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Cal vs. Stanford: Q & A; 5,991 Words from Four Stanford Writers

In the spirit of Big Game week, here's a BIG Q & A on Stanford (contributors: Randalthor and Sean Levy at Rule Of Tree, Mark DeVaughn at The Bootleg, and HankWaddles at GoMightyCard). Please note that the CGB writing staff publishes Q & A responses "as is;" with no editorialization. If it sounds troll-y, it just might be, but we'll leave that for you to decide. Go Bears!

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

1. After being great to dominant defensively for most of the year, Stanford really struggled to contain the Ducks' spread rushing attack. In your opinion, will it be just a one game blip, or is it a sign of something deeper going on?

Randalthor: Blip. Inability to contain Oregon isn't necessarily a sign of serious problems on defense. That's a little less obvious this year than was in years past, given Oregon's significant injuries earlier in the year, but a healthy Oregon offense is still a major challenge, as Stanford and Cal have both discovered. And Stanford's defense actually did a pretty good job of shutting Oregon down after their first drive of the second half; they just couldn't stop them with any consistency earlier in the game. Stanford's defense last year was a great unit, unquestionably the best in the conference (leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense by almost a touchdown margin), but it still gave up 45 points to Oregon, then bounced back to shut down Cal and UCLA. Here's my intentionally simplistic take: good, or even great, defenses may struggle to stop a healthy Oregon offense. Only elite defenses can be trusted to stuff Oregon consistently when Oregon is firing on all cylinders, like it has been lately. Stanford's 2012 and 2013 defenses were elite. Last year's unit was great. This year's unit is very good--second in the conference in scoring defense, and first in total defense, even after the Oregon game. Those statistics are even more impressive when you account for the fact that our second- and third-string defenses have given up a lot of points and yards in garbage time during blowouts, something that didn't happen at all last year, because the offense just wasn't good enough to blow anybody out. That's pretty remarkable given that the defense lost nine starters, including six to the NFL. I don't think this defense would have been good enough to carry Stanford in the playoffs had they beaten Oregon, but it's still been an impressive year.

Sean Levy: In Stanford's losses this year, they have given up an average of 213.5 yards per game. I wouldn't say that this was a blip because it has happened once before, but it isn't a recurring problem. Oregon has an incredible run game each and every year and they stretch you so much, as Cal and Stanford both know. Northwestern had a running back who gained over 1100 yards last season (and is on pace for 1242 yards), so one could say that both of these teams had great running backs. I'm not making an excuse saying that anyone would give up 200 yards against these teams because Stanford's run defense needs work, but these backs are exceptional.

Mark DeVaughn: No opponent to date enjoyed nearly the kind of sustained, game-changing output the Ducks compiled. I'd label it an exception...until further notice. While a trend consists of more than one game, Stanford is still vulnerable to a club with explosive potential. The defense had actually progressed throughout the year, hiding weaknesses - zero depth on the defensive line, a dearth of experience in the secondary - and establishing something of an identity. But with linebacker Peter Kalambayi (a revelation in 2014) becoming a non-factor and standout cornerback Ronnie Harris out this week with an ankle injury, Cal has a chance to capitalize on what Oregon exposed.

Hank Waddles: Even though the Cardinal defense has ranked at or near the top of the conference statistically for much of the season, I'm not sure I'd classify this unit as either great or dominant, but perhaps that's just because I compare them to previous years when the defense was one of the best in the country. But you're right — things didn't go well against Oregon. Stanford's defensive philosophy is simple — keep the ball in front of the defenders and make tackles. They had trouble with both parts of that last week. Safety Kodi Whitfield, in particular, had a bad game. (Some Cal fans might remember Kodi's father Bob, a two-time All-American left tackle who famously flipped off the Cal sideline while being treated for an injury in the 1991 Big Game. Brent Musburger explained to a national television audience, "I think Big Bob is letting the Cal bench know that he's okay.") Anyway, Oregon scored on several long plays, including one when a wide receiver was open ten yards behind the defense, something we haven't seen from this defense in five years. Also, there were defenders who took bad routes on some of the running plays, and there were missed tackles that gave the Ducks ten, twenty, or even thirty extra yards on some plays. If there's a defensive concern coming into this game, it's how the young defensive backs will fare against Jared Goff and the Cal wide receivers. Senior cornerback Ronnie Harris is out for the game, leaving only freshmen and sophomores in the cover positions. They're the most talented cornerbacks Stanford has ever had, but they're still young. It will be interesting.

