Arizona State was one of the nation’s hottest teams heading into the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford. It had won seven in a row, the longest winning streak in the conference. Further, it was playing at home, where it was 7-0 with a 28-point average margin of victory. The Cardinal’s only two losses came on the road.
That was reasonable grounds to believe that the 11th-ranked Sun Devils would fare better against No. 7 Stanford than in their Sept. 21 meeting, a 42-28 Cardinal whipping that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggests.
Stanford did its smashmouth Stanford thing, and Arizona State was pretty helpless to do what it wanted to do in a 38-14 victory that will send the Cardinal to its second consecutive Rose Bowl, this time opposite Big Ten champion Michigan State.
“They dominated the game — beat us in every way you can,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.
And how does Stanford dominate? Said Graham, “They destroyed the line of scrimmage.”
That’s Stanford’s thing. While many teams are spreading out defenses and outflanking them while going up-tempo, Stanford just lines up and tries to knock you over. It’s not always pretty. But when Stanford is playing its best, it often renders all schematic complexities used against it irrelevant. Arizona State had a plan, one that it thought would make things different this time. But it couldn’t get started because, as Graham said, Stanford was destroying the line of scrimmage. “I mean, they’ve made changes, but the way this team operates and the way we function, it’s about us,” Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov said. “Offenses will change, but what matters is what we do defensively and offensively. We have to set the tone. We never want to adjust or have to adapt. We want to be the ones setting the tempo and forcing people to adjust to our style of football.” The Cardinal is now 11-2 after playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules. How good are they in big games? Stanford is 10-0 in its past 10 games versus AP-ranked opponents, including 6-0 this season. It’s fair to ask how Stanford lost two games, to Utah and USC. But you won’t get many excuses from the Cardinal.
–Ted Miller, ESPN.com
Perhaps the fates were influenced because U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati had the gall to let FIFA President Sepp Blatter know that he thinks plans for the 2022 World Cup are flawed. Perhaps they were swayed because Gulati has criticized FIFA for its lack of transparency. Maybe the outcome came about because the United States has forced the world’s soccer federations to pay attention to women’s soccer, which many countries would prefer to ignore.
But for whatever reason, the soccer gods frowned on the Americans on Friday during the World Cup draw. The U.S. team landed in a backbreaking group, one that makes its goal of advancing to the Round of 16 extremely difficult. The group includes Germany, the favorite among countries other than host Brazil to win the World Cup; Portugal, the team with arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo; and Ghana, a team that haunts the United States.
Yes, we know the draw is supposed to be random. But it’s hard to really believe that, when U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann will be facing Germany, the team he starred with as a player and then led to the semifinals as a coach in 2006 in Germany. And with the U.S. team just happening to draw Ghana, the team that eliminated the Americans the past two World Cups. Ghana won’t eliminate the U.S. this time – the Black Stars will be the United States’ first opponent, in the city of Natal.
“It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger,” Klinsmann said after the draw. “But that’s what the World Cup is about. It’s a real challenge and we’ll take it. We’ll take it on and hopefully we’re going to surprise some people there.”
This is a big-boy event and it reaffirms Gulati’s decision to go all in and hire Klinsmann two years ago. It is hard to feel terribly optimistic about U.S. chances, but they would be impossible if Bob Bradley were still at the helm. Klinsmann understands what it takes to succeed in international soccer and welcomes the immense challenge. He refuses to call his team an underdog – shedding the image the Americans have cultivated for the past six World Cups. He wants his team to believe it can play with and beat any team in the world, including formidable Germany.
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
If you’re one of many hoping the Athletics stay in Oakland, you’re probably feeling like hearing some Etta James right now. Reports are out this morning — the first coming from Nathaniel Grow on the Sports Law Blog — that MLB, in court documents, has maybe put the kibosh on the A’s move to San Jose.
It is unclear exactly what has happened in these clandestine communications because neither side is offering them up at this point.
Was the entire concept of the A’s moving to San Jose rejected? That’s how it was explained by Grow. Was it just the current proposal, meaning a better one would get approved? That’s what sources are telling the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.
Was it a real rejection at all, or just legal maneuvering to get the courts off Commissioner Bud Selig’s back?
Who knows, at this point. MLB is refusing to release the official documentation in which it told the A’s no. But either way, for the first time in years, San Jose, the A’s, and rejection have managed to be in the same sentence. No, it’s not the preferred affirmation of love. It’s more like hearing through the grapevine your boyfriend might stay with you because it won’t work with the girl he really wants. But when you’re in love, that sounds much less like desperation and much more like hope.
–Marcus Thompson II, San Jose Mercury News