Saturday, August 25, 2012

Season Wins Analysis

Now that I live in Vegas and have better access to betting markets, I do a bunch of football analysis with a focus on season win totals and NFL props. Here's my Stanford season win totals analysis.

Predicted Spreads
Stanford -25.5 vs San Jose State
Stanford -20 vs Duke
Stanford +12 vs USC
Stanford -4 vs Washington
Stanford -14.5 vs Arizona
Stanford +6 @ Notre Dame
Stanford -3.5 @ Cal
Stanford -13.5 vs WSU
Stanford -17.5 @ Colorado
Stanford -16.5 vs Oregon State
Stanford +14 @ Oregon
Stanford -5.5 @ UCLA

Total Wins Probability Distribution (assuming each game is independent)
0-5 wins: 4.8%
6 wins: 12.1%
7 wins: 24.0%
8 wins: 29.1%
9 wins: 20.6%
10 wins: 7.8%
11 wins: 1.4%
12 wins: 0.1%

My Bets (Conference Championship games do not count)
Stanford Over 7 wins (-117) Current Price: -250/+210
Stanford Over 7.5 wins (-105) Current Price: -135/-105

Vegas Lines

With this being my last weekend in Vegas for the next few months, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at the upcoming season from the perspective of Vegas.

Prospective Spreads
Stanford -25.5 vs San Jose State (Total = 52)
Stanford + 11.5 vs USC
Stanford -4 @ Washington
Stanford +5.5 @ Notre Dame
Stanford -4 @ Cal
Stanford +13.5 @ Oregon

Stanford Win Totals
Over 6.5 (-390/+270)
Over 7 (-250/+210)
Over 7.5 (-135/+105)
Over 8 (-110/-110)

Win Pac-12 North
Oregon -280, Stanford +775, Cal +825, Washington +850, Oregon State +2000, WSU +2300

Win Pac-12
USC -160, Oregon +250, Stanford +2500, Cal +2700, Washington +2800, Utah +4000, UCLA +4500, Arizona +5500, ASU +6000, Oregon State +7000, WSU +7500, Colorado +20000

Who will have more Rushing Yards
Kenjon Barner +180, Stepfan Taylor +190, John White IV +230, Isi Sofele +370, Cameron Marshall +425

Who will have more Rushing TDs
Stepfan Taylor +180, Kenjon Barner +190, John White IV +235, Cameron Marshall +355, Isi Sofele +455

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Football Season

Football season is almost upon us! While I won't be updating the blog with the diligence of year's past, I still intend to post from time to time. Here's a glimpse of my tentative schedule for the 2012 football season. Warning: It's not for the faint of heart :)

8/31 - San Jose @ Stanford
9/8 - Duke @ Stanford
9/14 - Washington State @ UNLV
9/15 - USC @ Stanford
9/16 - Lions @ 49ers
9/20 - BYU @ Boise State
9/22 - Kansas State @ Oklahoma
9/27 - Stanford @ Washington
9/29 - Tennessee @ Georgia
10/6 - Arizona @ Stanford
10/13 - Stanford @ Notre Dame
10/14 - Colts @ Jets
10/20 - Stanford @ Cal
10/27 - Washington State @ Stanford
11/3 - Stanford @ Colorado
11/10 - Oregon State @ Stanford
11/17 - Stanford @ Oregon
11/24 - Stanford @ UCLA

Looks like it'll be another fun journey. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fiesta Bowl

If you had suggested to me my junior year when Stanford football went 1-11 that we would go to 2 consecutive BCS bowl games within 5 years, I would have called you insane. Now, it was a reality and I was in the luxurious position of weighing which BCS bowl I’d like to attend. My personal preference was the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against Alabama because let’s face it, how often can Stanford contend against a bona fide SEC team? It would be an offense with 4 first round draft picks against an equally if not even more stacked defense. Furthermore, it would be in SEC country and give us a chance to prove to the nation that real football was played west of the Mississippi. But the Fiesta Bowl as the second leg of what will hopefully be a Grand Slam of BCS bowl appearances that I attend, and third consecutive New Years spent in a new city (El Paso, Miami and now Scottsdale) was fine by me.

Albert and I got in on Saturday morning with his roommate Todd in what was a Cardinal heavy flight from SFO and Orange filled flight from LAS. We picked up our rental in the nicest rental facility that I’ve ever seen. Albert and Todd were playing a round of golf that afternoon so I headed to Majerle’s Sports Grill which was conveniently located just across the road from our hotel (The Best Western Plus Sundial) to catch the bowl games and Stanford vs USC basketball game. By the end of the trip, Majerle’s was firmly entrenched as my second most frequented sports bar behind the Old Pro with a grand total of 5 visits in 3 days! No doubt the number of football and basketball games which I had a vested interest in thanks to office pools (I won my bowl pick’em pool leading wire to wire), futures bets (Broncos to win the AFC West) and Stanford (we beat USC in an excruciatingly sloppy game) played a big part, but the food was good, drinks reasonably priced and TVs plentiful. Throw in some cute and friendly staff, former NBA star “Thunder” Dan Majerle making an appearance and every game going my way except the last when we swung by post-Fiesta Bowl to grab some grub and drown our sorrows, Majerle’s Sports Grill gets 5 stars from me.

In my opinion, the best part of BCS Bowl Games is that they serve as one big reunion for Stanford sports fans. I get to see friends from all over the country/world whom I haven’t met in ages as well as season ticket holders whom I haven’t seen in over a month. While the game itself is important, it feels like gravy when you’re playing in a BCS Bowl game and an underdog to boot. Compared to fans who are shelling out quite a bit of money and precious holiday time, thus making the Fiesta Bowl their Superbowl of sorts, this feels like another road trip to me except I have no real contempt for the opposing team’s fans (compared to say Oregon or USC) and it’s more like a 3 day vacation rather than a 1.5 day quick turnaround trip. Even a loss has fewer ramifications compared to the first loss of our season which would have put us out of the National Championship race or the second which might have kept us out of a BCS bowl game. In short, I’m typically just happy to be there and not even thinking about the game for the majority of the trip. With perfectly located accommodations this year (kudos to Albert), I had an even better time at the Fiesta Bowl than the Orange Bowl. On New Year’s Eve, I hung out with a former co-worker and some freshman dorm-mates, bumped into some of the guys who I went on a post graduation Vegas trip with and was introduced to a mutual friend who is a professional poker player / sports bettor living in Vegas. While everyone was scrambling to find a cab, I simply crossed the street and was back at the hotel. On New Year’s day, I met up with another ex co-worker who lives in Phoenix while Albert and Todd fit in one last round of golf, had dinner with our Chuck Taylor’s Grove tailgating crew at what had to be the best steakhouse in Scottsdale, and welcomed some late arriving friends at Majerle’s which had turned into one of the unofficial Stanford gathering spots. The whole weekend was thoroughly enjoyable.

On game day, we got an early start to avoid traffic and ended up arriving at the stadium before our parking lot opened. It was a blessing in disguise as we were able to park at the nearby Gordon Biersch and grab some food while catching the early games. After deciding that no one really cared about the third OT of the Michigan State – Georgia game, it was a quick drive to the stadium and we checked into the large sprawling space that was the Official Stanford Tailgate. While not quite as cool as being held inside the Stadium ala the Orange Bowl, the screening of the Rose Bowl was a nice touch and I was impressed by the sheer size of the area. In what was extremely good timing, the Seattle Seahawks (the only NFL team with 2 Stanford rookies coming off stellar seasons) finished up their regular season against the Arizona Cardinals the previous day and so Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin were in attendance. As a side note, I heard a story of two Stanford fans going hiking on Sunday morning when someone recognized their Cardinal attire and gave them 2 free tickets to the afternoon NFL game. How cool is that? Sherman whose gracious manner off the field belies his brash demeanor on the field was holding court with an endless line of well-wishers. Players’ families were also in abundance and I heard from a pretty reputable source that we’d have a new starter at left tackle next season.Shortly after purchasing my Fiesta Bowl tickets through the ticket office, I won a better pair through a Buck/Cardinal club contest and was seated in the Athletic Office section next to Stanford Women’s Tennis head coach. In addition to being one of the top tennis coaches in the nation, she was pretty knowledgeable about football too. There was also a Toby Gerhart sighting in an adjacent section. For some reason, he was on crutches although I hadn’t heard of any injury news. Perhaps it was just the wear and tear of the NFL season.

