Barber: Bay Area football is a fumble this fall

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


The MVP of the 2018 Bay Area football season is Stephen Curry. We don’t need touchdowns at this point, we need diversions.

How did this happen? Sportswriters don’t like to admit to human emotions such as “enthusiasm,” but I was pretty damn excited for football this year. The Raiders had Jon Gruden, the coach everyone had wanted for most of a decade. The 49ers had Jimmy G and a bullet train of momentum. Stanford had somehow enticed the Heisman Trophy runner-up to return for his senior season. Cal, with its good young coach, got people murmuring with a 3-0 start.

Now we stand on a dusty 100-yard wasteland, holding a tattered pom-pom and looking for someone, anyone, who can win a football game.

The bandwagon didn’t all fall apart at once. No, it was a leaky water pump here, a dragging muffler there, a door handle that comes off in your hand. But the result is the same. The 2018 season in pretty much totaled.

If we had any delusions, they disappeared this weekend as the Cardinal and Golden Bears lost in quick succession on Saturday night, and the Raiders and 49ers did the same on Sunday afternoon — all against opponents they might have expected to beat. It had been nearly a decade since the Bay Area went 0-4 on a single football weekend. The last time was Nov. 8-10, 2008. Cal’s only point against USC that week were scored by Giorgio Tavecchio. The Raiders’ quarterback was Andrew Walter.

(Note: If you are a San Jose State alumnus, I do not mean to insult you here. I am trying to let you slip away quietly. The Spartans are currently 0-5.)

Again: How did this happen? How has a season that began with so much sparkle and intrigue become a blooper reel?

Maybe we should blame the Raiders. I believe they cursed the whole endeavor when they traded Khalil Mack to Chicago on Sept. 1. I mean, things were pretty rosy before then. Mack’s preseason holdout was a concern. But the Raiders were Grudening along, and the 49ers were primed to unveil Jimmy Garoppolo 2.0. Stanford was ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.

Then the Raiders, with Gruden stamping the forms, went ahead and traded the greatest defensive player in the NFL. Fans of the other three teams on the list may be frustrated or even disgusted with the product. But Raiders fans are downright pissed. Their hopes weren’t scuttled by injuries and bad play-calling so much as by stubbornness.

Gruden’s hubris came back to bite him, of course. While Mack has been destroying offenses with the Bears, the Raiders have been torched for 404 yards and just under 30 points per game through Week 5.

And there was misfortune by osmosis. The day the Raiders shipped Mack, 49ers halfback Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL at practice. Little did we know, it wouldn’t be the most significant ligament of the season.

The Niners didn’t look amazing with Garoppolo at quarterback. But they were close enough to make you believe they could find the accelerator. Then came that fateful run with a little less than 6 minutes left at Arrowhead Stadium, the play that tore up Garoppolo’s knee and drove a stake in the 49ers’ season.

As the NFL teams were going downhill, the college squads spent the first three weeks of the NCAA schedule taking flight. By Sept. 23, Stanford was ranked No. 7 and Cal, exceeding expectations, had crept into the AP poll at No. 24. The Cardinal were 4-0; the Bears were 3-0. Big Game 2018 was shaping up as a classic.

Then the NFL contagion spread to Berkeley and Palo Alto. You would think that Bryce Love, the future doctor, could have dispensed some antibiotics or paper masks.

Two weeks ago, Stanford lost a showdown at No. 8 Notre Dame, and Cal lost to No. 19 Oregon. No shame in either of those two results, but the sickness has lingered. Saturday, the Cardinal were upset by Utah at home and the Golden Bears lost at Arizona. Stanford has disappeared from the Top 25; Cal can’t even crack the lukewarm list of “Others Receiving Votes.”

Stanford coach David Shaw thought he had improvement he sought from junior quarterback K.J. Costello, but Costello has regressed lately. And Love, who finished second in Heisman voting to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield last year, is running in sand. As a junior, Love averaged 162.9 yards per game and a gaudy 8.1 yards per carry. As a senior, so far it has been 81.8 per game and 4.3 per carry, and he sat out Saturday with an ankle injury. At least they don’t have to worry about another Heisman runner-up in Palo Alto this year.

It’s hard to knock Cal for those back-to-back losses. Justin Wilcox’s team is about where we thought they were before the season began. It’s not the Bears’ fault that we cocooned them in a couple layers of hype. The other three teams are true disappointments.

Where do we go from here? Stanford has a good roster. The Cardinal sit one game back of Pac-12 North-leading Washington. Maybe they can pull off an upset and play in the conference championship game for the third time in four years.

The Raiders are not a good team — at the moment. They do have an innovative staff, though, and a quarterback who put up huge numbers just two years ago. They also have a couple of mild “home” games coming up, against Seattle (in London) and Indianapolis, sandwiched around a bye week. I’m not counting out Gruden, but The Return has lost its luster.

Cal, meanwhile, looks headed for a .500-ish season, which still could be a steppingstone for Wilcox.

The outlook is bleakest for the 49ers. They don’t have the speed, or the pass rush, or the health to be contenders. Already we are looking for winnable contests, and there aren’t a lot of ’em. Maybe at Arizona on Oct. 28. Maybe at home against the Giants on Nov. 12, or versus the Broncos on Dec. 9 or against the Seahawks on Dec. 16.

All in all, our fall calendars have really opened up. You can go for a nice Sunday hike; I’d recommend Point Reyes National Seashore. Kayaking is nice. How about a bike ride with your kids? Do you remember your kids? You can actually hang out with them this autumn. Oh, and don’t forget to clean your rain gutters!

The 2018 football season arrived with fanfare. It might go out with fan apathy.

Bring on the Warriors.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine