Examining the reasons why Big Game not what it used to be

Examining the reasons why Big Game not what it used to be

The 448th-Some-Odd/Give-Or-Take-A-Few Big Game is upon us, and you can be forgiven if you haven’t noticed.

No, that isn’t some lefthanded dismissal of the Cal-Stanford rivalry. For those who believe in it and for whom it matters, hats off. There’s no money in dismissing someone else’s beliefs unless there is actual money in dismissing someone else’s beliefs.

But in the new college football landscape, in which conferences, championships, rankings, bowl affiliations, television and the overall business are no longer as they were, and not necessarily for the better in all cases, games like Cal-Stanford have suffered. They are civilized celebrations of a small village, college football-speaking, and as such pale next to annual bloodsports like Alabama-Auburn or Michigan-Ohio State.

In the past, we used to think it was because the series has been lopsided – Stanford under David Shaw hasn’t lost to Cal, and Cal won six of the previous seven, and before that Stanford won the seven before that. The two football programs have in most ways been ships passing in the night. And only twice in those 21 years have their records been within two games of each other, and only four times have they both gone to bowl games in the same year. Moreover, there hasn’t been a Big game that resonated nationally since 1982, and that’s only because Kevin Moen and Gary Tyrell collided in the end zone at game’s end – Moen carrying a football, and Tyrell a trombone.

But that’s the trap of thinking that this is about results. Indeed, Cal and Stanford have conspired over the years to sell the Big Game as a rivalry among friends, which is going to take the edge off any rivalry. You wouldn’t hear that sort of soviet socialist claptrap before Alabama-Auburn, or Michigan-Ohio State, or Oklahoma-Texas, or Florida-Florida State, or even BYU-Utah.

This didn’t used to be the reality, but that began to erode when professional sports invaded the Bay Area, and more when the generation that remembered those distant days started to die off. The Raiders dominated the 70s, then the 49ers dominated the 80s, swallowing the attentions of those who weren’t pot-committed to either school.

It diminished even more when the Pacific 12 Conference started moving the game away from its natural residence of the Saturday before Thanksgiving, thus reducing its specialness, and the standard Cal or Stanford graduate now is as likely to move to other parts of the world to seek their fortunes as hang around within the shadows of either the Campanile or Hoover Tower.

All these factors have conspired to render Cal-Stanford a hyperlocal event, which seems too small a stage for it. But change is remorseless, and those who still believe in the curative powers of the Big Game do so by eschewing the need, desire or even though of evangelizing the event to anyone. Those who believe, believe unreservedly. Those who don’t . . . well, go with the deity of your choice.

There is no more of the belittling “you don’t get it” that elitist Big Game devotees used to bombard critics with, not only because the evidence doesn’t support it but also because the argument has essentially died. Those who love it do it without scorn, and those who don’t have simply decided to no longer care one way or another. The game matters to those to whom it matters because they have made a choice to have it matter, and there is no benefit in selling anyone else on its utilitarian value.

In short, the argument over why the Big Game does or doesn’t matter is just played out, no longer a debating point worth the beers it would take to settle the argument. There are 1,000 some-odd games a year, and The Big Game rises or falls to the level of the person beholding it – maybe as it should, and was always meant to do.

But if it helps, the 10½ Stanford is giving seems high to most early bettors, as the line has been driven down from its original 12. Hey, you’ve got your Big Game, and we’ve got ours.

Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss


Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss

SANTA CLARA -- Quinnen Williams proved Monday night that he can talk a big game, even if he doesn’t play one.

The Alabama defensive tackle, whom many project to be a top-five pick if he leaves school for the 2019 NFL draft, didn’t exactly show out in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium. The redshirt sophomore finished with just four total tackles (three solo, one assist) and 1.5 for loss.

Williams went relatively unnoticed in Clemson’s 44-16 rout, except for this first-quarter stop that showcased his power.

Williams, who entered the game tied for second on the Crimson Tide with eight sacks this season, didn’t register any noticeable pass rush -- to be fair, no one on Alabama did -- as the Tigers handily won the title.

Still, Williams wasn’t that impressed by what he saw from the now-national champions.

“They really didn’t do anything that caught us off guard,” Williams said. “We knew everything that was coming. They ran zone. They ran go routes, 50-50 balls.

“[Clemson QB] Trevor Lawrence threw the ball, and it looked like he put it on the money. He didn’t drop dimes, none of that. He threw it up, and the receivers made plays. All the respect to the receivers.”

While Williams later called Lawrence “good,” his comments were reminiscent of his pre-Orange Bowl words on Kyler Murray, when he smartly stopped himself from criticizing Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Williams showed no such restraint this time, and while you could chalk it up to the hurt of losing a national title game, NFL teams surely will ask him in pre-draft interviews about how he'll handle such situations.

As for his NFL draft status, Williams didn’t want to say much, claiming he really hadn’t thought about the possibility of turning pro after the season.

“I don’t know yet, man,” he said. “I got to go home, watch this film first, get with my teammates and let them know, man, everything.”

New Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, whose team has been linked to Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in numerous mock drafts, saw the defensive tackle in person Monday. Whether he liked what he saw or heard remains to be seen over the next three months.

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent


DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

SANTA CLARA -- The Clemson Tigers came into Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship with a shorter list of 2019 NFL Draft talents than their counterparts, the Alabama Crimson Tide. But not if you ask some notable alumni.

To Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the next wave of NFL stars are Tigers.

“The way they prepare here at Clemson, the strength and condition program, Joey Batson and Larry Greenlee do a good job of getting those guys ready for the next level," Hopkins told NBC Sports Bay Area after Clemson's stunning 44-16 blowout win in the title game at Levi's Stadium. "I think they’re definitely ready for the next level."

Clemson has produced 29 picks in the last five NFL drafts. The last time the program didn't have one of its players called come April was all the way back in 2002.

Watching with former Clemson stars Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley Jr., Mike Williams, and Tajh Boyd, Hopkins witnessed one of the greatest teams in college football history. The 2018 Tigers accomplished a feat 121 years in the making, becoming the first FBS football team to go 15-0 or 16-0 since Penn in 1897.

“To me, it means a lot. I’m from Clemson, S.C., so to see this team do what they did … I think they are (the greatest ever)," Hopkins said. "I think they can be one of the best teams ever. Do it again next year, for sure.”

The last statement is what means the most to Hopkins and everyone else who once wore a Clemson Tigers jersey. Coach Dabo Swinney took to the podium immediately after the win and said he'll soak it all up now, but he'll get back to film Friday and start preparing for next season.

“I think this is the next dynasty," Hopkins said. "Deshaun Watson started it by winning a national championship here. I think those guys are going to continue it.

"I think they’re gonna be here next year and the year after.”

That's not hard to imagine, either.

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence wowed with his precision passing, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His top target, Justyn Ross, made one-handed catches as a recently turned 19-year-old and finished the night with six catches for 148 yards and two TDs.

Clemson made its fourth playoff clash with Alabama look easy. The biggest names in the NFL know, too, that these could be the next stars of not only Saturdays but Sundays before we know it.