The game itself was an exciting affair with Luck playing one of his best games in a Stanford uniform. Our defense started out strong but once Oklahoma State figured out that if they spread us out with 4/5 WR, we had no answer for them, it turned into a shoot-out. We made some mistakes with the fumble at our own goal-line and some curious wildcat calls but OK State’s coach arguably made an even bigger one by kicking a field goal from the 1 yard line on fourth down! Ultimately, it boiled down to clock management and Jordan Williamson having a chance to kick the game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock. While Shaw has been heavily criticized by most, I suspect a large part of it is due to results oriented thinking. If it were the NFL, I think Shaw played it absolutely perfectly. Given Williamson’s late season and early game struggles, there was some merit in trying to get one more first down with some safe play-calling. My preferred play would have been a QB bootleg with Luck instructed to go down in bounds if nothing was there. Trying to score a TD by throwing it deep seems like a terrible option to me because the assumption that the only person responsible for an interception is the QB and Andrew Luck would absolutely not have thrown an INT in that situation is silly. The downside of an aggressive approach was failing to get a first down and giving the ball back to OK State with 40 or so seconds and Stanford either up by 3 or the game tied if Williamson missed the field goal (which based on what happened would likely have been the case). The upside was having a closer field goal attempt but how large is the marginal increase in probability of making the field goal with the extra yards? The right decision obviously depends on what probabilities you assign to Stanford getting a 1st down, Stanford getting x yards when they do get a 1st down, Williamson making a field goal of x yards, OK State scoring if they get the ball back etc. but my gut feel is that it’s a pretty close decision either way and not worth losing any sleep over. Much like how no one questions the decision to let Gerhart score when Notre Dame was trying to let him and barely avoiding overtime or kicking a 48 yard field goal with 14 seconds left up 6 against Oregon when punting or even taking a safety would have been significantly superior, I doubt anyone would be questioning Shaw if Stanford had won the game.

And so this is how an unprecedented 2 year run for Stanford football would end. We were a hair away from back to back BCS bowl wins and finished with the Heisman runner up 2 years in a row. We owe so much to the signing class of 2008 who committed to a 1-11 team and have completely turned it around while conducting themselves with cruelty on the field and class off it. While this may be the end of their journey, I’m confident that the program will continue to flourish and look forward to backing it up when next season’s wins over-under is released.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Stanford vs Notre Dame

With a week off for Thanksgiving, I racked up the air miles by heading to New York to catch the men’s basketball team in action at Madison Square Garden. Having never been to the famed MSG, I planned a trip to New York even before the team clinched a semi-finals appearance. Luckily, they came through even though it looked pretty dicey in the early going against Colorado State. It was fun trip to the East Coast. I landed in Newark on Sunday night, visited Yale on Monday, Harvard on Tuesday and stayed in New York for the rest of the week.

Alex heard about a pre-game chalk talk an hour before it started and my friend’s place which was a couple of blocks from MSG came in handy. Coach Payne talked about the game plan and answered a few questions while we feasted on chicken tenders and an open bar. After a back and forth first 15 min, we pulled away against an up-tempo OK State team and the game was never really in doubt in the second half. Unfortunately, I was only able to watch the 3rd/4th consolation game between Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech as I had to catch a flight back for the Notre Dame game and didn’t want to risk leaving on Saturday morning and running into delays. I ran into Robbie Lemon’s mum at a sportsbar in the airport who corrected my guess of 35 points/game during his senior year of high school (it was 37 ppg). Wearing my Stanford basketball #15 jersey, I caught the Stanford-Syracuse game on my JetBlue flight. It was a shame we couldn’t hold on but I think it’ll be a good learning experience for the team. I got into San Jose a good 45 min ahead of schedule and crashed at a friend’s place for the night.

