Nov. 22, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - For weeks, David Shaw has avoided discussions about the Bowl Championship Series rankings. But as the regular season draws to a close, he finally released his frustration.
"The bottom line is, the BCS is flawed," said Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach, on Tuesday.
Stanford is ranked No. 6, behind such fellow 10-1 teams as Oklahoma State (No. 4) and Virginia Tech (No. 5). Oklahoma State, which lost to unranked Iowa State, has not played any team in the current BCS Top 10 or AP Top 15. Neither has Virginia Tech, which lost to Clemson (No. 17 BCS, No. 18 AP).
Stanford beat USC (No. 10 AP, ineligible for BCS) and lost to Oregon (No. 10 BCS, No. 9 AP).
"All I've heard all year is the computers don't like Stanford," Shaw said. "The computers haven't programmed themselves. They have a one-loss Pac-12 team behind a one-loss ACC team (Virginia Tech). That means the computer values the ACC more than it values the Pac-12, which I don't think is accurate.
"You look at common opponents, they beat Duke by four, we beat Duke by 30. I keep hearing about quality wins, quality wins, quality wins. First off, who decides what the quality wins are? And secondly, how does a quality loss affect people?
"Oklahoma State is outstanding, a very good football team. We lost to a team in the Top 10, they lost to a team that's not ranked. I don't get it."
"I'm not saying we're where we should be compared to where other people are. I'm just saying that the explanations I get don't make any sense."
Shaw has said all year he would look at the BCS rankings after the season, and continues to try to minimize its importance.
"There's a lot of football yet to be played, and a lot of stuff will shake itself out," Shaw said. "That's all fine and good. As we have all year, we're going to let other people worry about all that stuff."
However, he reasons, for the system to be in place, it needs to work. In his view, it's clearly not.
"I felt it's to a point where I had to say something," he said. "I don't understand it. Most of the people I talked to don't understand it. The people that are explaining it don't completely understand it. The experts have their disagreements. I just wanted to lay that out there. Do with it whatever you want."
Shaw said the team had a good laugh about the BCS rankings at Monday's practice.
"Our team has moved on," he said. "We just play. We get what happens in meetings, we get what happens on the practice field, and we get Saturday. Saturdays belong to the football players and coaches, and that's what's important and that's what we'll concentrate on."
* * *
The BCS wasn't the only hot topic that Shaw took on. He also dismissed the idea that quarterback Andrew Luck's stock should be slipping in regard to the Heisman Trophy.
"I think it's ridiculous," Shaw said. "I think he's the best college football player in the nation. He proves it every week. We've got a very good football team around him, but there's no doubt that he's driving the ship. I've never seen or heard of a college quarterback that does what Andrew does for us."
Shaw described Stanford's play-calling process as an illustration of why Luck is so special.
"You should see our play sheet," Shaw said. "If we have 70 plays in a game, I would say about 68 of them have at least three options. Very rarely do we call one play and run it. Very rarely do we, on the sidelines, wait for them to show us a look and have him look to the sidelines and wait for a call.
"We give him three or four plays at a time and the guy gets us through that play. There are guys at the next level that aren't doing that.
"At this stage of his college career, I've never seen anybody do this. In all my years in the NFL, evaluating all the top quarterbacks that have all come out, I've never heard of any of them doing what Andrew's doing."
Shaw drew a comparison between Luck and Charles Woodson, the Michigan cornerback who won the Heisman in 1997.
"Charles Woodson didn't win the Heisman on stats," Shaw said. "He won the Heisman on doing something that we hadn't seen anybody do before."
Another example: "The fact that we lead the nation by a long way in negative plays - fewest negative plays - by a longshot," Shaw said. "That's because of Andrew. He doesn't let us run plays into bad looks. We run every single play into the optimum look and that's because of him.
"We've got teams that change defenses and change coverages and try to fool him. They can't fool him. It's because of what he does. To put somebody else ahead of him because of stats is a disservice to the award itself.
