No. 25 Stanford returns to scene of ’07 upset
AP College Football Writer
Two years ago, Stanford went to the Los Angeles Coliseum as a 41-point underdog against No. 2 USC.
The oddsmakers did the math after looking at the Cardinal’s first three Pac-10 games that season – losses to No. 14 UCLA (45-17), No. 13 Oregon (55-31) and No. 23 Arizona State (41-3).
Oh, and Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard was making his first career start.
Somehow, the Cardinal pulled off a 24-23 victory that still ranks among the greatest upsets in the sport’s history.
“I have good memories,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said this week. “Those will be memories that I’m sure I’ll have the rest of my life.”
USC’s Pete Carroll has a different recollection. He places the loss “in a big heap of misery,” along with the others the Trojans have endured in his nine-year tenure.
USC has lost three games in the Coliseum in Carroll’s nine seasons. Two were to Stanford.
Don’t look now, Trojans, but Stanford is coming to town again.
Make that 25th-ranked Stanford this time.
“This is put up or shut up time for Stanford football,” Harbaugh said.
No. 11 USC is an 11-point favorite, and there’s two ways to look at the spread.
1. Stanford is 30 points better than it was in 2007.
2. The oddsmakers haven’t seen the Cardinal or the Trojans play lately.
Last week, Stanford outraced an Oregon team that had chewed up USC one week earlier. Meanwhile, USC stumbled and bumbled its way to an ugly 14-9 victory over seventh-place Arizona State.
Both teams have young quarterbacks. USC true freshman Matt Barkley has the hype advantage, but Stanford redshirt freshman Andrew Luck has better numbers.
Luck ranks ninth in NCAA passing efficiency, one rung below Tim Tebow of Florida.
Barkley ranks 48th, one rung below Rusty Smith of Florida Atlantic.
The Cardinal also have tailback Toby Gerhart, coming off a school-record 223-yard performance against the Ducks. Gerhart averages 135.2 yards rushing per game, second in the nation.
“This isn’t the Stanford of three or four years ago, that’s for sure,” said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose Wildcats outlasted Stanford 43-38 on Oct. 17. “This is a very physical, well-coached football team that operates very efficiently. Their kids play very hard and very smart.”
Carroll had little interest in talking about the Cardinal’s last trip to LA. Asked if he would mention the 2007 game to his players, Carroll replied, “No. I won’t bring up the visit to their place last year, either.”
USC drubbed the Cardinal 45-23 a year ago in Palo Alto. Touche.
BCS BANTER: The Pac-10 is ranked first in four of the six computers used by the Bowl Championship Series. It ranks third, behind the Southeastern Conference and Big East, in the other two computers.
This is a nice boost for the conference’s pride, but it may not mean much when BCS pairings are announced on Dec. 6.
The league is hoping to land an at-large berth, worth $4.5 million to the conference. If it doesn’t, look for renewed debate about whether the conference should drop its round-robin format and go to an eight-game league schedule.
That would allow teams to add a fourth nonconference game, and most would likely schedule an easy victory at home. Goodbye, USC. Hello, UAB.
The way some coaches see it, the round-robin format guarantees Pac-10 members a total of five extra losses, and they worry that those losses diminish the league’s bowl prospects.
“The fact of the matter is, you’re adding five losses to the conference that other conferences avoid,” said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bruins played at Tennessee and against Kansas State this season. “You can look at the nonconference schedules in the Big Ten and the SEC, and you can realize that they aren’t asking very much of those teams on a weekly basis. That’s not the case in the Pac-10.”
Of course, if the Pac-10 didn’t play such demanding schedules, it might not rank so high in the BCS computers.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley likes the idea of settling the conference title on the field.
“I think it’s fair,” Riley said. “I think we come up with the right way to decide the conference championship. At the same time, it hurts us. We beat each other up.”
DEVIL OF A TIME:
If the Pac-10 does drop the round-robin format, look for Arizona State to request an annual bye against USC.
If you can’t beat ’em, skip ’em.
Last weekend, the Trojans beat the Sun Devils 14-9 for their 10th straight win over ASU.
The Sun Devils had a chance to win the game at the end – a change from recent blowout losses to USC but small consolation for ASU coach Dennis Erickson.
“Close doesn’t count anymore,” said Erickson, whose team also lost on late field goals by No. 21 Georgia and California. “It’s just another disappointing loss.”
Erickson won his first eight games at ASU, leading the Sun Devils to No. 4 in the BCS standings in late October 2007. Since that hot start, the Sun Devils are 11-15, with two victories against Big Sky Conference teams.
The Sun Devils (4-5, 2-4 Pac-10) need to win two of their final three games – at No. 14 Oregon, at UCLA and against No. 18 Arizona – to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1946-47.
The on-field struggles are hurting ASU at the gate. According to NCAA statistics, Arizona State has played to 64.2 percent of Sun Devil Stadium’s 71,705 capacity. That’s 96th in the country.
HONORS: Stanford’s Gerhart, Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker and USC safety Will Harris were named Pac-10 Players of the Week.
Gerhart, a senior from Norco, Calif., earned offensive honors by rushing for a Stanford-record 223 yards in a 51-42 victory over Oregon – a performance that left him with 1,217 yards this season, breaking his own school record.
Whitaker, a junior from San Diego, connected on 3-of-4 field goals and nailed all six of his PAT attempts.
Harris, a senior from Covina, Calif., picked off two passes in USC’s 14-9 win at Arizona State. Harris returned the first 55 yards for a TD, and the second came in the end zone as time expired.