Nov. 24, 2010
My, how time flies.
Where have the last five years gone? Parking options were plentiful across from Maples Pavilion, Andrew Luck was a junior at Houston's Stratford High School and Tim Lincecum finished with a 12-4 record with a sparkling 1.94 ERA...for the Washington Huskies. And the economy - well, let's not go there.
And then there was Stanford Football. The 2006 season was forgettable in many ways. The team finished 1-11, losing its first nine games of the season before winning its only game at Washington. Two more losses to Oregon State and Cal followed and Stanford was in search of a new football coach.
The Cardinal weren't even competitive, losing eight games by 20 or more points. At one point, Stanford was outscored 162-20 during a five-game stretch against UCLA, Notre Dame, Arizona, Arizona State and USC.
The program had hit rock bottom in every way imaginable, leaving the loyalist of Cardinal fans clamoring for the good `ol days, when the team went 4-7 in 2003 and '04 before rocketing to a 5-6 finish in 2005.
At some point during that ill-fated 2006 season, sophomore James McGillicuddy, freshmen Brian Bulcke, Derek Hall, Andrew Phillips, Richard Sherman and Austin Yancy had to be wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
"If you were to tell me five years ago we would be where we are today, I would have said you were crazy," Phillips, now a fifth-year senior, said addressing the team after a recent practice.
Welcome to the lunatic fringe, everybody.
You were there from the beginning, when Jim Harbaugh brought his three years of head coaching experience and enthusiasm unknown to mankind to The Farm and emphatically stated the goal of the program was to win not one, but multiple Pac-10 Conference championships and compete for a national title.
That made perfect sense. After all, wasn't it George Patton who said, "Success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom."
And you confidently nodded in agreement when he said, "We bow to no program at Stanford University," not knowing at the time he was referring to the football program and not to the School of Engineering.
You really didn't know what to expect at the time other than the ride was going to be anything but boring.
The baby steps were fun, weren't they? Safe to say Oct. 6, 2007 has turned into one of those dates that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news out of Los Angeles Stanford had pulled off the most improbable upsets in college football history, defeating second-ranked USC, 24-23.
But if you were to press Coach Harbaugh, he might admit the one-point, grind-it-out victory over Arizona two weeks in Tucson was just as satisfying.
Well, look at your Cardinal now - four years later and all grown up.
Can this be the same program that until this year had not had enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons in 15 years? Back-to-back bowl seasons? You have to go back to 1995 and 1996 for that accomplishment. Ten regular season wins? Pop Warner's team did it - in 1926.
A win over Oregon State on Saturday would give Stanford a school-record 11th victory and open a myriad of attractive bowl opportunities without offering any clarity whatsoever.
Let's all try to catch our breath for a minute, as challenging as that task may seem in a season that has taken on historical proportions.
The rise of Stanford's program has been nothing less than flat-out jaw-dropping to most observers. After all, there is a long history to overcome here. The peaks have been memorable but have inevitably been followed by seemingly endless, flat plateaus.
Look at the Stanford players on the field today. Are they really much different that their predecessors? From a talent level and as far as passing the eyeball test, Stanford 2K10 bares little resemblance to Cardinal teams of recent past.
But what's the old proverb? The more things change the more they stay the same? Considering Stanford landed 19 players on the Pac-10's All-Academic Team last week, including four first-team selections, perhaps the program isn't as removed from its past as you might believe.
Chase Beeler was named a first team Academic All-American earlier this week, while Owen Marecic landed second team honors. Andrew Phillips earned all-district academic recognition. Marecic is also one of 15 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded to football's top scholar-athlete.
Andrew Luck, who carries a 3.5 grade point average as an architectural design major, was a Pac-10 All-Academic second team selection (tough crowd). You may have noticed he is also a finalist for the Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Year and Maxwell Awards. It's not far-fetched to think he will be in New York as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
How many times have you heard Stanford will never be competitive in football because of its stringent academic standards?
Last spring, Stanford's football program received an Academic Progress Rating of 976, which was the highest mark in the Pac-10 Conference and a figure that ranked eighth nationally among Football Bowl Subdivision institutions.
Fifty-eight Stanford players carded grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher last spring and have four players on this year's roster who are taking advantage of the University's co-terminal program which enables students to earn a master's degree while they finish up their undergraduate studies.
It should be noted of the upperclassmen on Stanford's roster, 27 are majoring in engineering or the sciences, including five pre-med majors.
When he came to The Farm four years ago, Jim Harbaugh had a vision and an unwavering commitment to execute a plan that few thought was possible. When posed with the hypothetical question if he would have been satisfied with a 10-1 record at this point of the season back in August, his response was predictable.
"I'd rather be 11-0."
Somewhere on his way to interview for the head coaching position five years ago, Harbaugh must have come across the passage in the University's admissions collateral that reads, "Limitless possibilities are at the heart of Stanford University. Your reward will be in the exhilaration of discovery--the exhilaration of true excellence."
We've discovered a lot about ourselves over these past four years, haven't we? In a season when Stanford is daring to go where few other Cardinal teams have gone before, maybe the biggest realization is the program hasn't changed as much as you may think, after all.
For that, we remain thankful.
by Jim Young, Senior Assistant Athletic Director for Communications and Media Relations