The dust is settled, and Stanford football is left standing
Let me start by saying, the Fiesta Bowl was not a disappointment. I know that that my come as a shock to hear, especially coming from as fervent, and competitive a fan as I am. But what I saw Monday from my seat at University of Phoenix Stadium was a physical, athletic and well-coached team. Those aren't attributes I could always use to describe Stanford football. And for the second-consecutive season, the Cardinal will likely end the year ranked in the top-five.
Sure, it would be easy to blame Jordan Williamson, the freshman kicker who missed three field goals, including a game-winning attempt at the end of regulation and another in overtime, or David Shaw for his conservative play calling on the final drive for the loss--but that would be wrong to do. Kickers miss kicks--it happens. Coaches make decisions that get second-guessed--that happens too. Had Shaw decided to go for a touchdown on that final drive and the Cardinal had turned the ball over, imagine the backlash that would have caused.
What we saw on Monday was a team that could play with anyone in the nation--and if you've been rooting for Stanford for any lengthy period of time, you'll know how awesome it is to be able to say that.
Those of you who know me might be shocked at my positive outlook here. After all, while writing for The Stanford Daily I got a bit of a reputation as a party-pooper. However, if you sit back with some perspective, you'll understand my adulation.
When I was a freshman the Cardinal football team went 1-11 in front of an (estimated) average home attendance of 27. The football team, and its coach Walt Harris, was in many ways the laughing stock of the school. No one could have predicted the school's meteoric rise in football. (Except for me, former Stanford football players Richard Sherman (currently a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks) and Marcus Rance and our friend Alex, when we made this (pretty awful) video for a class after the Cardinal hired Jim Harbaugh--and yes, Harbaugh's name was spelled wrong in it).
That 1-11 team had been epically bad. In fact, if you asked me to give you one memory of my freshman year football season, I would just say "third-down punts." The next season, Harbaugh was on the Farm and that resurrection was underway.
Now, Stanford is a force. The Cardinal has been to two straight BCS bowls and appears to be a program still on the cusp of hitting its full potential.
But Andrew Luck will be gone next year, is what I'm sure many of you are thinking. People said that after Toby Gerhart left two years ago, and after Jim Harbaugh left last year. The fact of the matter is, Stanford has become a recruiting force and is much more than Andrew Luck.
Case and point: Yesterday, it was reported that Barry Sanders Jr.--son of perhaps the greatest running back of all time--will commit to Stanford (over Oklahoma State, ironically). And while academic standards will always prevent the Cardinal from snagging some of the nation's top athletes, Stanford essentially recruits itself with its unbelievably beautiful campus, state-of-the-art facilities, prime location, education and off-the-field opportunities.
What's most important to Stanford's longterm success is a change of culture surrounding the program. I'm still waiting for apologies from the dozens of "pundits" who claimed that Stanford fans wouldn't travel to BCS bowls, now that they have two years in a row. The Stanford crowd was awesome at the Fiesta Bowl on Monday, and hopefully people will stop calling the fan base lackluster, cause it isn't.
Will Stanford be a top-five team next year? I don't know. If I had to guess, probably not. But will it be in the running for the Pac-12 Championship--absolutely.
What I learned from a Fiesta Bowl in which the Cardinal substantially out-gained the Cowboys is that Stanford football isn't going anywhere.