Stanford rising toward playoff shot

Remember that Stanford loss at Northwestern to open the season, the one that emptied its bandwagon before the thing could get on a roll?

All of a sudden, it seems like years ago.

Everything has been coming up roses for Stanford since then. And while a lot of things would have to go right for it to happen, more than a Rose Bowl bid could be in store for them.

On another wild Saturday in a wacky college football season, two of the top nine teams in the last AP poll were upset victims. Coupled with its blowout victory over Washington, No. 10 Stanford was in position to move up at least to No. 8 in the polls, not to mention becoming the team to beat in the Pac-12.

No. 3 Utah entered the weekend as the conference heavyweight, but that was before USC did a 42-24 number on the previously unbeaten Utes in Los Angeles. Stanford scored a 41-31 victory at USC earlier in the season, a fact that should weigh heavily in is favor when the voters turn in their next ballots.

Meanwhile, No. 8 Alabama had to score late to beat Tennessee at home, while No. 9 Florida State was stunned by Georgia Tech on the road.

Because the Pac-12 hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype, it has some ground to make up in its bid for a berth in the first-ever four-team tournament. But Stanford has lots of momentum in advance of the first College Football Playoff rankings on Nov. 3, and a lot can happen in what has been a crazy season already.

CAUGHT A DRAFT?: While Colin Kaepernick and head coach Jim Tomsula catch much of the flak for this poor excuse of a season, the football guy who deserves most of the blame is conspicuous by his silence.

That would be general manager Trent Baalke, who won a power struggle with coach Jim Harbaugh even though he has done little if anything of late to earn a vote of confidence from those above him.

The 49ers’ 2-5 start is the result of an utter lack of talent up and down the roster. That starts with Baalke and his personnel decisions particularly in the draft, which has left his rookie coach in a very bad spot.

A lot of the problems can be traced to the 2012 draft, which should have started to produce results if Baalke hadn’t whiffed in a big way. First-rounder A.J. Jenkins and second-rounder LaMarcus James were busts. Joe Looney (fourth) was cut last month. Darius Fleming (fifth), Trent Robinson (sixth), Jason Slowey (sixth) and Cam Johnson (seventh) were gone before we knew it.

It’s too early to judge the last two groups, but other than Carlos Hyde and maybe Aaron Lynch, has anyone impressed you at this point? Jimmie Ward? Arik Amstead? Jaquiski Tartt?

See, Baalke hasn’t just thrown Tomsula under the bus. He has gotten behind the wheel of the bus, run over him, stopped it, put it reverse then rolled over him again.

GET A MOVE ON: Team owner Jed York left Levi’s Stadium in a huff after the loss against the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday, whispers have it, and he may be ready to heed Balls’ advice and back up the truck finally.

Vernon Davis could be the first to leave before the Nov. 3 trade deadline, as the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers reportedly have inquired about him. The veteran tight end is in the final year of his contract and comes off a four-catch, 61-yard performance, which can only enhance his value.

But don’t expect any changes where they’re needed most — in the front office.

Baalke has one year left on his contract and the CEO likes him, so he’s safe for now. No way does Tomsula get canned only months into a four-year deal. The best move that York can make is to fire himself, but that’s not gonna happen, either.

CALL WAITING: After the Seahawks took his team behind the woodshed last Thanksgiving Day, owner Jed York issued this infamous tweet: “ Thank you #49ersfaithful for coming out strong tonight. This performance wasn’t acceptable. I apologize for that.”


WHO’S THE BOSS?: A lot of people had Jim Tomsula pegged as a nice guy who would overmatched as a head coach. Less than halfway through his first season, it’s even more obvious now.

The game plan against the Seahawks called for three players to rotate at inside linebacker, which would give an overworked NaVorro Bowman more rest. Except that the veteran wanted no part of it and stayed on the field for 62 of 72 defensive plays.

“Obviously, he didn’t want to go out,” Tomsula admitted afterward. “We were trying to roll through there with three guys. Bo wanted to keep on rolling.”

There’s only thing worse than a head coach who’s overmatched in X’s and O’s, and that’s one who doesn’t have the respect of his players.

FLEW THE COOP: Raiders rookie Amari Cooper hasn’t disappointment anyone in his rookie season. Now think of what the kid can do if they let him play the entire game.

Cooper has been lights out in the first two quarters, not so much after that. He has 18 receptions and two touchdowns on 28 targets in the first half, but only 10 catches and zero TDs on 16 chances after the break.

“You have a little chance to reflect when you get into the bye,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “In this case, we want to make sure we’re keeping our key people involved. We’re not gonna do anything crazy, I think the reads just took it away from him on a few occasions, but certainly there’s been some opportunities to make sure a guy stays involved and we’ll look to make sure that happens.”

Del Rio and company can start against the Chargers in San Diego today.

THE LIST: Balls’ sure things against the spread in Week 7 of the NFL season:

Atlanta Falcons (-4 1/2) at Tennessee Titans: The Falcons will bounce back against another team with a back-up quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens at Arizona Cardinals (-6 1/2): The NFL West leaders will put a big number against an dreadful Ravens defense.

Houston at Miami Dolphins (-3): Rule No. 21: Take the underachiever with the new head coach in his home debut.

Raiders (+4) at San Diego Chargers: Would be a far better game if the loser had to move to Siberia.

Cleveland Browns at St. Louis Rams (-4): See Todd Gurley run. See Todd Gurley run wild.

(Last week: 3-2. Season: 21-9, .700).

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