This game has more similarity with Cal versus Oregon than with Cal versus Washington. Cal was a heavy favorite in both, but the spread was only justified against UW. I think Stanford is underrated and could prove a real test for the Bears.
Cal: #4 BCS, #4 AP, #4 Coaches
Stan: Not Ranked in any poll
Sagarin ranks Cal #3 (96.58) and Stanford #37 (76.06). With the home advantage, that makes Cal a 24-point favorite. The odds makers agree. But they also all agreed that Oregon was a 21-point underdog, and that was another team that looked good on paper but which had failed to live up to their potential.
We all know of Cal's offensive dominance this season. Ranked #1 in the Pac-10 in rushing offense, total offense, pass efficiency, and scoring offense, with 47 touchdowns and a remarkable 38 points per game. We know Cal's tendency to come out flat in the first half and then dominate with a power rushing offense in the second half to take control of games. In nine games, Cal has outscored opponents 167 to 34 in the second half; in the first half, it's been 173-91. In large part, the second half disparity is due to Cal's tremendous ball and clock control, rolling up first downs rushing and simply not allowing opponents to have the ball.
Cal has failed to score 30 points in only three games: USC (loss, 23-17), ASU (win, 27-0), and Oregon (win, 28-27). The Bears have scored 40 or more in five of their nine games. Meanwhile, only three opponents have scored more than 20 points on the Bears: USC, UCLA (win, 45-28), and Oregon. Cal has held their six other opponens to 14 or fewer points, shutting out the Arizona schools.
This is a damn good team, there is no doubt. The only weakness is the kicking game. The Bears have excellent kickoff coverage, but they give up field position with kicks that come down at the 10 yard line. Cal kickers have missed 7 of 12 field goals, some in crucial situations (think Oregon and USC games). Although the first miss was over 50 yards, most of the others have been in the 35-yard range.
Cal fans can be forgiven if they feel confident that Cal will retain the axe and cruise into their final game at Southern Miss after Thanksgiving. Yet Stanford, for all their problems, are not as bad as they may appear.
The Cardinal are third in the conference in scoring defense, 24th nationally, at 19.2 points per game. They missed Arizona this year, so those stats were compiled against some pretty good teams.
Only two teams have scored 30 or more against Stanford: USC (Stanford lost, 31-28), and ASU (Stanford lost, 34-31). Four of Stanford's five Pac-10 losses are by five points or less: USC (3 points), Oregon (3 points), ASU (3 points), and OSU (5 points). Only UCLA dominated by shutting out the Cardinal, 21-0. (Only Oklahoma State held the Bruins to fewer points (20) than Stanford did.) Stanford has held five opponents under 20 points and eight opponents to 24 or fewer. They are also 3rd in the conference in red zone defense, holding opponents to 17 touchdowns in 35 tries (also 7 field goals). Stanford has a pretty good defense which should not be misunderestimated.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, their offense hasn't held up the other end. They have virtually no rushing offense (87 yards per game), and while they're 3rd in the conference in passing offense at 256 yards per game, they have 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and they are only 7th in pass efficiency. They're 8th in total offense with 343 yards per game (ahead of only UW and Arizona), and 7th in scoring offense at 23.6 points per game.
Stanford has been held to -8 yards rushing (Oregon), 1 yard rushing (OSU), and 37 yards rushing (ASU). In their last four games, they have a total of 113 yards rushing (28.25 yards per game). They have just two rushing TDs in those games and just 9 rushing TDs against everyone except SJSU. They are at a lowly 2.7 yards per rushing attempt, better than only Oregon State.
Stanford also gains just 17.9 first downs per game and have scored just 18 TDs in 36 trips to the red zone. Finally, they're the most-sacked team in the league as well with 3.4 per game.
With such terrible offensive statistics, their 4-6 record is not surprising, but they have been very competitive in most of their losses. This is due to their defense, and an overall +9 turnover margin. In addition, their kickoff return team is among the best in the nation, and they're the only Pac-10 team with a kickoff return for a touchdown. TJ Rushing is 6th in the nation at kickoff returns, and as a team the Cardinal are 8th in the nation.
I think the Cal defense should smother Stanford's offense. Cal is #2 in rushing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Stanford may come out strong in the first half, but without a running game and going against athletic defensive backs and Cal's outstanding safeties, I just don't see a breakout game. They would need their QB and O line to be on fire like Oregon's were against the Bears, and even with that they probably do not have enough. They would need tremendous help from special teams and turnovers to get consistently good field position as USC did in order to stay close.
The real battle will be Cal's offensive line against the Stanford 3-4 defense. Stanford is actually pretty terrible in pass defense, last in the league with 257 yards. They do have 16 interceptions to 11 TDs allowed, however. They allow the second-highest completion percentage in the Pac (58.6%) and the second-highest yards-per-catch average (7.2). About two thirds of the first downs they allow are through the air. If the Bears can establish any sort of running game and occupy the linebackers with concentrating on the rush, they should have plenty of open passing opportunities.
I think this game plays out like many of Cal's victories this year. The opponent will stay close in the first half, but the Bears will begin to dominate with outstanding rushing and sheer physical fitness in the second half. If the Bears don't turn the ball over and can contain kickoffs well, then they should have the advantage in all phases of the game. If they suffer turnovers, however, or hand good field position to the Cardinal on every possession, the game could play out much more like the Oregon game than the Washington game.
We all know that Stanford view this as their "bowl" game, and that Cal has not won three Big Games in a row since the 50s. Yet both teams have everything to play for, and the crowd will be intense from the opening baton toss. This also plays to the Bears' favor. Finally, I think Aaron Rodgers plays a game comparable to how he played against USC. Although he doesn't have the same receivers to throw to, he's had a few games with them and should eliminate the interceptions he's been throwing the past few games.
In the end, Cal should keep the Axe. While I do think Stanford is underrated due to their strong defense, I also think the Bears will be focused and hungry and will again push 40 points. Arrington will have a hard time getting his tenth century of the year, but he will get it late in the second half. The Bear defense will dominate a weak Stanford offense and could have their third shutout of the year, but I think Stanford will score a few.
My prediction: Cal 36, Stanford 13.
November 19, 2004
This game has more similarity with Cal versus Oregon than with Cal versus Washington. Cal was a heavy favorite in both, but the spread was only justified against UW. I think Stanford is underrated and could prove a real test for the Bears.
November 10, 2004
For me, this game is summed up by the fact that Cal is ranked higher nationally in scoring offense (#5) and scoring defense (#9) than UW is in the Pac-10 (# 10 in both categories). Cal wins this game 99 out of 100 tries, and it's up to them to make sure this isn't that one special case.
Polls and Rankings:
Cal: #5 AP, #6 Coaches, #4 BCS
UW: no votes received in any poll
Sagarin puts Cal at #3 in the country. Cal has 96.23 points whereas UW at #121 has just 60.76. With the 3.40 home advantage, that makes the Huskies a 32-point underdog. The bookies agree, making the Bears a 31-point favorite.
We are all quite familiar with the Huskies' coaching woes and morale problems. As others have mentioned on the firstname.lastname@example.org list, it is amazing that the Huskies continue to draw nearly 65,000 fans per home game, second best in the Pac-10 behind USC. Considering that Oregon State is the only team within a thousand miles to play at UW this year, that average is primarily hometown UW fans. Remarkable.
Still, the fans can't play on the field (even at Stanford), and the Bears under Tedford have played their best in front of large, hostile, boistrous crowds. With morale at an all-time low on the UW team, and fan travel probably at an all-time high for Cal, this may turn out to be a benefit for the Bears.
Statistically, everything falls right in line with the Huskies' record. They are simply awful, and there's no way to sugar coat that. The only bright spot is their pass defense, which is #1 in the conference and #17 nationally at 181 yards per game. Of course, opponents run on the Huskies more and complete more passes, leading to an average of 5 fewer pass attempts per game (UW's opponents average 29 pass attempts per game, whereas the other Pac-10 teams' opponents average 34 per game.) UW also allows the highest completion percentage (60%) in the pac-10. Only two other teams allow 55% or better (Stanford and WSU), and Oregon is the league leader at 44% allowed.
UCLA is the only Pac-10 team with a worse rushing defense than the Huskies. UW allows 173.7 yards per game, 34 more per game than WSU in 8th place. They allow 4.2 yards per cary and have given up the most rushing TDs (17) in the league. This is all despite their three linebackers being #3-4-5 in tackles in the Pac-10, and DT Hopoi leading the league in both sacks (9.0) and TFL (22.0). (Ryan Riddle is right behind with 8.5 sacks and 4th in the Pac-10 with 13.0 TFL).
Washington is worst or near-worst in the league in so many categories it's sad. Meanwhile, Cal is best or near-best in so many it's almost ridiculous..
- Cal #1 scoring offense, UW #10 scoring defense
- Cal #2 scoring defense, UW #10 scoring offense
- Cal #1 rushing offense, UW #9 rushing defense
- Cal #1 total offense, UW #7 total defense
- Cal #2 total defense, UW #9 total offense
- Cal #2 pass defense, UW #9 pass offense
- Cal #1 pass efficiency, UW #8 pass efficiency defense
- Cal #1 3rd down conv, UW #9 opp 3rd down conv
- Cal #1 red zone defenxe, UW #10 red zone offense
- Cal #1 time of possession, UW #8 time of possession
Some other gruesome, train-wreck stats from the Huskies:
- 18 interceptions and only 5 passing TDs
- only 38.7% completion rate on passes
- 41 fewer first downs than Cal, in one more game
- only 29.7% third down conversion (last in the Pac)
- the only team to attempt 20+ fourth-down conversions (cal has tried just 7)
- just 13.0 points scored per game
- 29.3 points per game given up
- 14 total TDs (1.6 per game) compared to Cal's 41 TDs (5.1 per game).
Looking at common opponents: Both teams have played UCLA, OSU, USC, Oregon, and Arizona.
USC and Oregon stomped the Huskies, 38-0 and 31-6. Both ran for 150+ yards and attempted 35+ passes. UW had seven turnovers against the Ducks.
Notable is that UW's past four opponents have each given up at least two turnovers, and UCLA gave up three early in the year. UW has given up 21 turnovers in the past four games, and UCLA was the only game they had no turnovers (they lost to UCLA, 37-31, and UCLA had 424 yards rushing on the day). UW has given up 7 turnovers twice, and 5 or more FOUR TIMES this year. Incredible.
UCLA, the team with probably the closest rushing attack to Cal, averaged 7.9 yards per carry against the Huskies. Oregon, also similar, averaged 3.9. USC, which has a smaller and less experienced O line but also has Reggie Bush and Lendale White, averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Against USC's and Oregon's defense, the Huskies managed only 1.9 and 1.5 yards per carry, respectively, and had time of possession differentials of -18:18 and -13:14 against them. Against USC, the Huskies managed a paltry 6 first downs.
There is no reason to think Cal's game against UW will go much different from USC's or Oregon's. The only way UW could have a chance is if they end up with a very high positive turnover margin and maybe break a couple of kickoff returns for touchdowns (not likely as UW is 8th in kickoff returns, but Cal is 9th in kickoff coverage).
All in all, I don't expect a lot of passing by the Bears. I see no reason to pass the ball except to confuse the linebackers and stretch the field. The Cal O line should be able to exploit the two freshmen on UW's D line, and Arrington should be able to get 200, maybe 250 yards, unless he gets injured. If the Bears can avoid turning over the ball, the defense may throw another shutout.
I have to admit there is the outside possibility of "Senior Day" causing such an emotional kick that UW plays their best game of the last three years and makes it close. Realistically, however, the Huskies must be entirely demoralized and looking forward to the Apple Cup to redeem their season and send Gilby out like Joe Kapp.
You heard it here first: Cal is probably going to win this one. My prediction: Cal 52, UW 10. I don't see how this could be called woofing when you look at the stats. But I'll wait until Sunday to feel bad for the Huskies and their fans.
November 5, 2004
I did not live through the sixties; I was born in the sixties. At the tail end. Just in time to be old enough to watch American men land on the moon, but not old enough to understand what it meant.
Now I'm grown, out of college. I was in high school during the "me" generation, just out of my teens when fourteen-year-old girls all began wearing their underwear outside their clothes like Madonna, and out of college before Generation X got its label and self-awereness. I have, therefore, been either slightly too late or slightly too early for all the significant, generation-defining, cultural phenomena.
