, always nice to hang a banner Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal women shouldnt get to have allthe fun.
His throwing motion was awkward and unorthodox, to say the least. He was listed, rather generously, at 6’3, 218 pounds, a far cry from his predecessor Andrew Luck’s imposing 6’4, 240. He displayed few bursts of speed, instead twisting, turning, dodging and weaving his way to pick up yardage.
Yet Kevin Hogan was a playmaker, a leader, and—as is becoming more obvious with each passing day—the man whose absence may be the real cause of Stanford’s offensive dysfunction thus far in 2016.
Stanford went into the season ranked as the nation’s No. 8 team and was picked to win the Pac-12 championship. After averaging 38 points per game last year, the Cardinal was expected to be an offensive juggernaut with Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey leading the charge.
Instead, Stanford has struggled mightily on offense, averaging only 17 points per game. The Cardinal has just seven touchdowns in its past five games, and three of them were scored by the defense. With a 4-3 record, Stanford has dropped out of the Top 25 and, realistically, out of contention for the Pac-12 North Division title.
Why? There are other contributing factors, to be sure, but the main reason is that Kevin Hogan is no longer calling the signals.
Hogan led Stanford to three Pac-12 championships and an overall record of 36-10 in three and a-half years as the starting quarterback. Under his direction, the Cardinal won two Rose Bowls and one Foster Farms Bowl.
During his career, Hogan threw for over 9,000 yards and 75 touchdowns. He rushed for another 1,200-plus yards and 15 scores. He threw more than 1,100 passes and had only 29 intercepted. How many times, when Stanford faced a critical third and 11, did Hogan scramble for 11 and a-half yards to get the first down? Or find his second or third receiver to pick up the necessary yardage?
Christian McCaffrey deserves all the credit he gets. He should’ve won the Heisman Trophy last year. But Kevin Hogan took tremendous pressure off McCaffrey. He prevented opposing defenses from keying too much on McCaffrey because, if they did, Hogan could pick them apart with his passing or keep the ball himself. I was a late convert to appreciating Kevin Hogan, but after watching him up close and personal at the Foster Farms Bowl, became a huge fan. On Sunday, he had a highlight-reel 28-yard touchdown run for the Cleveland Browns.
Stanford may well turn things around this year. (This week’s game at under-performing Arizona provides an excellent opportunity). However, to do so, their young quarterbacks must mature quickly and do a better impersonation of Kevin Hogan.
Meanwhile, across the Bay: Though both teams have 4-3 records, Stanford and Cal offer a remarkable contrast in style of play. Consider last weekend’s games. Cal beat Oregon in double overtime, 52-49, while Stanford fell to Colorado, 10-5. Cal vs. Oregon lasted four hours and 25 minutes, while Stanford-Colorado lasted exactly three hours. Cal and Oregon ran 203 plays and scored 102 points; Stanford and Colorado ran 136 and scored 15.
Behind a stronger-than expected running game and the vaunted “Bear Raid” passing attack, Cal has registered impressive wins over Texas and Utah (both undefeated at the time). Only tough losses to San Diego State and to Oregon State in overtime have prevented the Bears from sporting an even better resume.
You forgot someone: Friday's San Francisco Chronicle handicapped three QBs the quarterback-hungry 49ers might pick in the 2017 draft—DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame, Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Chad Kelly of Mississippi. Missing from the list was the most obvious candidate—Cal’s Davis Webb. Against Oregon last Friday night, Webb completed 42 of 61 passes for 325 yards and five TDs. He can make all the throws, has the size the pros look for, and would bring a lot of Cal fans to Levi’s Stadium. What’s not to like?
Delay of game: Aside from the offensive onslaught and some rather porous defense, the other reason the Cal-Oregon game ended at 11:55 Pacific (2:55 a.m. Eastern) was the rash of penalties. There were 28 infractions called in the game. The typical college game has 12 penalties. The last time I saw that many flags was when I visited the U.N. as a child. There were lots of ticky tack fouls that could’ve gone uncalled…and got us all to bed a lot earlier.
Retirement, anyone? Last week we noted that Utah senior running back Joe Williams “retired” from football after the second game of the season due to injuries. With his team short-handed at the position due to additional casualties, Williams came back last week and rushed for 179 yards in a win over Oregon State. Still fresh from his four-week layoff, Williams ran for a school record 332 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday to lead the Utes to a 52-45 win over UCLA.
Heisman update: 1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB—another excellent game on Saturday. 2. Jake Browning, Washington QB—has 26 TD passes and two interceptions so far this year. 3. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB—had a bye yesterday, needs a big performance against Florida State this weekend. 4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB—threw seven TD passes Saturday for the resurgent Sooners. 5. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU—after missing two weeks with injuries, rushed for 284 yards and three touchdowns in big win over Mississippi.
New AP Top 25: 1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Clemson, 4. Washington, 5. Louisville, 6. Ohio State, 7. Nebraska, 8. Baylor, 9. Texas A&M, 10. West Virginia, 11. Wisconsin, 12. Florida State, 13. Boise State, 14. Florida, 15. Auburn, 16. Oklahoma, 17. Utah, 18. Tennessee, 19. LSU, 20. Western Michigan, 21. North Carolina, 22. Navy, 23. Colorado, 24. Penn State, 25. Virginia Tech.
Somewhere Mike Riley is smiling and nodding knowingly.
The current Nebraska head coach had somewhat of a tradition while at Oregon State in which he would take his football team to In-N-Out Burger following a particularly big win.
Picking up that burger mantle is Mike MacIntyre, who rewarded his Colorado team with a trip to the famous fast-food joint following their physical, grinding road win over Stanford earlier in the day.
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