2. Kevin Hogan is having a really good year, showing a ton of improvement as a passer as well as flashes of some good running ability as well. What has he improved the most in this game? What are his biggest weaknesses this year?

Randalthor: We saw this improvement begin during the Big Game last year. The last three games of 2014 were three of the best of Hogan's career (Big Game, UCLA, Foster Farms Bowl). I think the biggest change in Hogan this year is that he is doing a better job going through his progressions and making smarter decisions with the football. Last year it seemed like he was forcing the ball to Ty Montgomery a lot (Hogan's play actually improved once Montgomery was injured). I don't know if that was Hogan or the scheme, but it was a mistake. The other major factor is that David Shaw and the coaching staff are letting Hogan be much more mobile this year. Strangely, they seemed to expect Hogan to be a pocket passer last year, and that's just not his forte. Hogan excels when he can roll out and threaten defenses with his legs, something he's been doing much more this year. It also helps hugely that the running game has come on so strongly. Defenses have to respect the Stanford running game much more than they did last year, which denies them extra help in coverage and really opens up the play action. The result is that Hogan is throwing the ball a lot less this year. Through ten games last year, Hogan had attempted 303 passes. This year, he's attempted only 238, but he's thrown for virtually the same yardage and three more touchdowns. Hogan seems to be at his best when his role is to check us into the right play, usually a running play, but throw occasionally to keep defenses honest. Of course, several of those things I've mentioned so far can be attributable to significantly better offensive line play. Stanford's offensive line is extremely talented and significantly under-performed last year. Not so this year (except for some crucial penalties against Oregon and Northwestern). Hogan has had more time to throw the ball, and the offensive line has opened up huge lanes for our running backs (and Hogan).

Hogan's biggest weakness this year seems to be underthrowing deep balls with disheartening regularity. I can't explain this; since his freshman campaign, Hogan has thrown a very good deep ball. Indeed, until this year midrange throws seemed to be the weak part of his game. He's been bailed out a couple times this season by great catches from Francis Owusu, Michael Rector, and Devon Cajuste. Then at the end of the Oregon game, he overthrew a wide open Trent Irwin for what would have been an easy touchdown.

Sean Levy: This was great analysis above. I agree with everything Randalthor, said and I was just going to say his weakness this year was the deep ball, but Randalthor hit the nail on the head for that.

Mark DeVaughn: Quarterbacking consists of so many moving parts (throwing mechanics, pocket presence, grasp of the playbook, leadership, improvisation when a play breaks down). Clichés aside, has put it all together. The word that comes to mind is "command." He's in charge, no longer an ancillary character. He has the second-highest passer rating in the Pac-12, just percentage points behind Cody Kessler. I'd compare it how much Kyle Boller progressed in his one year with Jeff Tedford. The passing game's biggest weakness doesn't belong to him. The wide receivers sit behind tight ends and running backs (Christian McCaffrey) as contributors.

Hank Waddles: Hogan seems calm and in control. I don't think he's doing anything different physically, but the game seems to have slowed down for him. Much was made of the emotional burden he was carrying last season as his father was battling and eventually succumbing to cancer over the first two thirds of the season, and Coach Shaw has talked about how that experience has given Hogan a new perspective on things. Also, he's a fifth-year senior with more experience than most quarterbacks in America. I think the biggest difference is on third down. As recently as last year, I didn't have any confidence at all when Stanford faced anything longer than 3rd and 4. Shaw didn't appear to either, as he often had Hogan hand the ball off on third and long. This season, however, I almost always expect Hogan to make the right play call and the right decision, and I expect the pass to be accurate. As you mention, he's also been running a lot more, often on designed options and draw plays, and that's really made a difference in the overall offense. Hogan is having his best season, and he's a huge reason why this offense is firing on all cylinders.

