Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stanford @ Arizona

After two non-conference games against overmatched opponents, Tucson was the first real test for our team. Were we for real or was the over/under of 8.5 wins a more accurate representation of our team’s chances? While I had an air of confidence about the San Jose State and Duke games, I didn’t know what to expect at the Zona Zoo. While Arizona wasn’t an elite team, they still had a lot of talent and played well at home. It was the also the first time I was flying out of McCarran after finding a place here and I needed to get my airport routine down. I ended up finding a free park and ride area at the South Strip Transfer Terminal and was able to get to the airport for a $2 bus fare – much cheaper than taking a cab to the airport and given how many of these flights I have, a good money saver.

The weekend got off to a good start when I finished 2nd in a poker tournament on Friday. It was a run-of-the-mill daily tournament but Ray Romano and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) were playing in it with some of their friends. I busted Cheryl and had the pleasure of sitting right next to Ray for a couple of hours. He ended up finishing 4th and was a nice guy and decent player. After he busted, it was off to dinner and then a performance at the Mirage.

I got up bright and early on Saturday and was in Tucson before I even knew it. Since it was a late game and I was in no particular hurry, I took the bus and walked 1.5 miles to my hotel. It was a beautiful day and not as hot as I’d expected it to be. After checking in and catching a bit of the Notre Dame – Michigan State game where Notre Dame for the third week in a row was the superior team but plagued by turnovers early on, I headed over to Dirtbags which was the pre-game gathering point of choice among some of the Cardinal faithful who had made the trip. The alumni tailgate didn’t strike me as particularly appealing when the only mode of payment was mailing a check. We had several hours to kill and managed to do so with drinks, football and coeds. We ran into former Stanford football player Luke Powell who had driven over from Tempe and was waiting for former team mate QB Chris Lewis.

By the time kick off came around, it was a beautiful evening in Tucson and all the talk about dehydration and the heat seemed pretty unwarranted. As we headed over to the stadium, there was some mild heckling but nothing out of the ordinary. I ran into an old acquaintance from my senior year travels as we found our seats and another friend from junior year. Albert and I ended up moving down right next to the band which allowed us to stand for the whole game. We were joined by the Bernard family who stood for the whole game as well and got to see their kid play in the nickel package. I also spotted Ty Montgomery’s mum who probably is going to make it to every single game this season!

The overall atmosphere was great as the Arizona fans were pumped up for their first conference game. The first half was excruciatingly painful with the offensive struggles, defensive shakiness without Skov and injuries that had piled up. There was no doubt in my mind after watching the replay on Arizona’s ridiculously large scoreboard (my bus driver told me that it had cost $7 million) that Skov was done for the season. The one bright spark was our kicker Williamson’s play – something that one comes to appreciate after playing Duke and Arizona. I would bet good money that we lead the nation in field goal percentage allowed (with a minimum number of kicks).

I was not in the best of moods at half time as it felt that everything was unraveling. An overreaction for sure but such is the pressure of high expectations. That sinking feeling was reinforced at the start of Arizona’s second half opening drive but we managed to get our act together and make the necessary adjustments. I would have taken a 1 point victory at half time so I couldn’t complain about the 2nd half dominance. Just like how we discovered power midway through the season in 2009, hopefully we’ve found our offensive identity this year which in my mind is the no WR set that used to open our last TD drive. It allows us a lot of run-pass flexibility and while we should probably run a fair amount out of it, play-action possibilities should keep defenses honest. By the end of the game, it was yet another blow out with lots of room for improvement although the Skov injury puts a real damper on things. Hopefully he will come back even stronger from it either at Stanford or in the NFL.

