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UCLA Notebook: 'Bowl' Week

Dec 17, 2020

THERE WILL BE no bowl game for Stanford this year, but there will be a 'bowl' game. 

The Cardinal, in the midst of its third week on the road, declined to be considered for a postseason bowl. However, with the team stationed in Santa Barbara for a game at the Rose Bowl, completing a season in such locales provides a sense of reward.

While the NCAA did not have a .500 requirement to qualify for a bowl this year, the Pac-12 did. Therefore, Stanford (3-2) did not secure eligibility until Curtis Robinson recovered a late fumble to secure a 27-24 victory at Oregon State last week. The next step for the Cardinal was determining if a bowl made sense.

With Santa Clara County under tight health restrictions, including a ban of contact sports, until at least Dec. 21 to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Cardinal football team has been on the road since December 1. The team spent a week each in the Seattle area and Corvallis, Oregon, and now is training at Santa Barbara City College's La Playa Stadium, a facility worthy of a postcard, tucked against a coastal bluff with a panoramic view of the beach and Pacific Ocean across the street.  

Playing in a bowl would have meant two more weeks on the road, a scramble to establish a base and find training facilities, and being away from family on Christmas. 

"As much as many of us in our hearts would love to potentially play the bowl game, I don't see how we could do it," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "It did not seem practical. 

"We can't go back to Stanford to practice. We'd have to practice in another location and then transfer our program again to potentially a fourth or fifth location 48 hours before a game that may not even happen. And with all the testing and different things … that's a big ask for us on these student-athletes."

Shaw said the players were in favor of the decision. 

"We feel like we've been on a three-week bowl trip as it is," Shaw said. "Now, having the opportunity to play UCLA down here in Southern California, staying right by the beach where guys can spend some free time feels somewhat like a bowl game." 
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Lou Valli fights for yardage against UCLA in 1956 in a series tied as Stanford's longest uninterrupted rivalry. 

NORMALITY HAS TAKEN a beating this season in a shortened season -- one home game, fanless stadiums, nomadic odysseys, interrupted rivalries. 

For the first time since 1945, Stanford will not play USC. Also, for the first time since 1996, Stanford and Notre Dame will not play for the Legends Trophy, the Irish crystal and California redwood bowl which remains in Indiana. 

On Saturday, Stanford and UCLA will play each other for the 74th consecutive year, matching the length of Stanford's other longest uninterrupted series, against Cal. Stanford did not play an official football schedule from 1943-45 because of World War II, thus halting those series. Thereby, the 'uninterrupted' portion of the rivalries against Cal and UCLA began in 1946. 

In the years that Stanford has played football, Cal has been Stanford's oldest annual opponent (since 1892). UCLA is next, playing Stanford each season since 1928. USC was an opponent in every Stanford season from 1925-2019.
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STANFORD ANNOUNCED THE addition 20 members of its next class, on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. 

Recruiting is different this season without the ability to see many future prospects live. High school football in California, for instance, has not yet begun.

"Trust your eyes," Shaw said. "We can all watch film, we can evaluate talent, but there's something about seeing an athlete live. Christian McCaffrey … top of the list. I kept telling (NFL scouts), don't judge him on his weight or on the film. Come see him live. Every single person that I talked to came back and said, 'OK, film was one thing, live is something else. This guy's a beast.' 

"For us as coaches, you always want to trust your eyes. Not being able to get out in the fall and see some guys play live, not just the '21 class, but guys that are up and coming, that's been difficult. But, at the same time, we're continuing to find some great prospects. We'll have the right guys." 
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Elijah Higgins. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/

AFTER DROPPING ITS first two games, Stanford has won its past three. A certain amount of improvement was expected from a young team. Quarterback Davis Mills missed the opener against Oregon and a week of practice leading into the Colorado game, because of a COVID-19 protocol error. And there was no way Jet Toner would stay down after missing four field goals against Oregon. He's made all seven tries since. 

Two statistical figures truly illustrate the differences between the opening two games and the past three: Third-down conversions and red-zone touchdown percentage. 

In the first two games, Stanford was 9 of 29 (.310) on third-down conversions and opponents were 17 of 25 (.680). Since then, the Cardinal is 23 of 41 (.561) to opponents' 17 of 38 (.447). Overall, Stanford is 42 of 70 (.457). In comparison, Stanford was 65 of 166 (.392) last season.

In the first two games, Stanford scored 5 touchdowns on 9 red-zone trips (.555). Since then, the Cardinal has scored 10 touchdowns on 12 trips (.833). Overall, Stanford has 15 touchdowns in 21 trips (.714). Last year, Stanford had 16 TDs in 34 trips (.471). 
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ANOTHER 2020 ODDITY is that Stanford hasn't played a non-bowl game this late in the calendar year since 1922, when it beat Pitt, 16-7, on December 30 at Stanford Stadium. 

Before bowls took hold, it wasn't unusual for intersectional games to be played late in the calendar, much as bowls are today. The game against Pitt was played under unusual circumstances – both teams essentially had the same coach. 

Here's the story: Stanford's return to football from rugby in 1919 coincided with the dominance of Cal's great Wonder Teams, which meant Stanford had fallen behind its rival. Stanford's impatience to catch Cal was reflected by firing three head coaches in as many years after blowout Big Game losses. Alumni grew increasingly desperate and sought a coach who could build Stanford into a national power to rival Cal. 

Leland Cutler, a member of Stanford's Board of Athletic Control, targeted Pittsburgh coach Glenn "Pop" Warner -- architect of great teams at Pitt, Cornell and the Carlisle Indian School -- and traveled across the country to woo him. It worked. Warner took the Stanford job under the condition that he complete his contract at Pitt, which ran for two more years, and that Stanford hire two of his protégés, Andy Kerr and Claude "Tiny" Thornhill, as caretakers until he arrived.

Kerr, Pop Warner's freshman coach at Pitt in 1921, became Stanford's head coach and installed Warner's single-wing and double-wing offenses, and taught Warner's system of play and philosophy. The 1922 game allowed Warner, still at Pitt, to check on Kerr's progress before taking the helm in 1924. Both Warner, who led Stanford to three Rose Bowls and a 1926 national championship, and Kerr, who would go on to great success at Cornell, were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. 
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David Shaw, Tara VanDerveer/Photo by Don Feria/

ON TUESDAY, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history, earning her 1,099th career triumph when her No. 1-ranked team beat Pacific. Earlier in the day, Shaw described his respects for VanDerveer. 

"I can talk for a straight hour on nothing but Tara and what she's meant to coaches. Grace and humility. There about 20 more adjectives I can throw on top of that. Consistency. Competitiveness. Concern for the student-athletes. Her ability to adjust and change. Tara VanDerveer is one of the best coaches of any sport on this planet because of her ability to change and to cater to the abilities of her athletes. And, at the same time, give them a standard that is necessary for them to grow and reach their peak.

"Tonight's the culmination of so many things and it's also not the end of it. The Tara that I know cannot wait until the day after tomorrow. Get this thing over with, take all the pats on the back, give another speech. Now, let's get back to winning basketball games and see if we can win a national championship, because she and her staff have put together an unbelievable team."