After a delicious lunch, we headed to campus and got to Chuck Taylor’s Grove in time for the walk. CTG felt much quieter than the previous week but I guess it was the Thanksgiving + Cal factor. Speaking of which, I heard that the area was trashed by some Cal students last week and security was needed. The walk didn’t feel particularly different from other walks. Luck and Martin led the way and a couple of guys were donning “My Last Walk” shirts. After Albert put the finishing touches on some deep fried turkey, we headed into the stadium. By finishing in the top 8 of a Stanford Fan of the Season essay competition (you can read the entry in the previous post), we won pre-game field passes and were recognized during head time.

Being on the field during warm-ups and the honoring of the seniors was an absolutely amazing experience. Coach Shaw seemed tremendously relaxed as he strode on the field and it was cool to see the O-linemen warm up right in front of us. They were big and a couple of guys really went at it with each other. The honoring of the seniors before the team took the field was a nice touch by Shaw and well received by some of the seniors as evident by their comments after the game. We also got the chance to chat with some of the other winners who were equally excited at the privilege of being up close. It was great to see the Helmet Head guy (Greg) who sat a couple of rows in front of us at the Orange Bowl last year again. Apparently, that was the day that his look was first created.

With 7 minutes to go before half time, we were told to meet outside the stadium by the entrance to the field. That unfortunately meant missing a good part of the drive which resulted in Luck’s record breaking TD to Fleener but we figured out what was going on by the roar in the stadium. Ironically, that’s the only 2 minutes out of Luck’s entire career that I’ve missed. We entered the stadium in time for the ensuing kickoff and had a great sideline view of the action. I was able to see Corey Gatewood’s pick up close as well as the 2 minute drill that Luck ran to perfection. On one of the 3rd down conversions, Montgomery ran out of bounds right by us and it definitely made me appreciate game speed a lot more. Ex-Olinemen James McGillicuddy, Chase Beeler and Allen Smith were all hanging out on the sidelines and I snapped a picture of Greg with Cuddy or rather Cuddy with Greg who was quite the fan favorite. At half time, we walked to the center of the field where clumps of turf seemed to materialize from nowhere. Against Notre Dame, the field was an extra defender so I can’t really complain.

We didn’t put the game away until the play-action TD from Luck to Fleener in the fourth quarter but our defense really held up and we got some pressure on the QB which seemed missing in our past few games. We were surprisingly conservative with our play calling in the 2nd half but if the goal was to win the game rather than pad Luck’s Heisman stats, I can see merit to running the ball since interceptions for big returns have been a problem these past few weeks and it seemed like that was the only way for Notre Dame to come back into the game. It also set up play action which we pulled off to perfection. My other observation was that I think the coaches dialed up the aggression on the last defensive series to increase our chances of taking a knee to end the game (either by forcing a turnover or giving up a TD). I guess we’ll never know if that was their intention but it was a nice move to have Owusu on the field for the last play.

What a season! It looks like we’re heading for a 2nd consecutive BCS bowl if nothing too crazy happens. Albert and I have our reservations for the Fiesta Bowl set and some contingencies in place for the Sugar Bowl. Fiesta against a Big 12 champion would be a lot less expensive but New Year’s in New Orleans would be quite the experience and frankly, I don’t care about the cost or preference of other Stanford fans. There were tons of folks who grumbled last year when we ended up in the Orange Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Besides, I would travel anywhere to catch Andrew Luck’s last game in a Stanford uniform!

P.S.: If anyone has a DVD of the Stanford-Notre Dame game, please let me know. I was unable to record it because I left home too far in advance and I still haven’t seen those two minutes I missed in their entirety.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fan of the Season Entry

30 games and counting

Since Stanford played Arizona State at home on 10/24/2009, my friend Albert Thomas and I have not missed a single Stanford football game. In this streak of 30 consecutive games, we’ve logged thousands of miles and countless hours on the road, and have been fortunate enough to witness one of the greatest stretches in Stanford football history. It all started when we were seniors (Class of 2008) and attended 166 Stanford sporting events. However, in a season where Stanford basketball reached the Sweet 16, it was not a basketball game that stood out. Despite going through 3 football coaches in our 4 years on the Farm, we believed in Stanford football and made that 5 hour drive down to the Coliseum to see Stanford play #2 ranked USC. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to a couple of years after graduation and with a little more discretionary income at our disposal, Albert and I decided that we wanted to visit every single Pac-10 stadium. That is how the streak began. Fittingly enough, the first road trip was to a place where we harbored our fondest memories and once again, we triumphantly strode out of the Coliseum after a 55-21 victory. We followed that up with El Paso, Pasadena, South Bend, Eugene, Seattle, Tempe, Berkeley, Miami, Durham, Tucson, Pullman, Los Angeles again where we are now 3-0, and last but not least Corvallis. With the formation of the Pac-12, Boulder and Salt Lake City are up next.

This season has been a little more trying on my bank account as I’ve relocated to Las Vegas from the Bay Area but that was never going to get in the way of our travels which we’ve chronicled in our blog: Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination”. This journey has been one hell of a ride. The team has gone 26-4 in those 30 games, beaten every Pac-10 team at least once, owned the nation’s longest active winning streak and won a BCS bowl. We’ve seen the country and met alums as passionate as us from classes that span multiple decades whom we would have otherwise never met. Stanford football has brought us together but these friendships go beyond the score of a football game. They will last a lifetime.

As many players from the recruiting Class of 2008 – guys who committed when we were seniors and represented the future of Stanford football – make their last walk and play their last game in Stanford stadium, it would be an absolute honor to be on the sidelines because our journey would not be as meaningful without the hard work and dedication of the student athletes. And it was this recruiting class in particular that took a leap of faith which contributed to the football program’s turnaround. For that, we are eternally grateful. Go Card! Beat the Irish!

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!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stanford vs Oregon

After 9 weeks of build up, it was finally here: 9-0 Stanford vs 8-1 Oregon. It doesn’t get any better than that! The trip got off to a shaky start when my 7:30pm flight on Friday got pushed back to 8pm. With the possibility of further delays, I considered flying in to San Jose but didn’t feel that it was worth it given that I had someone picking me up from SFO. I settled into conversation with a fellow alum when the Southwest attendant announced that there was some bad news. Before she could finish her sentence, I bolted out of my seat and was second in a long line of passengers who didn’t want to wait for our new departure time of 11pm. The San Jose flight had just left and the next flight to Oakland was in 15 minutes. With the prospect of not making it out to SFO that night and missing College Game Day, I half sprinted, half jogged to the other terminal. Boy am I out of shape!

Luckily, everything went pretty smoothly from then on and I even managed to get a friend to pick me up from the Oakland airport. While waiting, I was approached by an alum who was picking up his son and instantly knew what my allegiances were from my Shayne Skov 11 for 11 shirt. On the way to campus, we stopped at the Fed Ex along California Avenue and bumped into than Ty Montgomery’s mum whom I’d met at the Stanford Scrimmage 3 months ago. One of his teachers was in tow as they printed out several signs for Game Day. I congratulated her on Ty’s success and upcoming first career start at WR and also let her know what a great gunner he was as she explained his special teams role to some other fans. Unfortunately, I forgot to compliment her on her role in The Program:

After that short detour, it was off to campus where we parked in the new GSB parking lot which was much closer to the stadium than the usual Wilbur spot. We decided to swing by the Oval to do some scouting of the Game Day set up. With sleeping bag in tow, we expected to be warned that we couldn’t camp out as stated in several university press releases but the security guards didn’t mention a thing and let us scope out our desired spot. It was then off to the RV where Albert had expanded the sleeping quarters to fit 7 but with the amount of adrenaline I had and an early wake up call to boot, there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. Instead, I met up with another friend who was coming for Game Day and we walked around the campus and made a stop at the Oval where a handful of people were in line – the first person being a UCLA fan. An hour later we were back with reinforcements. It was about 3:30am and there were about 50 people there. The first sign of note unfortunately did not make it past the sign Nazis.

It was a little after 4am when they started letting people into the Pit – the area directly behind the stage where the Game Day guys were – but not after a strict search to make sure they weren’t carrying any contraband items like markers to write offensive signs. We opted to be off to the side in front of the side stage and video screen thanks to the advice of the following blog post: The preparation came in handy as it meant no waiting in line or being searched and ample TV time, especially on ESPNU. In retrospect, we could probably have shown up at 5:30 and gotten the same spot. By the time it was 6am, a sizable crowd had formed. It was hard to tell from our vantage point how many people there were but it felt respectable especially after an ESPN article the day before predicted the smallest College Game Day turn out ever. As I’m sure was its intention, the article galvanized the student body which to be fair, has only 6,200 undergrads to work with. Chris Fowler thanked the crowd for showing up very genuinely and implored us to stay classy when they talked about Penn State. I was pleasantly surprised that it was heeded given the tremendous amount of time devoted to the matter. To be perfectly honest, most of College Game Day was a blur. Coach Shaw came on in a nice Stanford Football leather coat to chants of “Shaw has swag”; Plunkett was well received although it was obvious that he had not done much prep on the teams he was picking but ended up getting them mostly right; Erin Andrews was amused by a sign that mistakenly called Kirk Herbstreit “Curt”; Shayne Skov posted a picture of my favorite sign on twitter (the one to the right of it is pretty good too); and we caught a glimpse of both the BCS Championship trophy and the Pac-12 championship trophy.

After Game Day ended, it was time for a nap but even in my sleep deprived state, the most I could muster was an hour. I got up feeling great. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. While at Chuck Taylor’s Grove, I got pulled aside by a CNN reporter who tried to bait me with the “Is Stanford’s recent success a result of relaxed admission standards” question. If he was hoping that I would give him something juicy, he picked the wrong guy. After I bored him with Stanford’s new approach to recruiting under Harbaugh –encouraging underclassmen in high school to take AP classes if they were serious about Stanford and the resulting signaling effect of how serious they were that told us if we should devote more resources to recruiting them – my buddy knocked his next question out of the park by talking about how Stanford football brings people together and creates a community of both alums and non-alums. I’m guessing we won’t make it to TV since we didn’t admit to writing papers for football players. Just like College Game Day, the pre-game festivities were a blur too as I met several friends and some people who I hadn’t seen in ages.
It was beautiful night in Stanford stadium and the electricity was palpable. I was fortunate to sit next to my economic honors thesis advisor who I could discuss the strategic aspect of football with while yelling my head off. The game itself was of course disappointing. We were out-coached and out executed. Oregon was the superior team and had the better game plan. Our play calling was predictably bad and it felt like we had more drops in this one game than all the other games this season combined. Even if we had brought our A game in terms of execution, it would have been a coin flip. When we beat Oregon 2 years ago, we played what felt like the perfect game. We needed something like that to win and even then, the coaches might have given it away. I honestly thought that they had a plan for this game and that a lot of the earlier stuff they had shown this season was misdirection. I guess I gave them too much credit or perhaps the injury to Ertz was a lot more impactful than realized. In any case, we were beaten convincingly and you can’t play the what-if game after being beaten so thoroughly, especially when every break and call seemed to go our way.

After I good night’s rest, I felt refreshed and it was nice to see the 49ers win a big game against the Giants. With extra credit freed up by cancelled Southwest flights and inspired by a friend who is a huge Packers fan (he’s from Milwaukee), I decided that a Packers-49ers NFC championship game would be a fitting first NFL game for me to attend in person. On my flight home, a stewardess stowed a walking stick in the compartment above me right before we took off and warned us to be careful when we opened it. Of course, no one else paid any attention and when the clueless guy in front of me opened it when we landed, the walking stick came hurtling down towards my head. Crisis was adverted when I grabbed it in the nick of time and after he recovered from the shock, he said “Nice catch”. If only I could say the same thing to our receivers.

Thanks to Boise’s loss, we are still very much in the BCS Bowl conversation and to tell you the truth, if we can’t play in New Orleans, I’d rather play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl than a Big-10 team in the Rose Bowl. Not only do I think we have a better shot at beating Oklahoma than Wisconsin (irrespective of what the spread will be), we have much more to gain and less to lose by playing Oklahoma than a Big-10 team. But now, there’s absolutely no more margin for error. Big Game will be a bigger challenge than previously thought now that Cal has some momentum and Notre Dame was always going to be tough. We’ll need to play our A game from here on out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Post #100 - The Game We Have Been Waiting For

Reser stadium capped off our journey to all the Pac-10 stadiums. That was our main goal when we started our endeavor to travel to away football games and we’ve been fortunate enough to witness a tremendous resurgence in Stanford football. Would we have continued going to game after game if the team was more reminiscent of those when we were back in college? I’d like to say yes but winning definitely has made these road trips easier. With 28 consecutive Stanford games under our belt, it feels like we’ve come full circle as the Oregon game approaches. Game #2 of our streak was the last time we beat Oregon and that stretch of games – beating a highly ranked Oregon at home, demolishing USC on the road, losing to Cal (boy that one hurt), beating Notre Dame at home and losing narrowly to Oklahoma without Luck in our first Bowl game in 8 years – thrust Toby to the front of the Heisman race and proved that Stanford could compete with the big boys in the conference and nation. The team has built on that success and while the SC game last year was the one I had circled in my calendar as College Game Day’s introduction to the Farm, better late than never.

Hyperbole permeates the world we live in. Phrases like “Game of the Century” and “Greatest of All Time” get bandied around with reckless abandon and before the season started, I might have sounded hyperbolic myself as I told anyone who would listen that this was a once in a generation team and in our lifetimes, we might not see a Stanford team with this potential ever again. How often has Stanford had a consensus #1 pick QB and several first round picks on offense? How often has Stanford had a tremendous defense in just their first year of a new defensive scheme? Add that to a dream schedule which slowly ramps up in difficulty and has 7 home games (including Oregon), I felt that this was the year that the stars could be aligned.

But even with all that we had going for us, it was never a sure thing that we would be 9-0 even though everyone predicted a Stanford-Oregon showdown of this magnitude when the schedules were first released. Looking at the 9 games we’ve won, the point spreads translate to a 36% chance of going unbeaten which is coincidentally roughly equal to the chances of us winning our next 4 games. You could argue that we’ve covered the spread every single time and that number is an underestimate but my point is that it wasn’t the most likely scenario coming into a season where Vegas set the over-under on Stanford’s regular season win total at 9 games. Where we are today is all I could have ever asked for – winning the games we’re supposed to win so that we have a chance to play in a game of this magnitude.

With Pac-12 championship, National Championship and Heisman trophy implications, this could very well be the biggest game in Stanford’s history especially if you combine magnitude with difficulty (obviously if we win on Saturday then Big Game is as important if not more important). And with everything on the line, it’s easy to succumb to the idea that the success of this season or even Andrew Luck’s legacy hinges on this single game. After watching the World Series of Poker final table where a virtual coin flip determined who won $8.7 million and the fates of both players were completely out of their control, I would argue that a close football game against two evenly matched teams shares some similarities. As much as there is an illusion of complete control in the final outcome of the game, the bounce of the ball before a fumble is recovered, the deflection of a Hail Mary pass into a receiver’s hands or the referee’s ruling on an interception versus catch on the 1 yard line is in essence a coin flip. And that recovery or interception could be the difference between a win and a loss. Obviously I want us to play our best football and beat Oregon but if the two teams are as evenly matched as many think they are, it could come down to a coin flip like situation. The runner up in the main event took home $5.3 million. There’s no shame in losing a coin flip if you play your best and give it your all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Life is a journey, not a destination”. Stanford is 9-0, #2 in the Coaches Poll, #3 in the AP/Harris Poll, #4 in the BCS standings and has the leading Heisman candidate. While I dream that this will be a staple of Stanford football, a lot has come together to make this happen and I may never see this again in my lifetime. And so we are renting an RV, driving out on Friday, lining up for Game Day in the morning with our signs and Duck Hunting Caps, and tailgating all day till kick off. No matter what happens on Saturday, it’s been one hell of a journey and nowhere close to ending.