With the late kick off, it was a quick stop at Dirtbags which had a Stanford contingent reveling in the victory before returning to my hotel. The next morning brought yet another early morning flight and I bumped into a player’s father (Jeff Trojan) over breakfast and we had a nice chat. I saw a fellow Cardinal diehard at the airport and almost missed my flight as we chatted about Stanford sports. He was less fortunate and by the time we realized it, his plane was already leaving the gate. I got back to Las Vegas just in time for another poker tournament which I ended up winning. Not a bad weekend!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stanford @ Duke

While it’s nice to be in the friendly confines of Stanford’s campus, there’s something appealing about walking into the lion’s den with a group of dedicated fans with an us against the world mentality. As a friend astutely pointed out, road games are when you truly bond with your team. Granted this was a Duke football game and slightly different than walking into the Coliseum or Autzen, but you get the point. My favorite part about East Coast / Midwest road trips is meeting up with friends living on the other side of the country. The Duke trip was no different as I received a text message on Friday that there was going to be a young alumni tailgate attended by a bunch of people I knew. More importantly, Alex was going to be there for a Cardinalmaniacs reunion! The last three times I’ve seen her were at the Orange Bowl, at Notre Dame and the Sun Bowl. Detecting a pattern?

I took a redeye out of Las Vegas to Atlanta and then hopped on a quick flight to Raleigh-Durham. Layovers always make me anxious, especially when it’s on the same day as game day but everything went smoothly although I had to board my flight right before the ASU-Missouri overtime started. Luckily ASU pulled it out to preserve some Pac-12 respectability. Hopefully UCLA can do the same against Texas. The thing that struck me the most as we landed in Durham was the abundance of lush greenery. The weather was pretty pleasant and reminded me of Singapore with less humidity. I took a shuttle from the airport to the University Inn and chatted with a friendly lady from UNC who was visiting her parents and going to the UNC-Rutgers football game. After checking in, I proceeded to get absolutely lost as I tried to cut through the Duke hospital to get to the tailgate. After much wandering around, I finally was headed towards the sport complexes but realized that perhaps I should stop by the center of campus. Upon further consideration, I decided that Cameron Indoor Stadium was pretty much all that I cared for and Duke’s Gothic architecture wasn’t something that appealed much to me.

I finally found Krzyzewskiville and Cameron. I was somewhat surprised that the innocent looking exterior housed one of the most feared college home courts in the nation. There were a couple of campus tours going on and I tried to work my way into them – clad in my Luck jersey no less – to enter Cameron but was informed that they were shooting a 20 year anniversary documentary for the 1992 National Championship team. Grant Hill, Christian Laettner et al were in attendance and Hill walked past Albert and his family at one point. Albert’s main takeaway was that Hill walked like an 80-year old man. On the way to Cameron, I strolled past the Blue Devil Alley which felt like a poor man’s Chuck Taylor Grove. It was somewhat early so it wasn’t too surprising that it was empty. After more wandering, I finally found the tailgate and also bumped into my Duke friends who had spotted me in my jersey. It was great catching up with a bunch of people. The turn-out was pretty impressive as we probably had around 80-100 young alumni gathered in the parking lot. There were people who had driven from DC, New York and Atlanta. Not sure whether it was the venue or our highly ranked football team but it felt like an improved showing compared to the Notre Dame game and I’m sure it beat the Wake Forest turn out 2 years ago hands down.

After mingling with old acquaintances, we headed over to the official tailgate where we met up with Albert and his folks who had driven down from Atlanta. It was yet another impressive showing with a bunch of players’ parents to boot. It was great to see so many of the fabulous freshmen’s parents in attendance and of course Chase Thomas had a huge rooting section as well. While Bowlsby didn’t address the crowd, honorary captain Brevin Knight did. I bumped into Brevin who had his whole family in tow a little bit later and reminded him of the last time we’d met which was at Pauley Pavilion in 2008 when our Sweet 16 bound basketball team fell to UCLA in overtime. He echoed my sentiments of how we had been robbed. The lack of sleep and stifling heat of the closely confined alumni tailgate quarters did not help my appetite for the Southern cuisine but it was decent and the beers washed it down. We finally made it over to the Duke stadium which immediately reminded me of the Sun Bowl without Juarez looming in the distance. Unlike most stadiums which have one dedicated visitor’s section, Duke’s stadium split it up into two at opposite ends from each other. Albert and I lucked out and ended up on the shady side.