3. Christian McCaffrey has had more than 100 rushing yards every game since the UCF game, including two 200 yard rushing games (and that doesn't even count his receiving!). What makes him so tough to slow down? What other factors (e.g., OL play) have been most crucial to his success?

Randalthor: McCaffrey is fast and agile, and he's got good hands. When he finds his gap, he plants a foot and he's gone. He's also strong; you'd better wrap him up because you're probably not going to bring him down with an arm tackle. But I think his most impressive qualities are his patience and field vision, which are astoundingly well-developed for a true sophomore. McCaffrey is excellent at waiting for his blocks to develop, identifying his running lane, and then vanishing. You identified the other primary factor in his success, which is the Stanford offensive line. Most of the guys on this year's line are products of the 2012 recruiting class, one of the best offensive line classes anywhere, ever. The line didn't gel last year until the end of the season, which was a big disappointment to Stanford fans. This year the line has been dominant, and McCaffrey's patience, vision, strength, and speed have allowed him to take full advantage. It also helps that the passing game has been so efficient this year. Defenses can't stack the box to stop McCaffrey because Hogan will beat them over the top.

Sean Levy: One of the biggest things for the running back is his offensive line play. McCaffrey has had great line play this season and his stats show hit. Having on of the best guards in the game, Joshua Garnett, is also a huge plus for him because of how will Garnett can pull. When Stanford doesn't get the offensive line play they strive for everything struggles. Against Washington State, McCaffrey was shut down all night long because of how well WSU defensive line was pushing back Stanford's O-line (McCaffrey had 107 yards rushing and that is being shut down to McCaffrey standards). Now I won't attribute his success all to the line because McCaffrey is a great player as well. His vision is what really catches my eye. He can see all of the holes he patiently waits until they open up, kind of like how Le'Veon Bell does. Also McCaffrey looks like he has the blue-collar mentality and is just so physical when he runs. People need to hit him hard to bring him down or the defense needs to have three or four guys bring him down. He takes playing on "The Farm" to a whole different level.

Mark DeVaughn: Running backs are nothing without instincts and solid offensive lines. McCaffrey is blessed to have both. His awareness goes right alongside his versatility. McCaffrey is such an effective runner, receiver and return man because he knows how to find a hole and use his breakaway use. Having adding a good chunk of weight in the offseason, he's also strong enough make a defender pay for poor tackling form.

Naturally, the offensive line deserves much of the credit for McCaffrey's emergence. The group has finally lived up to the legacy it inherited. The left side, as in guard Josh Garnett and tackle Kyle Murphy, is as good as any such duo in the country. Four of the five started last season, when the unit wasn't good enough to produce a single 100-yard rusher. What a difference a year makes.

Hank Waddles: It's hard to say what McCaffrey's greatest strength is, but aside from the speed and elusiveness, I'm impressed with his patience as a runner. Watch when he gets the ball on a pitch the outside. Instead of diving into the line and settling for two or three yards as some runners do (and as he did last season), McCaffrey actually slows down and waits for his blockers, almost always choosing exactly the right time to burst into and through the hole that eventually opens. Also, there's his versatility. He's strong enough this year to stay in and block on passing downs, which makes him available to circle out of the backfield as Hogan's primary check down option. Finally, he has the added benefit of running behind the best offensive line in the conference. Left guard Josh Garnett will likely earn All-America status at season's end and could be a first-round draft pick this spring. To his left is tackle Kyle Murphy, another stud who could be All-Pac-12. This group struggled last season, and Murphy said that they took the responsibility for the team's subpar performance. That hasn't been the case this year.

4. Who's one under the radar player on offense and on defense that Cal fans should know about?

Randalthor: On offense I'll take running back Bryce Love. Love is a true freshman who, frankly, reminds me of a faster version of Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey has been so great that Love has appeared only a handful of times, but those have usually been explosive plays. Love averages six yards per carry and eighteen yards per catch, and he's great at juking defenders and shedding tackles. On defense, look out for senior linebacker Kevin Anderson. He missed several games this season with an injury, but he returned against Washington State and has immediately had an impact. He's had two sacks in his last three games, and he picked up a crucial interception/fumble (technically it was a fumble, but it never hit the ground) from Vernon Adams and returned it inside the Oregon ten last week.

