Back by popular demand -- or, more accurately, by one person's demand -- is GMC's yearly schedule breakdown. Why wait for the games to be played when you can just read on? As usual, I'll give you my thoughts on each game along with the likelihood of a Cardinal victory, but just for fun I've also assigned a different 80s movie to each matchup. It promises to be entertaining...
August 30 vs. UC Davis
Movie: The Sure Thing
Quote: "I hope you appreciate the magnitude of your impending good fortune."
I don't know the real reason why UC Davis is on the schedule this year, but it might just be to remind Stanford fans how far the program has come. It was nine years ago that Davis somehow beat Stanford, 20-17, in a game that was surely brought up in the halls of the Stanford athletic department as some voices pushed to drop the football program down to Division II. In less than a decade, Stanford football has gone from being one of the worst teams in the country to one of the nation's elite.
As devastating and shocking as that 2005 loss was, I can't imagine that anyone connected with the 2014 Cardinal is thinking about revenge. No one on the team was even out of middle school at that point, and this team has goals much larger than righting a nine-year-old wrong. This game isn't about revenge, it's about finishing without any major injuries.
I can't imagine that we'll see much from the starters after half time, but while they're in there it'll be interesting to see how the offensive line plays and what the running back rotation looks like. In the second half we should get a look at some of the younger players, including Christian McCaffrey, and the second- and third-string quarterbacks. It'll be fun.
Expected Outcome: This is a sure thing. 100% chance of Stanford victory.
September 6 vs. USC
Movie: Revenge of the Nerds
Quote: "Those nerds are a threat to our way of life."
Okay, maybe this one is about revenge. The rise of Stanford football over the past five years has been marked by complete dominance over the rest of the state. Players were fond of calling themselves the Kings of Cali, referencing a long winning streak over Cal, San Jose State, UCLA, and USC (oh, and even Sacramento State). All of that came to an end with last year's late-season loss to the Trojans, a game that also nearly sent the Cardinal to a consolation bowl in San Diego or El Paso.
With that upset win the Trojans seemed to be announcing that they were on their way back. The team was playing hard for an interim coach that they clearly loved, the NCAA sanctions were slowly rolling off the books, and they had the usual collection of four- and five-star recruits ready to enroll. As I walked out of the Coliseum that night, I was sure that it wouldn't be long before they were monsters again.
But look at what's happened since. The athletic department went for style over substance and chose Steve Sarkisian over Ed Orgeron to lead the program; team captain and starting linebacker Josh Shaw lied about an injury, concocting a tale so odd that it still hasn't been straightened out; and an ESPN anchor referred to the university as a clown college. If all that weren't enough, the next day a player quit because, in his words, he refused to play for a racist coach.
This is a football team in absolute disarray. Revenge will be sweet.
Expected Outcome: Sarkisian has no choice but to invoke the "circle the wagons" theme, but it won't work. You've got an undermanned team playing with two true freshmen on the offensive line and facing a mountain of distractions inside and outside the locker room. It's possible that they pull another upset, but not likely. 80% chance of Stanford victory.
September 13 vs. Army
Quote: "Men, welcome to the United States Army."
Considering the overall strength of the Pac-12 and the fact that teams play nine conference games as opposed to only eight (I'm looking at you, SEC), I understand that not all conference games can be interesting, but I still don't understand why Army is on Stanford's schedule.
Last year players and coaches alike spoke about how humbling it was to be at West Point and how honored they were to line up across the field from young men who had pledged to serve our country, but when I look at this game all I see is an opportunity for injury. Army plays a style of football unlike anything the Cardinal will see all season, even in the postseason. Their triple option attack produced 3,717 rushing yards in 2013, while their three quarterbacks combined to throw for less than a thousand. Also, there are concerns about Army's blocking techniques, which aren't as honorable as you might expect. Stanford's defensive line ranks are already thin as it is, so they'll have to be extra careful as they navigate the leg whips and roll blocks that they'll certainly see this week.
Expected Outcome: The only thing in question here will be the health of the team after the game. 100% chance of Stanford victory.
September 27 at Washington
Movie: Back to the Future
Quote: "A bolt of lightning. Unfortunately, you never know when or where it's ever gonna strike."
When Stanford football was enjoying a brief resurgence back in the early 90s, Denny Green and his staff put together a solid team that turned in some dominant performances. They were able to beat most teams in the conference with a brand of football that would look familiar to today's Stanford fans -- pounding the ball behind a huge offensive line. But as good as the Cardinal was back then, the team couldn't stay on the field with the Washington Huskies. The Huskies weren't just good, they were one of the best college football teams I had ever seen. Their defense was so fast and aggressive that they were actually uncomfortable to watch. They bent the parameters of the game. The Cardinal finished 8-4 in 1991 and 10-3 in '92, but lost to the Huskies both years by a combined score of 83-14.