Stanford @ OSU

The 12:30pm kick off made my Saturday morning Southwest flight a little too close for comfort. It also elicited some choice words in the middle of a crowded employment center when I first found out. Luckily no one knew me and I had also booked a Friday night flight – my standard practice when faced with a TBD kickoff on the road. It did mean that I had to find accommodation for an extra night but Albert took care of it as usual and once again, we were staying at the Ramada. Albert would join me the next morning since he managed to get an Alaskan flight from SFO that got in at 9am. There was a 45 minute delay due to our flight crew arriving late because of rain in Las Vegas but I was in no particular hurry and didn’t mind too much. Upon arriving in Portland, I was greeted by the lovely Ducks and Beavers logos at the airport. I don’t have particularly fond memories of the Portland airport where I had quite a bit of time to kill after last year’s game. The same can be said of the Eugene airport where I lamented our basketball team’s loss to the Ducks in the Pit. I guess unlike Los Angeles or more specifically the Coliseum, Oregon hasn’t been too kind to me over the years.

With the weather forecast predicting rain all day Saturday and memories of being soaking wet in Husky stadium last year which were mitigated in part by our absolutely dominant performance, staying as dry as possible was a point of emphasis this week and so I travelled a little less light than usual. While it didn’t rain nearly as hard as the previous year and even stopped midway in the second quarter, the extra clothing sure came in handy. It also made me appreciate how fortunate we’ve been with the weather at Stanford. The last time I remember it raining was when we played Washington State in 2008. Boy did it rain hard that day. The drive to Corvallis went smoothly and the scenery a little more appealing than the journey from Spokane to Pullman. We got to the stadium an hour before kickoff and seeing as there wasn’t too much to do and the rain was already starting, just headed inside and ordered some hot chocolate. The stadium had a small intimate field and our seats behind the goal but at the left most edge were great - probably the best away seats all year. We talked to some the Stanford fans sitting close to us and a group had driven up from San Jose the day before. There was also a former football player living in Portland who had his 6 and 8 year old sons in tow.

It was yet another slow start on offense with Luck having an off day. Granted there were a few drops but he could definitely have thrown some better balls. Luckily the defense was solid, as it has been all year on the road. It’s frightening how easily we could have fallen behind in all of our road games if the other team had been able to put some points on the board. Unlike Albert who felt pretty confident that we would pull away, I definitely entertained the notion that we might trip up when the score was close in the third – not because it was a trap game but because we were just having an off day. Eerily similar to the last time we were in Oregon was the hit on Owusu. Can’t help but wonder what would have happened last year if there had been a flag or this year if there hadn’t. Albert believes that it would have just delayed the inevitable and we would have pulled away anyway. I’m not as convinced. The crowd reaction as the Stanford player’s themselves even commented was disappointing. The refrain I heard repeatedly from the Stanford fans around us was “They [Oregon State fans] were so nice before the game”. I attribute it to a mob mentality and it probably doesn’t help that your coach is going ballistic on the sidelines either.

Thankfully we pulled away and even covered the 21 point spread without any further injuries after losing Levine earlier. After the game, Albert and I had wasted no time in getting out of Corvallis as we wanted to catch as much of the Alabama-LSU game as possible, or so we thought. We listened to it on the radio and shortly after we got back to our hotel to dry off, the first half had ended. We located a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant nearby and were in heaven albeit somewhat exhausted. They had every game of interest on, solid food and a cute waitress. The Kansas State-OK State ended up being much more interesting than the LSU-Bama game for multiple reasons and gave us a glimmer of home that it could be a truly special day. If only Kansas State had run the ball at the 5 yard line with 11 seconds left and 1 time out instead of throwing it 3 times. It’s hard to say if they would have gone for 2 points if they had scored. It would clearly have been the right play but since when do coaches make the right play anyway? The Oregon-Washington game was interesting for a while but then Oregon started pulling away and we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep before our 8am flights. It wasn’t even 11pm but we were absolutely exhausted.

Fortunately we are done with road games and hopefully that means no more slow starts for the offense. We definitely can’t afford one against Oregon. Our kickoff coverage team also needs to get its act together. Williamson’s ability to directionally kick it on kick offs has spoiled them and it feels like Skov may have been a bigger part of kickoff coverage than we realize. On the injury front, fingers crossed that Fleming and Williamson can play but I’d say we’re doing as well as we could have hoped for given the past few weeks with Ertz and Owusu being the main casualties. There are bound to be injuries and player’s playing hurt by this time of the season anyway. This is it. The game that everyone’s had circled in their calendar for months. Saturday can’t come sooner enough.