The first half was a little bit too close for comfort and the lack of pass protection combined with Luck having an off half was somewhat concerning. If not for Duke’s kicker being absolutely terrible, it could have been a 1 pt game. Luckily our defense bailed us out and the offense got into the swing of thing at the end of the half. The half time show featured Coach K (among others) being inducted into Duke’s Hall of Fame. I guess that’s a pretty momentous occasion but to be honest, I was surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. Bobby Hurley was the only other person I recognized. We had our way in the second half and it was good to see the defensive depth on tap even if the 3rd string defense gave up the first touchdown of the season. Hopefully the game was a lesson for the team that they can’t take anyone for granted. Duke was after all a team that lost to Richmond the week before although I try not to take too much stock into those things. Wasn’t Virginia Tech a team that lost to James Madison last year? Special teams also need to be better prepared. All in all, the whole road trip was good preparation for the Arizona roadie which may prove more difficult than people expect and will be a good test of where we stand against better competition. At the end of the day, it was a decent showing and it’s always great when you can take away numerous lessons from a 30 point victory.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stanford vs San Jose State

Greetings from Las Vegas! It’s been a hectic week as I packed up and bade the Bay Area goodbye right after the college football season kicked off. Opening weekend is always special because of the anticipation and optimism. Everyone is undefeated and the sky is the limit. Heck, I know someone who dreamt of an oracle who told him with probability 1 that UCLA was going to beat Houston. Luckily the online sportsbook limited the amount that he could deposit. He has since sworn off betting on the Bruins for the season but I was able to lock in a friendly Stanford -10 vs UCLA wager when his hopes were still sky high.

For me, the best part of opening weekend is soaking in the game day experience after the 9 month hiatus. Unlike other sports where one just shows up and goes to the game, football’s game day experience is so much more. For starters, it’s almost always on a Saturday and provides the perfect excuse to get back on campus and meet up with old friends who you invariably have seen less of but share a bond that only experiencing the Walt Harris days or seeing Cal celebrate on your field can bring. Next, there’s the day long tailgating fraught with pre-game analysis, discussion of recruiting, unsubstantiated gossip and bold predictions. And finally, there’s the backdrop of arguably the best campus and weather combination which might just make Stanford the perfect place to tailgate and watch a football game. It doesn’t get any better than that.

This year, we took the game day experience one step further and had a pre-game party on Friday night that involved pizza, drinks, catching the end of the Baylor-TCU shoot out and an Orange Bowl viewing. I arrived on campus around 10am, realizing that it would be the last time I would enjoy the convenience of a 20 minute drive to catch a Stanford football game. The new Lot 2 tailgating area was pretty empty when we got there but it filled up decently by kick off. While it might have been a non-conference game against San Jose State, we were in mid-season form from the Air-Luck sirens to the Skov-inspired face paint and Moose inspired antlers to the MT3 Black and Blueberry Iced Tea which I found particularly tasty. While making it out to The Walk, we bumped into several family members of the outstanding freshmen class. Introductions and well wishes were in order for the Vaughters and Montgomery families. I recall Ty mentioning in an interview that his mother was going to make it to all the games (not sure whether he meant home and away but I guess we’ll see). The Lyons and Richards families were represented as well. I guess you can’t say no to witnessing your sons showing incredible promise in their college debuts!

Upon entering the stadium and finding my new seats on the sunny side (I decided that it was time to retire from the student section given that even that grad students I knew were gone), I marveled at my new and improved vantage point and took it all in. Football was back! Because of the sparser but still respectable turn-out, I moved one section over to my friend’s section in the much vaunted 235 and was struck by the camaraderie as neighbors reconnected for the first time since last season. It was a great moment when David Shaw took the field with the team and while some might question the hire from within, I'm a supporter of not only his capabilities but how he represents the university and if it turns out that the continuity increases the probability of the team playing in a BCS bowl by a few percentage points, it’s well worth it in my mind.

I won’t comment too much about the game since like the scrimmages (I must sound like a broken record right now) it’s hard to draw too many conclusions in a game like that, but there were definitely promising signs from the defense (didn’t surprise me) and some hiccups in the run game (also didn’t surprise me) but it’s early and we struggled in that area early last year too. The freshman who had their shirts burned came to play and I could definitely see Lyons starting this year. Most importantly, there weren’t any notable injuries. Looking at the rest of the conference, the Pac-12 struggled mightily which is unfortunate, but at the same time if we can keep on improving and take it one game at a time, it’s ours for the taking.

While I’m not yet fully settled in Vegas, Durham beckons and I’m extremely excited for the first road trip of the season. Duke is a place that I’ve yet to visit and I have a friend at the Duke business school who will be going to the game as well. In other news, I found myself wondering what to do with myself during Stanford’s bye week (9/24). I could play a couple of poker tournaments. I could check out the Saturday night scene in Vegas. I could go visit some friends in New York or Chicago. Instead, I found myself looking at the college football schedule and picking out the best game that weekend. The top two contenders were Missouri at Oklahoma and Arkansas at Alabama. It wasn’t too hard a decision as I’ve always wanted to go to an SEC game. Stubhub found me a ticket on the 25-30 yard line 50 rows up for $200. Southwest had a couple of direct flights and with all the money I had saved booking and re-booking flights on Southwest, it was practically “free”. Accommodation was pricy in Tuscaloosa and so I settled for somewhere closer to Birmingham. By the end of the night, I had figured out how I’ll be spending the bye week. If anyone has any tips or advice on how to maximize my game day experience, I’m all ears.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vegas Lines

Given that I’m moving to Vegas very soon, I thought that it would be fitting to take a look at some of the Stanford lines/futures/props in anticipation of the season opener and revisit them at the end of the season.

Current and Prospective Lines
Stanford -28.5 vs SJSU, o/u 53.5
Stanford -1 @ USC
Stanford +1 vs Oregon
Stanford -11.5 vs Cal
Stanford -5 vs Notre Dame

I expect us to be more than a 1 pt favorite when the game at USC rolls around but that might just be my cardinal tinted glasses talking.

Stanford Props/Futures
Stanford Total Wins 8.5: Over -195, Under +160
Stanford Total Wins 9: Over +100, Under -130
Stanford Total Points For Per Game 36.5: Over -130, Under -110
Stanford to win Pac-12 North +175
Stanford to win Pac-12 +300
Stanford Top 5 in USA Today Final Poll +500
Stanford to reach BCS Championship +1000
Stanford to win BCS National Championship +3000
Team higher in USA Today Final Poll:
Stanford +100 vs Virginia Tech -140
Stanford +145 vs Florida State -190

The over 8.5 wins opened at -155. Even though I don’t like to wager on Stanford for fear of bias, that was a price I couldn’t refuse.

Luck Props/Futures (Regular Season + Post Season)
Luck to win Heisman +250
Luck Total Passing Yards 3049.5: Over -110, Under -130
Luck Total Passing Touchdowns 24.5: Over -150, Under +110

3049.5 yards over 13 or 14 games seems low. Of course there is the injury factor but it’s still somewhat worrying that they are so low on Luck. Absolutely no value in Heisman bet at +250.

Pac-12 Player Props (Regular Season Only)
Who will have the most passing yards per game:
Luck -140, Barkley +175, Foles +300
Who will have the most passing TDs:
Luck -150, Barkley +150, Foles +325
Who will have the most rushing yards per game:
James +100, Taylor +250, Polk +350, Stewart +575, Franklin +800, Baxter +875
Who will have the most rushing TDs:
James +100, Taylor +250, Polk +375, Stewart +400, Franklin +1200, Baxter +1500
Who will have the most receiving yards per game:
Kearse +250, Owusu +275, Criner +350, Woods +355, Wilson +550, Allen +700
Who will have the most receiving TDs:
Kearse +250, Criner +275, Owusu +350, Woods +355, Wilson +500, Allen +625

Foles at +300 to have more passing yards per game than Luck and Barkley seems like great value given that Arizona is likely to be throwing the ball late in games. Even if he gets injured because of his inexperienced O-line and is out for a couple of games, if the injury comes at the end of the game, his average will still be high. There might even be value in shorting Luck and loading up on Barkley and Foles. Don’t know enough about the other teams/players to make an informed decision for the other bets except NOT to bet on Taylor. Probably would shy away from Owusu too.

Less than 24 hours to kickoff!