The Huskies have been scuffling for several years now, but the general thought is that head coach Chris Petersen's arrival from Boise State could have the same impact on the program as old Doc Brown's invention of the flux capacitor. It could be that the Huskies are about to travel back to those days when they were a conference stalwart and national power, making the Pac-12 North even more challenging than it is today.
Expected Outcome: The good news for Stanford is that Petersen probably won't be able to get the DeLorean up to 88 MPH this early in the season. 75% chance of Stanford victory.
October 4 at Notre Dame
Movie: We're No Angels
"We're No Angels" could hardly be considered an 80s classic, so you can be forgiven if you don't remember this comedy, but it's notable for two reasons: Sean Penn, who hadn't yet broken free from Jeff Spicoli, and Robert DeNiro, who was trying to prove that his comic success two years earlier in "Midnight Run" wasn't a fluke. Our two protagonists are convicts who pose as priests in order to evade the law. Sound familiar?
Notre Dame football used to be beyond reproach. They presented themselves as model citizens in a world of NCAA debauchery and spoke about the need to schedule schools which matched their academic expectations. That scheduling philosophy has always rung a bit hollow, but never more so than now, with the school reeling from an ongoing academic scandal that has at least four players suspended from the team. No angels, indeed.
As for the football, there will be much talk about what happened the last time Stanford travelled to South Bend, and there will be speculation about revenge. That doesn't fly with me. Notre Dame's goal line stand to seal the overtime victory in 2012 was about as real as Lennay Kekua, so there's no sense in dwelling on it. (I did, however, toy with the idea of using the movie "Mannequin" here. You know, because Andrew McCarthy has an imaginary girlfriend. The parallels end there, however, because his comes to life, whereas Manti Te'o's vanished.)
Expected Outcome: We'll definitely know more about Notre Dame once we get to October, but considering the players currently ineligible and the clouds that are gathering around the program, it might be the NCAA that's shaking down the thunder from the sky, not the Irish. For now, we'll say that this will be the Cardinal's toughest test of the season, but it's still a game the Cardinal should win. 70% chance of Stanford victory.
October 10 vs. Washington State
Movie: The Pirate Movie
Quote: "Is that a dagger in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
I could be the only person in America that remembers this movie. Featuring 70s child star Kristy McNichol and Blue Lagoon heart throb Christopher Atkins and based on the Gilbert and Sullivan musical "The Pirates of Penzance," it was about the last movie in the world I wanted to see when my parents forced it on me back when they could still force me to watch movies. I was twelve years old, so I twisted my face into a scowl and did my best to hate it -- so, of course, I ended up loving it.
As Washington State fans are getting to know Pirate Mike Leach, my guess is that they're having the opposite reaction -- love the idea of the swinging sword, hate the results. Quarterback Connor Halliday threw for over 500 yards in their opener earlier this week, but the Cougs couldn't manage to beat Rutgers at home, which is a bad sign. (We don't even need to mention the sword-swinging embarrassment of last year's New Mexico Bowl, do we?)
Expected Outcome: Washington State will likely head into this matchup with a 4-2 record and there will be lots of talk about how a road win over the Mighty Card will secure a national ranking and give them a shot at winning the Pac-12 North. (That last part will be the funniest.) Stanford will crush them. 85% chance of Stanford victory.
October 18 at Arizona State
Movie: Groundhog Day
Quote: "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"
Okay, I'm kind of cheating on this one. Groundhog Day was released in 1993, but 1993 still kind of felt like the 80s, right? Bill Murray finds himself trapped, living the same day over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. No matter what he tries, he can't find his way to tomorrow.
I wonder if head coach Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils felt that way last season. They really did have a great season, but it would've been even better if they hadn't had to play Stanford. They were 2-0 when the Cardinal crushed them 42-28 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score might indicate, but they recovered from that to win eight of their next nine games -- scoring more than 50 points five times -- to earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Once again they faced Stanford, and once again the Cardinal crushed them, this time 38-14.
Expected Outcome: This is probably the most dangerous game on the Cardinal schedule. Stanford will surely be focused for road games against Notre Dame and Oregon, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Cardinal came out a bit flat for this one. Hopefully memories of Utah and USC will be in the forefront of their minds. 65% chance of Stanford victory.
October 25 vs. Oregon State
Quote: "...you must know your enemy, and in this case, my enemy is a varmint."
More Bill Murray. One of the subplots of this movie involves Murray's character, a golf course maintenance director, and his dogged pursuit of a gopher that's wreaking havoc on the course. (I realize that Oregon State's mascot is a beaver, not a gopher, but who can really tell the difference?)
The Beavers cruised into last season's matchup with Stanford with a six-game winning streak, but that was mostly a mirage since the wins were courtesy of Hawaii, Utah, San Diego State, Colorado, Washington State, and Cal, the six weakest foes on their schedule. (They would close out with the five strongest, and they would lose all five.)