Levy: One underrated player on Stanford's offence is Trent Irwin. He is another product of the 2015 class and he is as reliable as he comes. He seems to be Kevin Hogan's 3rd down man and while he doesn't get many options, he seems to make the most of them. Irwin has 10 receptions for 122 yards. Irwin will be a great asset in the future. One underrated player on the defense is, Mike Tyler. Tyler is a junior outside linebacker, but due to the great outside line play he is not a starter. Tyler comes in on certain plays, but he is another guy that makes the most out of his opportunities. He has played in 8 games and has recorded 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles. This kid does not mess around when he is in the game. He can come in as a backup and disrupt the offense like Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi.

Mark DeVaughn: Like your parents' landline phone, Stanford still employs an actual fullback. A 250-pound commercial kitchen appliance, Daniel Marx is mostly a lead blocker like Owen Marecic and Ryan Hewitt before him. He can also sneak out of the backfield as a receiving target. On the other side of the ball, I can already see Jared Goff picking on a secondary missing its best cover corner. Freshman cornerback Quenton Meeks wasn't a player most Stanford players knew by name until he made two huge interceptions in the win at Washington State. Look for this game to possibly hinge on his performance.

Hank Waddles: I'm not sure if he's under the radar, because he's probably the front runner for conference Defensive Player of the Year, but inside linebacker Blake Martinez is someone to watch on defense. He's over 100 tackles for the second season in a row, something none of Stanford's recent linebackers were able to accomplish, and he's the emotional leader of the offense. (For someone truly under the radar on that side of the ball, watch for true freshman cornerback Quenton Meeks.) On offense, look for wide receiver Michael Rector. A four-time state sprint champion in high school, he was simply someone to stretch the defense early in his career, but this year he's broadened his repertoire and had the best game of his career last week.

5. We're in year 5 of the David Shaw era. What are the biggest differences in how he runs the program vs how Jim Harbaugh did ("quirky" quotes and sideline antics excepted)? What complaints, if any, do fans have about him?

Randalthor: Harbaugh's genius, at least as uniquely applied to Stanford, was to recognize that offensive lineman often have the highest GPAs among high school football players. Harbaugh figured out that he'd likely have the largest pool of potential recruits that were eligible for admission to Stanford among that position group and went after them aggressively. Then he installed a simple philosophy: win the battles on the lines, run the ball, and stop the run. Shaw has continued that, for the most part, but I think he clung for far too long to Harbaugh's dogmatic approach of pounding the rock up the middle until the defense cheats in, then running play action out of the shotgun. That worked when Andrew Luck was under center and Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor were the tailbacks. But it didn't work in 2013 or 2014. It's hard to complain about a season that culminated in a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance, but the 2013 team definitely underachieved. Shaw was extremely conservative that year, relying on his offense only to get a small lead and then trusting his (admittedly elite) defense to keep it for two or three quarters. Then last year the defense took a step back, and the offense was hugely disappointing. This year, since the Northwestern game at least, we've seen an entirely different approach. Shaw is running creative plays out of different sets. You'll still see lots of power from the Stanford offense, but you'll also see zone reads, four receiver sets, jet sweeps, screens, and more. As I mentioned earlier, he's also finally taking advantage of Hogan's mobility. Most importantly, Shaw is keeping his offense unpredictable throughout games. In years past, he'd often run trick plays and confusing formations early in the game, but abandon them entirely once his team was ahead. Several times, that cost Stanford games. I think Shaw is finally coaching the team he has, allowing its talents and strengths to dictate the offensive game plan, rather than forcing this team to try a scheme that worked with the players Shaw used to have. The result is a versatile offense that no one has been able to stop (the Northwestern game was the last vestige of the old approach). At this point, despite the Oregon loss, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a Stanford fan with serious complaints about him, though that would have been very different had you asked after week one. If Stanford wins out, takes the Pac-12 crown, and returns to the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years, I'm guessing the last of Shaw's doubters will be silenced.

