Pasadena, Calif– While Stanford’s 20-14 win over Wisconsin last night means the Rose Bowl trophy is making its way to back to the Farm at this very moment, the No. 6 Cardinal also carries with it something much less tangible but perhaps more important: national credibility. Playing in three consecutive BCS games and losing just five times in three years will do that for a program. So will having guys by the name of Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck and 11 total players in the last three NFL Drafts.
But with David Shaw’s 12th win of this season improving his career record to 23-4, the number of analysts predicting Stanford to return to its losing ways that saw the team go 1-11 in 2006 is shrinking in leaps and bounds.
Gone is the notion that the Cardinal’s rise to prominence was all about former coach Jim Harbaugh. Gone is the theory that Stanford can’t win without Andrew Luck. Gone is the idea that the Farm is only capable of producing CEOs and computer science majors, not football players.
As Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz said, “I think [winning the Rose Bowl] just shows Stanford is a powerhouse. Stanford is here to stay. It doesn’t really matter what the writers say. USC, Oregon; we just to stick to our business.”
Several seniors who have remaining football eligibility will have to decide whether to stick around or try their luck in the NFL Draft process–the deadline for them to declare is January 15. Ertz is among them, and perhaps the likeliest to hear his name called early on draft day, but Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Ryan Hewitt and Levine Toilolo must all weigh their options as well.
If several of them return, there is little reason to believe the Cardinal will not be a top-5 team in next year’s preseason poll despite losing impact players Chase Thomas, Sam Schwartzstein and Stepfan Taylor to graduation.
A young offensive line that was already one of the best in the country will return four starters, and the starting secondary should be back to build on what was arguably that unit’s most successful season in program history.
Oregon will again be loaded with talent and quarterback Marcus Mariota has the markings of a future NFL star, but Stanford’s own Kevin Hogan is a perfect 5-0 to start his career and should only get better. If the Ducks’ head coach Chip Kelly leaves to the NFL–and such rumors are getting mighty thick–perhaps it is a sign of a changing of the guard in the Pac-12.
In any case, the infographic above demonstrates just how impressive a turnaround Stanford has made, with plenty of reasons why the Cardinal ought to have staying power as a member of college football’s elite.
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