Two missed field goals in the Fiesta Bowl. A sublime triple-overtime victory against USC. The final season for one of the supreme talents in Stanford and college football history.
The 2011 Stanford football season is unlikely to be forgotten by any Stanford fan for a long time, and now that the college football season is over, it’s time to take stock of what exactly fans will remember–and will want to forget–from this season.
The Good: 1) Andrew Luck. Of course, the list has to start with the best player in college football. Luck was expected to be spectacular this entire season after bypassing the NFL draft for another shot at the national title and Heisman trophy, and he lived up to all of those expectations. While he won’t be taking home a crystal football or a Heisman, he shattered records, made some truly incredible plays (like his one-handed catch, clutch 4th quarter and overtime performance against USC and his near-flawless game against Oklahoma State) and assured himself the No. 1 pick in the draft once again. While Colts fans are deeply fond of Peyton Manning, Luck should certainly have little trouble finding a warm welcome in Indianapolis next year.
2) 56-48, 3OT. In one of the wildest games in the entirety of college football this season, two of the most talented teams in the nation battled out an instant classic. And of course, the good guys won.
3) Stepfan Taylor. The junior running back became just the third player in Stanford history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, a testament not only to his skill as a runner but also to his ability to stay healthy despite carrying the ball 242 times this season. Taylor averaged a solid 5.5 yards a carry and was in the top 25 nationally in rush yards per game. If he weren’t so overshadowed by Andrew Luck, Taylor likely would be hailed as one of the most talented, well-rounded running backs in the country. But he’s likely to finally earn some of that well-deserved praise as the centerpiece of the Cardinal offense in its 2012 campaign.
4) Tree’s Company. The Cardinal’s trio of tight ends was easily one of the best in the entire country this season, as Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener combined to score 20 receiving touchdowns. While each one did miss game time with injuries, the production from these three dynamic players was instrumental in helping the Cardinal offense be so dominant. Other than one underwhelming performance from the three against Oregon, the trio continually made big plays at critical moments throughout the season. One can assume that Ertz and Toilolo will be major factors in the Stanford offense next season, and Fleener has been receiving a lot of praise from NFL Draft scouts, as many expect him to be taken in the first three rounds this April.
5) Fresh faces. After some major injuries forced the Cardinal to reshuffle its lineup midway through the season, one can very safely say that those players who were asked to step in did so in impressive fashion. On defense, Jarek Lancaster and AJ Tarpley both played extremely well in the stead of Shayne Skov, with Lancaster leading the team with 70 tackles and Tarpley notching the third-most tackles on the team with 57, despite starting only seven games. On offense, freshman wide receiver Ty Montgomery stepped in for Chris Owusu and made himself a vital part of the offense. Montgomery had 120 yards and a touchdown to lead all Cardinal receivers in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Texas native also had a rushing touchdown against Cal and a kickoff return for a score against Washington State. The early success of Lancaster, Tarpley and Montgomery proves that the Cardinal coaching staff knows what it’s doing when it hits the recruiting trail.
6) Shaw and the coaching staff. In his first season at the helm, Shaw crafted an experienced, professional staff of coaches that kept the Cardinal in the national title hunt for most of the year. Of course, there were moments where Shaw and company fell into the category of “not so good,” but on the whole, the group did a great job of making sure the Cardinal achieved almost all of the goals it was expected to achieve in the preseason.
The Not-so-good: 1) The kicking game. It’s not entirely fair to put Jordan Williamson into this category–he was having a brilliant year before a midseason injury–but unfortunately, you can’t look past the missed kicks in the Fiesta Bowl. Additionally, the team struggled with kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoffs.
2) Injuries. Watching Chris Owusu fall to the turf several times this season after a blow to the head was a terrifying reminder of just how costly the game of football can be–and how thankful Owusu and the Cardinal should be that those injuries were not any worse. Also, the loss of Shayne Skov in the fourth game of the year was obviously a major blow to the Cardinal this season–it’s never a good thing to lose your best defensive player, even though Lancaster and Tarpley filled in well in his spot.
3) The Oregon debacle. At every turn, the Ducks fully dominated the Cardinal’s most-hyped game of the season. The loss ended any hopes Stanford had for a national title, and being blown off the field by more than 20 points in your own house is something that should not happen to any top-ten team.
4) The tragic death of defensive assistant coach Chester McGlockton. A rising star on the Stanford coaching staff, McGlockton was just 42 years old when he passed away on Nov. 30. One only had to look at the outpouring of emotions from fellow coaches and his players on Twitter to see that McGlockton was well-respected and admired throughout the Stanford family, and that he will be missed.
Next week, we’ll take a look ahead to what 2012 will bring for the Cardinal–including a top-tier recruiting class and a rebuilt offense and defense–but for now, it’s good to take one last moment and reflect on an unforgettable 2011, for both its good and bad.