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Fisher: Stanford’s victory over USC only adds to program’s powerhouse status

This year was supposed to be the transition season. Optimists hoped Stanford would be competitive enough in big games and good enough in winnable ones to end up in a solid bowl game and keep a bit of momentum from the Luck era. All Stanford needed was a solid season to keep recruits until quarterbacks Dallas Lloyd and Ryan Burns were ready to lead Stanford back to glory.

Surely Stanford can’t be this good every year, can it? That’s the question the college football world awoke to on Sunday morning, after Stanford shocked the nation with a 21-14 physical domination of the No. 2 USC Trojans. Questions that seemed completely silly are now completely justified.

Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote late Saturday night, “Stanford owns [a] better football program than USC.” With four straight wins against the Trojans in all different types of games, it’s hard to argue against that.

After Saturday night’s dramatic win, Stanford star linebacker Shayne Skov said that Stanford is now officially a “powerhouse” program. It’s certainly not easy to achieve such heights at a great academic institution, where many of the nation’s top recruits fall short of admission requirements. But Stanford appears to be on the verge, if not already past it, of becoming the Duke basketball of college football, the one program that can be great every single year while upholding the reputation of its prestigious institution.

Coach Shaw has said that there are probably only around 30 graduating high school football players in the country every year who are strong enough at both football and academics to play Stanford football. For Stanford to be successful, it needs to get 20 of them, a ridiculous success rate.

But why would any of these kids not want to play for Stanford? Stanford now has everything any smart football player could need: top-notch academics, spectacular athletic facilities, success on the field, a clear path to the NFL Draft and a student body that has recently shown how supportive it can be in both good times and bad. Ask Andrew Luck if there’s any better place to be a hero, and ask current kicker Jordan Williamson if there’s any better place to be when you fail. The answer is clear: there’s no place like the Farm.

This message is starting to spread across the country. In 2012, Stanford pulled in six of the nation’s top 150 recruits according to ESPNU, including what many are calling the best offensive line recruiting class in college football history. Not only did this help Stanford immensely—recruits Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett are already seeing quality playing time this season—but Peat and Murphy were USC’s two biggest offensive line recruiting targets in 2012, and Stanford plucked them away.

Stanford only pulled in seven top-150 recruits in the previous three years combined, with stars like Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh pulling recruits to the Farm. Now, with Saturday’s win over USC in front of many recruits watching on national television and some more in person, Stanford showed even more promise as a program.

It’s important not to minimize the task still at hand for the Cardinal the rest of this season. Recruits cannot permanently commit until after the 2012 season ends. If Stanford struggles down the stretch in a post-USC upset hangover, the program could take a step back. However, if Stanford can string together wins and stay relevant on a national stage for an unprecedented third straight season, even the biggest doubters will start to realize that college football’s eyes will be focused on the rolling foothills of Stanford, Calif., for a few weeks every single year.

When you thank Harbaugh, Gerhart and Luck for that, don’t forget to include the graduating class of 2013, which will forever be known as the first in the history of Stanford football to defeat USC all four seasons. And based on the program’s momentum right now, it’s hard to believe 2013 will be the last.

Sam Fisher is hoping for at least four more years of the Cardinal beating the Trojans. Let him know how long you think the streak will go at safisher@stanford.edu.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.
  • cardcounter

    While I am a big Stanford fan I think you are a little ahead of yourself. This was one game. There is still much football to play with plenty of time for things to go wrong. Hopefully that doesn’t happen but don’t expect every game to work out as well as this one.

  • John Baltierra

    Sam, your first sentence should be cast in stone. How long has it been since hedge-blog geeks haven’t imposed a “transition” label on Stanford football? Whatever actually characterizes Stanford’s year-to-year changes, the persisting core qualities that you describe seem to have escaped perception by outsiders. Today’s front page article, “Next in Line”, by Joseph Beyda in the Stanford Daily, is a testimony to that broader transition that has overtaken Stanford football. Something has been happening to this program that’s beyond the specific influences of Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw but they’re savvy enough to catch the crest of this special wave of de facto recognition from the upper echelons of the sport. Transition can be a good thing.

  • Mxyltplk

    Duke basketball is not a good analogy. The admissions standard for Duke basketball players is no different than the rest of their conference.