"There is nobody, doesn't matter who you talk about, there is nobody as good as this kid."
* * *
Despite his disagreements with the BCS, Shaw did not supply an alternate plan.
"Not right now," he said. "I think those are off-season discussions."
He did hint that he would be against a playoff.
"I think it's too hard to have that," Shaw said. "You'd have to change everything. I don't think it's worth doing."
* * *
Some players have expressed interest in following the Civil War, the Oregon vs. Oregon State game that will determine whether Stanford will play in the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford needs Oregon to lose in a game that begins at 12:30 p.m. in Eugene. Stanford's game against Notre Dame at 5 p.m. has no bearing on the conference race.
Shaw said he doesn't care if he knows the score.
"It doesn't change anything," he said. "We're not going to try harder to win, we're not going to change playcalling, or change what we do with our guys. For us to have anything else on our minds besides beating Notre Dame is impossible. In order for us to beat this team, our minds better be on everything we're doing.
Can Oregon State (3-8) pull the upset?
"I'd put nothing past (Oregon State coach) Mike Riley," Shaw said. "But at the same time, Oregon's a very very good football team that ran into another very good football team last week (in a loss to USC). But, you never say never in college football."
* * *
Senior right guard David DeCastro is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, the ultimate achievement for a collegiate lineman.
"We knew he was as good as anybody in the nation coming into this year," Shaw said. "But he's been phenomenal."
DeCastro was a center at Bellevue (Wash.) High School, but switched to guard because of his athleticism.
"We started off as a zone running team," Shaw said. "In order to cut on the backside of these plays, the guards needed to be super athletic. So, we had to put him at guard because he could get those backside cutoffs.
"Then, we became a power team and I think he's the best college puller I've ever seen. Athletically, speed, agility and still being able to hit at the point of attack and drop his weight is uncanny."
DeCastro said he prefers run blocking more than pass blocking.
"It's a lot more fun," he said. "It's football at its finest. Having to move somebody out of the hole to give the running back space to run ... I think it's the greatest feeling when you can hit a guy on your left shoulder, and with your right eye see Stepfan (Taylor) going through the hole. It's pretty cool."
* * *
Asked if he has found it hard to stay the same person he was before receiving so much fanfare at Stanford, Luck said:
"I don't think I'm the same person. Hopefully, I've grown a little and matured along the way. When you're surrounded by great teammates, when you get on your high horse, they knock you down pretty quick.
"It's not too hard to block things out and understand that when you think about what other people are saying, good or bad about you, you might get yourself in trouble."
* * *
Perhaps the most intriguing play call of the Big Game was Luck's hand-off to Geoff Meinken through the fullback's legs. The third-quarter first-and-goal played gained only one yard, to the 7.
Luck passed to Levine Toilolo for a touchdown shortly after for a 21-13 lead.
"That's the Rooster," Shaw said of the call.
The play was born out of a brainstorming session in the spring. The coaches gathered and to talk about trick plays that might be useful for the coming season. After looking through old books, and beta and VHS tapes, and DVDs, the coaches assembled a list. Those were cut down to a manageable few and the team first began working on those months ago. The Rooster was one of them.
"We didn't block the frontside perfectly," Shaw said. "If we had gotten the edge, it would have been exciting."
* * *
Cal receiver Keenan Allen torched the Stanford defense for six catches and 97 yards in the first quarter of the Big Game, but did not record a reception after that.
Defensive coordinator Derek Mason "did a great job of mixing it up," Shaw said. "All three cornerbacks had an opportunity to go against him, and we tried to force him wide so he didn't have enough room to get back in bounds.
"That was the big thing, we kept mixing up the coverages as well as the pressures, trying not to let the quarterback sit back there, trying to make him move in the pocket, blur his vision a little bit. But at the same time, Corey Gatewood played extremely well. There were times we had safety help, but we didn't completely change our gameplan at halftime. We just played a lot better."
