The case for Stanford - This Cardinal team is built to hang with the SEC's best -- and win a BCS title
2 Replies | 712 ViewsOn 10/27/2011 08:32 PM in NCAA Football
It's true. In fact, the Cardinal would have matched up better with the Auburn Tigers in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game than the Oregon Ducks did. Had Stanford beaten Oregon last October and then finished the regular season undefeated (remember, the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-3 lead, on the road, against the Ducks last year), it may very well have been Andrew Luck, not Cam Newton, lifting the championship trophy.
After all, the Cardinal were nasty, dominant and peaking at year's end. (They destroyed a good Virginia Tech Hokies team in an uncompetitive FedEx Orange Bowl.) They had a stout defense and a passing game that would have done a better job attacking Auburn's vulnerable pass defense than the Ducks' Darron Thomas did. (Thomas is a great quarterback, but he's nowhere near the downfield thrower Luck is.)
Nope, it's not a stretch to think that the Cardinal were good enough to win a national title last season -- and the same can be said of a 2011 Stanford team that deserves to be considered right up there among the national elite. Here's why the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers should take notice:
The Cardinal have reeled off 15 straight wins, the past 10 by 25 or more points. They are four-deep at tight end and tailback and rank in the nation's top five in many critical statistical categories including scoring offense, third-down conversions, passing efficiency, sacks allowed, scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks, tackles for loss and red zone defense.
And, oh yeah, they've got a quarterback who is 19-1 with a 52-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the past two seasons, and he is also the best NFL quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.
As numerous as those accomplishments are, I have come to learn -- after seeing the Cardinal up close and personal and watching the carnage they leave in their wake -- that Stanford's domination can be best summed up with two words: manipulation and humiliation. Allow me to explain.
Former Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops, who faced off against Stanford earlier this season before being fired Oct. 10, said of preparing for the Cardinal, "No one in college football manipulates more than Stanford." The multiple tight ends, formations, personnel groups, shifts and motions are not window dressing for this team; rather, they are an orchestrated set of movements designed to create matchups that offer a physical and schematic advantage for the Cardinal.
It is important to understand the roots of this offensive and defensive system. They are one part Bo Schembechler and one part Jon Gruden. They are equal parts Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw cultivated with decades of combined experience in the NFL and college games, maximizing scheme and personnel matchups. They have employed a scheme with the old-school college philosophy of power, trap and downhill lead runs while simultaneously using their years of experience in the NFL to shift, motion and put their personnel in matchups they can not only win but also dominate.
Arizona interim coach Tim Kish praised Stanford's ability to get "their bigs against your littles" time and again. Stanford does this in many different ways, by splitting 6-foot-6 tight end Coby Fleener out against undersized corners and running a skinny post; by running a three-man defensive line in such a way to get 6-foot-4, 240-pound outside linebacker Chase Thomas on opposing running backs in pass protection; by down-blocking from a bunch set with 6-foot-8, 265-pound tight end Levine Toilolo washing down the edge so All-American offensive guard David DeCastro can pull and destroy an undersized linebacker.
The final piece of the manipulation puzzle is time. The fact is that in a 20-hour work week, an opponent simply cannot solve the riddle of looks coming its way, let alone try to simulate the pace and ferocity with which they are delivered.
With the manipulation complete, on comes the humiliation. There is nothing more frustrating in sports than knowing what is coming and being unable to stop it. Just ask anyone who's tried to defend Karl Malone and John Stockton on the pick-and-roll, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice on the quick slant or Mark Bavaro on the skinny post in "Tecmo Bowl." OK, maybe that last one is a reach, but the point is that when Stanford is executing to its full potential, it doesn't matter whether everyone in the stadium knows what's coming next -- there is no containing the onslaught.
And the fact that Stanford can employ a simple power run from 40 different formations/personnel groups can be overwhelming for defenses. As Washington Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said Saturday night after his 25th-ranked Huskies were handed a 65-21 beatdown, "They wear you out, and they wear you down. We couldn't keep pace with them."
Other than possibly Oregon on Nov. 12, I don't see an opponent left on the Cardinal's schedule that can keep pace. The USC Trojans, who will play Stanford on Saturday, made a philosophical change this past offseason to sacrifice defensive size for speed to contend with the spread systems that victimized them all too often a season ago. That change paid dividends in South Bend this past Saturday but will be problematic in the Coliseum this weekend, just as it could be for the Ducks on the Farm in two weeks.
Don't get me wrong, Oregon is still a very good team in 2011, but the Ducks are nowhere near as stout in their front seven as they were a year ago, and another suspension of playmaker Cliff Harris further weakens them on the back end. Also, the strength of Stanford defensively -- its edge presence and pressure packages -- will be more effective with the noise at home.
Oregon isn't the only team that should be concerned about having to face Stanford. Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma State should all be keeping a watchful eye on their studious West Coast competition. Although the Cardinal may need a little help in addition to an undefeated record to make it to the BCS title game, that is not a reflection on the overall quality of this team. The 2010 Stanford Cardinal would have had a very good chance of taking down an SEC champ and winning the national championship. If the 2011 version can keep winning, it might get the chance to prove it.