Sean Levy: Coach David Shaw is finally opening up his play book this year. These past 2 years he has stayed with the ground and pound type of offense while maybe seeing a creative play here or there. But now this year, Shaw is really stepping up his play calling ability. This year he has called plays such as a McCaffrey wildcat, calling for McCaffrey to throw against Colorado, jet sweeps, and screen passes. It is amazing to see Shaw's mind open up and adapt to the more modern offensive football schemes. One thing I don't miss about Jim Harbaugh is his sideline antics. It is great to see the passion, but he was so overly dramatic that you questioned whether he was in the right state of mind to continue coaching. Shaw is literally the exact opposite of that and he is as cool as a cucumber. Some student this year made a "50 shades of Shaw" t-shirt and it is just the same blank expression. I would prefer him to get a little riled up if there was a missed call or show some sort of emotion, but that is just nitpicking.

Mark DeVaughn: If Harbaugh was a tornado, Shaw is more of a quiet storm. He's the even-keeled personality compared to his former boss's Tasmanian Devil approach. Harbaugh entertained NFL offers almost from the start (competing in the same job interview process as Rex Ryan). Shaw at least seems committed for the long haul. Fans have forever complained about Shaw's conservative play-calling, especially in close games. There's some substance there, considering Stanford's 4-6 record from 2013-2014 in games decided by seven points or fewer. But with only Pop Warner and John Ralston above him on the program's all-time victories list, fans can't complain too much.

Hank Waddles: I think it's the nature of sports that in any fan base, probably even in places like Alabama and LSU, there will always be people who are dissatisfied with the head coach. It's no different with Stanford. There are plenty of people who are critical of Shaw, and those criticisms usually focus on his conservative nature. The tendency that makes people the craziest is his habit of punting inside his opponent's thirty-five. The thing with Jim Harbaugh is that he was there for a short time, and he coached (and won) exactly one big game, the 2011 Orange Bowl. (He lost in the Sun Bowl the previous year.) He's been mythologized by some Stanford fans, and when Shaw makes one of these conservative decisions (the types of decisions that have taken Stanford to two Rose Bowls so far), we still hear some people saying that Harbaugh would have done things differently. I loved Jim Harbaugh, and I believe he's possibly the only human being on the planet who could've turned the program around the way he did, but I'm glad David Shaw is the coach of this team, and I hope he stays for the next twenty years.

6. Cal opened as 12.5 underdogs. Does that feel about right? What would Cal have to do in order to pull the upset?

Randalthor: I think that's about right, though maybe 14 is a little more accurate. Stanford is just significantly better than Cal on both sides of the ball this year. Big Game can be crazy and unpredictable, but that's just not what we've seen lately in this rivalry. Since at least 1999, I'd say the better team has won this game all but twice (2007 and 2009). Cal has a shot to win if it comes out confident after crushing Oregon State, and Stanford comes out flat after a tough loss that all but ended its playoff hopes. Jared Goff will need to return to his early season form, and Cal's front seven will need to consistently beat Stanford's offensive line. If Cal stacks the box to stop McCaffrey (like Wazzu did) and Hogan has an off day (like he did against Wazzu), Cal can slow down the Stanford offense. But as Wazzu learned the hard way, even if you gang up on McCaffrey and Hogan is having trouble throwing the ball, Stanford can still beat you with zone reads and Hogan's legs. A couple huge mistakes from Stanford, like the ones that cost us the Oregon game (two fumbled snaps, missed field goal, drive-killing o-line penalties) probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Sean Levy: I think the line is spot on. That being said, this is a rivalry game and anything can happen. Jared Goff is an outstanding quarterback and will make any NFL team lucky once he is drafted. He needs to have a flawless game against the Cardinal for them to be able to win this game and Cal's defense needs to step up. The defense needs to dominate Stanford in the trenches to disrupt McCaffrey in the running game. Washington State did the same thing and it worked out pretty well until the last 5 minutes of the game. Also Cal's defensive backs need to play press coverage with the plethora of talented wide receivers. Disrupting timing is one of the most important aspects in pass coverage and doing that while dominating the O-line will give Hogan little time to work with.