An interesting thing about war, though, particularly a war like the Vietnam war or the Iraq war--a war of choice, a war of American agression and imperialism, a war that divides the country along fiercely defined lines, a war that continues to escalate in costs and deaths and injuries while decreasing in potential for positive outcome--such a war does not restrict itself, like music or fashion, to a particular generation. It touches all of us, even those like me who are too old to be drafted and who have children too young to enlist.
I have not studied the sixties. I have never been drawn to the decade of my birth as a period of history that interested me. Perhaps because it was such a complicated subject. Perhaps because its impact was still reverberating through our social, political, and commercial infrastructures. Perhaps because everyone else in the known universe seemed to be so interested in it. Perhaps because I tended to like 50's doo-wop and 80's rock more than 60's music.
Perhaps because I trusted that the grown-ups in the world had learned valuable lessons from it, lessons that they would teach to me in Cliff's Notes fashion, lessons that would ensure that our culture never had to go through that type of turmoil again.
Today, I see that grownups did not learn any lessons from the sixties. The election three days ago makes clear that Americans and America are regressing. Not only are we supporting a quagmire, guerilla war half a world away in which civilians and combatants are indistinguishable, but we now are writing discrimination into our state constitutions; we now are supporting the destruction of the environment; we now are embracing and trumpeting intolerance as a virtue; we now are eschewing equality by enhancing class distinctions and creating a wealthy, ruling elite.
In this age of unreal reality TV, cut-and-paste pop music, botox and Atkins, is it even possible for America's youth to become enraged and engaged? In this decade of text messaging, body piercing, and mp3 file sharing, is it even possible to have a shared communal experience? In this atmosphere of terrorists (not communists) hiding around every corner, gays threatening to take over our children by (god forbid) MARRYING each other, and Democrats prepared to ban the Bible, is it even possible to have a position that is not unpatriotic, un-American, or un-Christian without being labeled a subversive, or worse, an Enemy Combatant?
I am a firm believer in the cycle of life and in natural rhythms. The world tends towards an equilibrium over time, and to get there, we have to go through cycles. The pond settles eventually after the ripples fade. The pendulum comes to rest after swinging back and forth. Hot water comes to room temperature after the ice melts. It's entropy. It's natural.
I think we are headed for a major sixties rerun. When the politicians and corporate leaders repeat the same mistakes made fifty years ago, the youth and citizenry will eventually provide the same response. America can not take this war in Iraq for long. The country can not live under the threat of a hidden foe for ever or the type of spying on citizens and bureaucratic secrecy espoused by the Bush administration for long (think McCarthyism but now its Aschroftitis). Eventually, the citizenry will rise up in another revolution to protect our rights, to protect the rights of minorities, to protect our environment, to take back America as an inclusive beacon of freedom, hope, liberty, and tolerance.
Right now everyone is so afraid of mistreating the soldiers who are courageously dying and getting maimed in Iraq, that no one is willing to stand up and lead that revolution. Bush has his mandate: ban gayness, invade Iran, open Alaska for drilling by his friends, eliminate taxation of the rich.
Will the rest of us recognize our mandate? Will we know what to do about it?
November 3, 2004
Oregon, overall, may be a tougher ticket than ASU. ASU had a one-dimensional offense with extreme speed at the wideouts and a QB with a strong arm but no running game. Oregon has solid balance in their attack, and there is little chance Cal can arrange a third straight shutout without help from many Duck turnovers.
Cal: #4 BCS, # 4 AP, # 6 Coaches, # 2 Sagarin (96.56)
Ore: NR BCS, #33 AP, #32 Coaches, #33 Sagarin (76.24)
Line is Cal by 21. Sagarin predicts a 24-point Cal victory.
Sagarin says Oregon's schedule is only 48th-strongest in the country, which accounts for them being ranked behind UCLA and Oregon State. Their losses were to Indiana at home in the first game (an aberration), at Oklahoma, and at home to Arizona State. They beat Idaho, and they've won their last four games at WSU and Stanford and at home over Arizona and Washington. It's
tempting to paint them as the team that lost to Indiana and can only beat weaklings.
They're not entirely predictable, however, not even at this point in the season. They have some impressive stats (see below), but they scored just 7 at Oklahoma, just 13 against ASU, and just 16 against Stanford. But they scored 31 against UW and more than 40 against WSU and Idaho. They allowed just 37 yards rushing over their past two games (UW and Stanford), in part
due to a plethora of big sacks.
In addition, they're 5-1 in their last six, and they've won seven straight against the Bears. They are playing for 2nd place in the Pac-10 this week, the only other Pac-10 team with a single loss.
Offensively, Oregon is powerful but not overwhelming. They are a balanced attack with a big offensive line, a talented running back that leads the league in receiving yards for running backs, and a good QB. The Ducks are 4th in the conference, averaging 169 yards/game rushing, with 4.1 yards per carry and 11 rushing TDs. This is not quite as good as USC (and not nearly
as good as UCLA or Cal) but significantly better than the other six Pac-10 teams. They are 3rd passing (Cal is 5th), with 260 yards per game. More impressive is their high passing efficiency: 62% completion percentage, 7.1 yards per catch, and only 5 interceptions to 14 TDs. While these numbers are not as good as Cal's (Cal leads the Pac in passing efficiency), they are
very good and show a balanced, patient, creative attack. The Ducks are 2nd behind Cal in time of possession as well.
Oregon has run by far the most offensive plays of any Pac-10 team (620, 77.5 per game). OSU is the only other team to have run over 600. Cal has run just 483 (69 per game). Cal averages over seven yards per offensive play, while Oregon averages 5.5--a good but not outstanding number.
Cal, however, has the best defense the Ducks will have faced, possibly better even than Oklahoma's, which held the Ducks to seven points early in the season. Cal is 2nd or 3rd in all defensive statistical categories: scoring (2nd, 12.3 ppg); rushing (2nd, 92 ypg); passing (191 ypg, 8TDs, 6 ints); total defense (2nd, 282 ypg, 4.4 yards per play). Oregon has played
against the league's worse defenses, with ASU being perhaps the best overall... but overwhelmingly Oregon's opponents have occupied the 6-10 spots in defensive statistics in the Pac-10.
Still, Oregon's offensive line is very big (317 pound average) and terribly experienced (four seniors and a junior). Their TE is also big and tall, and their WRs are all 6-2 or taller. A team with this much on paper should be lighting up the scoreboard every week, particularly against the teams they've faced. They did it agains UW, WSU, and Arizona, but they scored a
combined 29 against ASU and Stanford. Cal's defense is the most athletic and wild they'll have faced, and it's hard to predict what will happen. There's so much potential and skill in Oregon's offense, but the same can be said about Cal's defense.
Defensively, the Ducks are also statistically solid. Again, the statistics are generated against the league's worst offenses. The Ducks allow just 2.9 yards per rush and are third in the conference at 101 yards per game allowed rushing. They allow a low 50% pass completion rate and have 12
interceptions to 11 passing TDs allowed. They are third in the league in sacks per game behind USC and Cal.
But Oregon has some weaknesses. They are the most penalized team, and they also have the least opponent penalties of all Pac-10 teams. They have attempted the most 4th-down conversions (18), but they're pretty good at converting them (must be a tendency to run on third and short, and not quite get there). They have not much of a kickoff return to speak of (18 yards per), and they average just 33 net yards per punt, 9th in the league. Also,
their red zone statistics are atrocious: 8th in offense with just 70% scoring in the red zone, though 21 of their 26 scored were touchdowns. Defensively, they're 7th, allowing 78% scoring, though they only allowed 11 TDs in 23 opportunities. Cal is #1 in both offensive and defensive red zone stats, by a wide margin. Generally, though, Oregon has been good at keeping
teams away from the red zone: just 23 opportunities in 8 games, which is better than the league average (not including USC's and Cal's ridiculously low 2 per game).
What's remarkable about Oregon's defense is their defensive interior. They are probably the two largest DTs in the league at 297 and 345 pounds. The ends are much lighter, with experience to help them out; that's why DE Devan Long is 2nd in the Pac-10 in sacks and has at least one in seven of his eight games this year. The big DTs likely crush the pocket, forcing the QB out to the ends, who wrap them up by getting around the big OTs. Cal is the
biggest and most powerful OL they'll have seen since their loss to ASU, who scored 28 points on them.
The weakness in the defense should be the defensive backs, who are relatively short (all under six feet). RC Bates is a true freshman, and FS Nelson is a sophomore. The linebacking corps is solid, though, with a ton of experience (two seniors and a junior).
All in all, I think Oregon is an unpredictable team with a lot of potential that they have not yet demonstrated in their games. If they play fully up to their potential, they will make a game of it and could give Cal a real scare. If Florida State can be upset by Maryland, and Miami can lose to
UNC, Cal fans should not count Oregon a "gimme".
I am confident, however, that the Bears have a more talented team. The question is the offensive injuries to the receivers, and a generally banged up defense. The Bears should come out ready to fight after a mediocre offensive showing against ASU, and the defense should be pumped up to play against a big, experienced O line with a productive RB and an efficient QB.
The Ducks will move the ball and will get on Cal's side of the field multiple times, but I think they'll have trouble getting in the end zone. Cal is vulnerable when offenses have a lot of field to work with, but when the Bears compress the field, they are very strong. Offensively, the Bears
have a running attack like Oregon simply has not yet seen, except perhaps when Oklahoma put up 214 rushing yards on them.
The key will be for Cal to lead at halftime. Oregon has lost all three games they trailed at the half. They are a good, solid offense, but they lack an explosive threat to take back a game that is sliding away from them. I do not think turnovers will be a factor in the outcome, but I do think
the crowd noise will be. If the crowd is fired up from the opening cannon, the Bears will perform efficiently. If the crowd is lackadaisical and passive, Cal will have a hard time getting off the blocks offensively and will struggle to control the game's rhythm. It is critical that the Bears
dictate the rhythm and not let the Ducks have control, especially in the first half. So go to the game, yell and scream, get crazy, fire up the Bears.
While I think Oregon does not get enough respect this year in general, I don't think this turns out to be an upset. Final score Cal 36, Oregon 16.
November 1, 2004
As we all know by now, the Green Bay Packers beat the Washington Redskins in the Redskins' final home game before the presidential election. This means that, of course, the incumbent will lose.
What's more interesting is how that loss occurred. The news has been filled with stories of lawyers and vote-watchers being deployed around the country, especially in the "battleground states" (no, those are not Afghanistan and Iraq, where the mission is accomplished and the war is already over). They are doing this to make sure, we optimistically presume, that the election is fair, that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.
That's just what football officials are for. They are there to make sure that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.
In our litigious society, 300-pound grown men making millions of dollars a year can be sent into convulsions, and entire stadia full of normally normal people can be turned into writhing lunatics by a little yellow hankie... or more often, the absence of a little yellow hankie. It's amazing that when ten 300-pound men bash each other at full speed, we pay attention to such little things as whether the defensive back's hand was touching or was not touching the receiver's back, never mind whether an advantage was gained or lost by the action.
It occurs to me that the NFL is very similar to politics... or perhaps, our politics have become like the NFL. The news media, for lack of patience and intelligence to educate the electorate on the actual issues, floods Washington with sideline reporters and constantly shouts out the score (49 to 47!), without any real context or analysis. Coverage of the election is more about strategy and tactics to reach certain groups of voters and counteract the other campaign's strategy, and less about what the candidates actually do and what they promise, and what they SHOULD BE doing and promising.
In the presidential election, the media have changed their role over the years. Their role should be one of the referee, watching closely to ensure that neither side breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage. (Yes, we have lawyers and courts and public officials to do that too, but observing Florida's history and what's already begun in Ohio, I think I want instant replay.) Instead, the media are playing the role of color analyst and play-by-play announcer, somewhat meaningless noise to go along with the pictures we're seeing, and endless debate over the personnel and tactics used by the candidates.
I wonder if the Supreme Court will get involved in the Packers-Redskins game. Maybe a thorough review of the video will show that the flag was thrown erroneously, and the Supreme Court can grant the touchdown and demand a replay of the final few minutes of the game. Logistically, that will be virtually impossible in time to name a president, so they will have to take the results as they would have stood after the Redskins touchdown.
So far I haven't heard of any lawsuits filed over the illegal motion penalty. But today's not over yet.