PULLMAN – I have a theory about the decline and fall of great civilizations, er, football programs. Well, I guess it is applicable to either.
College football is cyclical and even the most storied programs with the best fundamentals for success go through periods of dormancy. Even Alabama went a decade without an SEC championship in the early 2000s.
Great programs are able to mask their decay until the bubble bursts and the rot underneath is exposed. That’s because these programs have a culture of winning, and everyone buys in immediately. Think of how often you hear coaches talk about attitude, knowing to win close games and how to handle success. The good programs know how to do it, and that institutional knowledge gives players a boost even if they don’t have the skills of their predecessors.
Furthermore, even if the talent level in a decaying program begins to decline, its previous success has attracted the kinds of superlative playmakers who can tack on a couple wins each season, keeping the team competing for conference championships beyond its expiration date. Think of Marcus Mariota or Christian McCaffrey at Stanford.
That’s right, Stanford. The Cardinal still have good players and coaches, but no longer seem unbeatable. The offensive linemen aren’t across-the-board early NFL draft picks, and there is no longer a stable full of powerful backs who can beat up the defense when McCaffrey needs a rest.
The defense seemingly went five years without missing a tackle. Suddenly it’s giving up yards after contact like they’re a tax write-off.
I think the bubble burst for Stanford during its 44-6 interment in Seattle last week. All that attitude, all that surety in the process gave way to doubt. All that, plus some injuries a better team could have survived, make this a program that, like Oregon, seems poised for a rapid fall.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe last week was a blip and the Cardinal will beat the snot out of the Cougars this weekend. But I don’t think so.
The pick: WSU, 34-31
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