Mark DeVaughn: Seems about right, since a game with that deciding margin could be close and competitive. Oregon provided the blueprint for Cal to follow. The Bears can let Stanford control the ball all it wants, but they must make Stanford settle for field goals. They must get penetration along the front seven while not missing tackles. On the other side, it's all about efficiency. Goff needs to lead quick-striking touchdown drives. Oregon scored touchdowns on five of its first eight drives while letting the Cardinal dominate time of possession throughout.

Hank Waddles: I think that line is a little light, actually, but this is still the game on the schedule that's always worried me the most. As I said before, Stanford's young defensive backs are facing a big challenge, and Jared Goff is just the type of quarterback that worries me the most, a prolific passer with the arm talent to stretch the field and challenge those corners. If he can string together first downs and keep the Stanford offense off the field, Cal will have a chance. If we get to know the Cal punter's name, things could get ugly for the Bears.

7. Whom do you want to punch in the face?

Randalthor: Oregon RB Taj Griffin. On Saturday, Stanford DB Alijah Holder was flagged for a late hit for making a clean tackle on Griffin completely in bounds (though Holder pushed Griffin out of bounds, all of the contact was very clearly in bounds). So instead of facing third-and-seven from its own 36, Oregon had first-and-ten at the Stanford 49. On the next play, Griffin caught a 49-yard touchdown pass. Griffin still deserves that late hit. He certainly never got it during the game.

Sean Levy: If we are talking about the NCAA in general, I would have to go and say Ohio State in general. They play a crap schedule, and they don't even dominate those teams, and they only suspended JT Barrett for 1 game. Drunk driving is a serious issue in America and by only suspending him one game they are just giving him a slap on the wrist. They thought about their football team instead of thinking about making Barrett a better man and making him learn from his mistakes. But if we are talking about the Stanford-Oregon game, then I would have to say Kodi Whitfield. Like how are you going to let a receiver run right in front of you and not go cover him. You are in zone coverage, I get it, but you don't have safety help, you are the safety.

Mark DeVaughn: My nominee from last year. Lew Wolff seriously deserves not just one punch, but six, as in the number of non-winning seasons that A's have suffered in the last nine years under his watch. No one ownership group has overseen such a run of futility since the move to Oakland. Successful pro franchises all own one thing in common: dynamic ownership. Good owners execute a winning vision. They connect with their communities. They honor their histories while staying new and fresh. They care. Lew Wolff is a detached old man with a lot of money who doesn't care about winning. The team he purchased for $280 million in 2005 is now worth over $700 million. As the team across the parking lot settles into years on a championship throne, it gets no easier to accept. Now we learn Joe Lacob wanted to buy the A's a decade ago, before Bud Selig shoved them into his old frat brother's clutches. While Wolff is not the sole owner, he is the public face of the group, making him the easy punching target.

Hank Waddles: Larry Scott, no question. I'd like to punch him once for his role in the creation of the Pac-12 Network (I have DirecTV and don't plan on changing that), then I'd punch him again because of all these late night and early morning games Stanford has had to play, and finally I'd punch him a third time for the Pac-12 refs, which are a national embarrassment.

8. How's our old "buddy" Brennan Scarlett doing for you guys on the defensive line? How did you manage to keep him healthy this long in the season for the first time in his collegiate career?

Randalthor: Scarlett has been a critical part of Stanford's success. Stanford has a very talented starting defensive line with Scarlett, senior Aziz Shittu, and redshirt sophomore (and five-star recruit) Solomon Thomas. But there's almost no depth along the line. It's lucky Stanford runs a 3-4, because they probably wouldn't be able play four defensive lineman for an entire game. That's how thin they are, after losing starting defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to a torn ACL in the first game of the year. Scarlett actually hasn't been 100% healthy this year; both he and Shittu were hurt against Oregon State. Had they missed time, it might have been the end of Stanford's season. Fortunately, both returned for the next game against Arizona and have been healthy since then. I don't know what the secrets are, but Stanford has an excellent strength and conditioning program led by Shannon Turley, who is just a wizard.