Expected Outcome: By the time this game rolls around, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion might already be the Pac-12's all-time leading passer, which gives you an idea of what to expect from this offense -- passing, passing, and more passing. No matter. The Cardinal defense will be up to the challenge. 80% chance of Stanford victory.
November 1 at Oregon
Movie: War Games
Quote: "How about Global Thermonuclear War?"
Thirty years later, this movie probably holds up better than all the others on this list. Sure, kids today won't understand why everyone's so afraid of the Russians and they'll wonder what a telephone has to do with the internet, but aside from that it still plays well today, especially the message that there's no such thing as a winnable war. (Extra credit if you just heard Sting singing that in your head.)
For the last few years, Stanford and Oregon have been engaged in their own version of global thermonuclear war. In each of the past five years the loser of this contest has seen its national title hopes crushed, and just like during the Cold War with the United States and the CCCP, everything these two teams do seems geared at beating the other.
When Andrew Luck's final team was crushed by the Ducks in 2011, he openly wondered about Stanford's Oregon problem; two years and two Stanford wins later, the script had completely flipped. Heading into this year's matchup all of the pointed questions will be directed at Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks. Suddenly people are wondering how Oregon will matchup with Stanford instead of the other way around.
Expected Outcome: Normally a dominant home team like Oregon would be an easy favorite in a game like this, but I don't see it that way. This game is a complete toss up. 50% chance of Stanford victory.
November 15 vs. Utah
Movie: Revenge of the Nerds II
Like the UC Davis game, it's kind of hard to call this a revenge game. If the players and coaches look back at all to last year's loss in Salt Lake City, they will only see the things that they did wrong, so it will be difficult to build up any anomosity towards the Utes. Coach Shaw has said that the driving philosophy behind the program is that they don't focus on who they play or where they play, but instead on how they play. This game will surely test that maxim.
What will be interesting about this game is that it lies in the one valley of this hellacious schedule. After Armageddon on November 1st, the Cardinal has a bye week, then a week later they have what essentially amounts to another bye week against Cal. Maintaining focus through this stretch will be just as critical as those earlier games against USC, Notre Dame, and Oregon.
Expected Outcome: Regardless of how the Oregon game turns out, I think the Cardinal will emerge from the two-week break and destroy the Utes. 90% chance of Stanford victory.
November 22 at Cal
Movie: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Quote: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
This movie is probably the Citizen Kane of the 1980s. Seriously. Our hero, Ferris Bueller, decides he needs a break from the daily rigors of high school, so he convinces his best friend to borrow his father's Ferrari, they pull his girlfriend out of school, and the three of them end up having the best day ever on the streets of Chicago. A vindictive principal and two naïve parents come close to catching them at various points, but all along you know they never will. This is Ferris Bueller, after all.
Big Game is kind of the same. After weathering a murderous Pac-12 schedule, with Notre Dame thrown in to boot, the Cardinal will need a break at this point, and the California Foldin' Bears arrive just in time. Unlike many Stanford fans, I don't hate Cal, for the same reason that I don't hate ants that I step on. I do, however, wonder how the program has descended to such depths. It's a shame.
Expected Outcome: Say it with me -- 100% chance of Stanford victory.
November 28 at UCLA
Movie: Sixteen Candles
Quote: "Can I borrow your underpants for ten minutes?"
Remember when Molly Ringwald was queen of all she surveyed? I never much liked Pretty in Pink, but Sixteen Candles is a keeper. Her sixteenth birthday lost in family chaos, Ringwald's character puts up with psychotic grandparents, an assanine younger brother, and Anthony Michael Hall -- but she ends up with her dreamboat and a perfect birthday cake.
The UCLA Bruins are also baking a cake with sixteen candles on it, representing the sixteen years that have passed since their last appearance in the Rose Bowl. If they're to make it back there this year, however, they'll have to do more than just win the Pac-12; they'll have to earn a spot in the four-team playoff and secure a berth in the national semi-finals. The good news for the Bruins is that they're certainly good enough to achieve that goal.
Think about this, though. Imagine that both Stanford and UCLA run the table and both teams arrive at this game undefeated. At first glance, it might seem like one of the biggest games in conference history -- two undefeated heavyweights squaring off in the season's final game -- but in actuality the game would be completely meaningless, and we've got the Pac-12 schedule makers to thank for that possibility. In that scenario, the teams would already have clinched their respective divisions and a matchup in the following week's conference championship game, taking much of the luster off the regular season tilt. Oh, well.
Expected Outcome: I'm not yet completely sold on UCLA, mainly because I'm not yet completely sold on quarterback Brett Hundley. Even so, I'm guessing the Bruins will be playing with some emotion as they try to snap a long six-game losing streak to the Cardinal and send Hundley out with a victory in his final home game. 55% chance of Stanford victory.