Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Big Game

Far removed from the Bay Area and nursing a slight hangover from the Oregon game, Big Game crept up on me. Before I knew it, it was late in the week and the realization that Big Game was here finally dawned on me. It would be the last for many of the seniors in the recruiting class of 2008 whom I’m sure still had the bitter taste of the 2009 Big Game in their mouths. Not one to break from tradition, I had my Cal Sucks T-shirt on all day Friday as I’ve done every year since graduation. With forecasts of rain on Friday night, I anticipated delays getting into SFO but fortunately, we were only held up for half an hour. Unfortunately, I missed the dramatic Oklahoma State – Iowa State finish which was the first act of the craziness that was about to ensue during the weekend, but I was made well aware of it the moment I turned on my cell phone upon landing. I was picked up by some former colleagues who gave me a full recap and we headed to a poker home game.

I crashed with a friend pretty close to campus and was up bright and early on Saturday morning in time to catch the tail-end of College Game Day where Corso said “Fuck it” on national TV as he threw away the Mustang prop he was hoisting around and donned a Cougar head while Fowler and Herbstreit looked on in bemused disbelief. I found the ensuing contrite apology 20 minutes later equally amusing: With choices of Wisconsin-Illinois and Michigan-Nebraska, I was probably the only person on the West Coast tuned in to Georgia-Kentucky as I had placed a $500 pre-season bet on Georgia to win the SEC East at 3-1. Georgia had a favorable schedule – avoiding Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, and playing South Carolina at home and the worst SEC teams on the road. They were also being offered at 2-1 or worse in most places. After their close loss to South Carolina at the start of the season, things looked pretty bleak but I got extremely lucky and had it seemingly in the bag as they were in position to clinch it as 30 point favorites at home to Kentucky. The game was excruciating as Georgia was completely inept on offense – turning the ball over and settling for 4 field goals to lead 12-10 at the half despite their defense repeatedly getting them the ball in great field position. Thankfully, Kentucky’s offense was equally bad but I didn’t feel comfortable until Georgia opened up a 19-10 lead at the beginning of the 4th quarter. My other big championship bet for the season (besides Stanford to win it all at 29-1) was $250 on Ohio to win the MAC at 7-1. They were 2-1 to win the MAC East at most books and so I saw some value. I wrote the bet off after they dropped two conference games but they’ve somehow managed to win the MAC East in spite of that. They’ve also won multiple games that could have gone either way. Ideally, they’ll play Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game as 3 point underdogs. I could roll the dice but will probably end up fully hedging the bet. After watching them for several weeks, I don’t think they’re that good and they have definitely gotten their fair share of kind bounces. Or maybe it’s those black jerseys:

I got a late start to tailgating as we met up with a mutual friend for coffee on University Avenue and got to Lot 2 just in time to see the band in the middle of a rally. By the time I got to Chuck Taylor’s Grove, the Walk was over but it was jam-packed with people. There were folks who had just come to tailgate and weren’t even going to the game. I caught the end of the first half of the Oregon-SC game where I was firmly rooting for USC. Back door our way to the Rose Bowl and play some uninspiring Big 10 competition? I think I’ll pass and take a shot at a Big 12 team in the Fiesta Bowl. The overall atmosphere was tremendous and I met a couple more young alumni by Gate 13 in Lot 2. Despite the late start and weather, Big Game definitely brought a large crowd out – even if they were in the concourse for the majority of the game. It’s a great spot to watch a football game and I did it myself the last time it poured at a home game (Wazzu in 2008) when I was ill-prepared. This time I came better equipped with my therma-fit Pro Combat Luck hoodie which did a decent job of keeping me dry.

Outside of the opening drive, I thought our offensive game plan was somewhat curious for the first few drives as we barely ran the ball and it seemed that because of Cal’s run defense, we had given up on the run without even trying and were trying to use the pass to set up the run. The worst part was outside of a couple of play action passes out of the I formation, there were a lot of 4 wide sets with short patterns that telegraphed what we were doing and had the upside of a run in terms of yards gained. We were fortunate to keep it close in the first half thanks to Tedford’s trademark conservative play of kicking field goals when facing 4th and 2 deep in our territory. The difference between Chip Kelly and him is night and day. My favorite Tedford moment is when he centered the ball on 3rd and goal for a field goal with a 3 point lead during the last Big Game at Stanford, giving us the opportunity to drive down for a win if not for poor play calling at the end of the game. Sign the man up for a lifetime contract! In the second half, we ran the ball more which opened up passes to Hewitt who was absolutely money. Luck also finally got in rhythm and hit some long passes to the tight ends and while the game got pretty dicey at the end, Williamson was absolutely clutch when we needed him to be. Kudos to him for fighting through his injuries as well as Corey Gatewood stepping up at corner.

In a weekend of crazy upsets where the odds of Oklahoma St, Oregon and Oklahoma losing was 0.12%, gutting out a 3 point Big Game victory in the rain was huge. While the pundits have basically written off Stanford’s chances of playing in the National Championship game, the odds of Stanford beating Notre Dame, LSU beating Arkansas, Auburn beating Alabama, Oklahoma beating Oklahoma State and either Virginia or Clemson beating Virginia Tech are 1.4% which while tiny, are 10 times more likely than what happened this past weekend. At the very least, Stanford is almost guaranteed a BCS bowl game with a win over the Irish on Saturday. Hopefully the weather will be nicer and the uniforms bring out the best in them. It will be interesting to see if Shaw honors the seniors in front of the fans before the game. I have no inside knowledge but I’d lean towards yes given what I’ve seen out of Shaw so far. In the meantime, I’m off to New York to catch the pre-season NIT at Madison Square Garden featuring Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Stanford, which might as well serve as a BCS tiebreaker!

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