Sean Levy: Scarlett has been a leader on this depleted D-line. He has been integral on the lien because of his consistent play. He has had around 3 tackles every game this season and he is tied for the most sacks (3.5) on the team. Last week was where he stood out. He was disrupting Oregon all night long and getting to Vernon Adams quite a bit.

Mark DeVaughn: If Berkeley is heaven, the guy who's car your fans vandalized is a godsend. After missing every Big Game during his time at Cal, I guess Scarlett was just finally due to stay healthy (seriously, his car?). Stanford's defensive front is so thin, the depth chart lists guys like Solomon Thomas as both starters and backups (so, a guy wants to bring a degree from another first-rate school into this crazy world, while playing on the same team as his kid brother, and you go after his property??). I wish him well against his old teammates (that's just bad karma, like when you kept attacking the Tree while losing seven Big Games in a row).

Hank Waddles: Brennan Scarlett has been an absolute savior. The defensive line returned only one starter, Harrison Phillips, and he only started a handful of games last season. When Phillips was injured in the season opener, an already thin group became almost transparent. Without Scarlett, they probably would've been forced to play a true freshman or two. He did have an injury scare, however, early in the season. There were rumors that he would end up missing the season, but somehow he managed to start the next week and hasn't looked back. He's been a great addition, and just from watching the games he seems to have developed into something of a leader even in his short time with the team.

9. How does the financing math work in terms of entities like Stanford Healthcare and Stanford Federal Credit Union becoming Gameday sponsors? Is this an artifact of internal promotion of different profit/cost centers at the university, or are they actually outbidding companies to become gameday sponsors?

Randalthor: Honestly, I have no idea. I have no information or insight that would be of any value to anyone. You might say that about my football answers above, as well, but Rule of Tree was desperate for writers.

Sean Levy: Likewise, with my colleague above, I have no idea what this entails or have any opinion that someone might deem useful.

Mark DeVaughn: You'd have to ask ESPN's internal SNOBS (Singular No. 1 Objective is the Benefit of Stanford) committee. Any of the Cardinal alums/ESPN experts like Dave Flemming, Rod Gilmore, Ivan Maisel or David Lombardi should answer you. Any bribe is their doing, like when Desmond Howard picks the Cardinal to win the conference and reach the College Football Playoff, or how Jesse Palmer fawns over Stanford's virtual reality quarterback training system. All matters of Cardinal cronyism go through them.

Hank Waddles: I'm so glad you asked this question so that I can finally set things straight. There really isn't any "financing" going on here, or even bidding, it's more like trying to figure out what to do with the mountains of money that are always lying around in the Stanford community. There's so much of it that it gets in the way sometimes. Quite honestly, I thought everyone knew that.

10. If Kevin Hogan were to become Hollywood Kevin Hogan, who would be his Scott Hall and Kevin Nash?

Randalthor: Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy. They're mean and nasty and have Hogan's back, but they occasionally let Hogan get hit.

Sean Levy: I'm sorry, I am too young to get this reference.

Mark DeVaughn: My pro wrestling expertise ends right around the time Earthquake clocked Hulk Hogan with a folding chair. But if time-honored wrestling themes - exacting revenge, settling scores with friends-turned-enemies - are at stake, I can think of few potential targets. I'm sure Hogan wants a piece of Utah's Kyle Whittingham, coach of the only Pac-12 team's he's never beaten and architect of consecutive wins over Stanford. A potential bowl game against Michigan would pit Hogan against Wayne Lyons, who brought 33 games of Stanford cornerback experience to the Wolverines this year as a graduate transfer.

Hank Waddles: I think Hollywood Kevin Hogan's first call would have to be Shayne Skov, simply because everyone loves Shayne Skov. Remember the mohawk? The eye black? Diving over the line a nanosecond after the snap? The good, clean effort on the football field? Everyone loves all that. After that, he'd have to get in touch with Ben Gardner, simply because of the mullet. Also, Gardner's not playing football right now, so he's got the time. Skov and Gardner would be perfect.