* * *
On Monday, tight end Zach Ertz practiced for the first time since injuring his knee on the opening kickoff against USC on Oct. 29.
Shaw said he began running last week, and still will be limited this week. But will he play?
"We're going to see where he is at the end of the week," Shaw said. "It's still 50-50."
* * *
Fifth-year receiver Chris Owusu will definitely remain out after suffering his latest concussion on a hit against Oregon State on Nov. 5.
"We'll see what will happen with the bowl game," Shaw said. "He's disappointed. He's disappointed in the year for him personally.
"He's the greatest kid in the world. He's so excited for his teammates. He wishes he could have done more to help."
* * *
Back at Stratford High School in Houston, Luck said he learned an important lesson from his coaches that remained with him today.
"Preparation is key," he said. "You've got to prepare. If you do that, you'll give yourself a chance to win."
* * *
Stanford will wear very un-Stanford-like uniforms Saturday as the Cardinal suits up in the one-game-only Nike Pro Combat uniforms.
The most striking change is the all-black helmet with a red `S', and an all-red top and bottom.
"I think they're great," Shaw said. "The players are excited about it. We'll see how everybody else likes it."
When Stanford unveiled the all-black uniforms against Wake Forest last season, there was considerable negative feedback from alumni. This year, in the all-black game against UCLA, there was almost nothing.
Recruiting is one reason for the new look.
"It's a big reason why people have bought in now," Shaw said, "because it is exciting, it is new."
Said Luck, "It's great. It'll energize the community a little bit. I'm fine wearing whatever. You could put us in purple."
* * *
Luck has said he will not return for a fifth year, making Saturday's game - barring an Oregon State upset - his home finale.
"I don't think it will be too different than any other game," he said. "I don't want to get caught up in thinking, Oh, last time here, and then go out and play a terrible game against Notre Dame. Winning's the only focus of mine right now."
* * *
Only three years ago, Luck was throwing for the scout team, imitating Jimmy Clausen and Mark Sanchez for Stanford's first-team defense.
"When I was a true freshman I took it very seriously," Luck said. "I wanted to give the defense the best look possible and give them a chance to go out and win on Saturday.
"Our guys take it very seriously on defense. It's a big focus on the team. A lot of the seniors want the freshman to understand, Hey, I started on scout team. I gave them my best look every week, now I'm playing. It's a big deal.
"I'd say the leader of our scout team for defense is Brent Etiz, so he does a good job of rallying the troops and making sure we get a good look every week."
That must have been one heck of a scout team in 2008, with both Luck and DeCastro, potential winners of the Heisman and Outland trophies.
* * *
Notre Dame junior linebacker Manti Te'o has been a force, with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Luck said Stanford must be aware of Te'o, but can't get fixated on him.
"I don't think on every play you want to get locked in, and think, where's Manti, because you might get out of rhythm," Luck said. "But you have to be aware of where he is because he is a game-changer and he does an unbelievable job of making plays."
* * *
Stanford will honor all its fourth- and fifth-year seniors on Saturday, and Shaw offered them for being willing to trust the coaches and each other to come to a program that had not been successful. When this year's seniors were being recruited, Stanford was coming off a 1-11 season.
"You just understand the mentality a lot of the coaches had," senior strong safety Delano Howell said. "You can tell when you hear a winner. Coach (Jim) Harbaugh will fire you up. When you believe in something, you can make it happen. I definitely feel the coaches and players at the time instilled that belief that anything's possible."
* * *
Senior linebacker Chase Thomas was asked about the contrast between the interest in football when he arrived at Stanford and now.
"My freshman year, I'd would come home from a game on Saturday and my roommate would ask me where I was.
"I said, `I was at a football game.' And he asked if I won the match.
"So, comparing that to where the campus life is now is 10-fold, it's changed so much. Credit to our senior class and the coaches for bringing in the right players to motivate this team and get it back on top where it should be."
By the way, where was his roommate from?
"Chicago," Thomas said.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics