"Athletes at Stanford are not heroes." A sociology professor at the university, one Sanford Dorenbusch, said that to Sports Illustrated in 1972 when the mood in America, trying to extricate itself from Vietnam, was very unheroic and the mood at Stanford was not much different than it is now.
The school takes itself seriously, selects its students carefully and deals with athletic success in a blend of pride and embarrassment, as if — unlike the Auburns and LSUs — it is a gift bestowed on those wise enough to have gained admittance.
David Shaw has the best and worst job in college football. The first-year head coach takes over a Stanford program that Jim Harbaugh, now the 49ers’ coach, turned into a national power, and keeping it in the spotlight has some immediate pressure. That’s what happens when the NFL draft’s likely No. 1 pick, Andrew Luck, decides to stay another year in college. Not that anybody here is complaining.
About the only major change for Stanford — other than the extra attention — is the coaching carousal. Although Harbaugh’s absence will no doubt be felt, players believe promoting Shaw from within was a big move to maintain continuity.
“We love coach Shaw. He’s amazing. It goes unsaid how competitive he is because he’s not as vocal as coach Harbaugh has been,” linebacker Shayne Skov said. “We have not lost a stride since he’s come in.”
Questions surrounded the Stanford rushing game heading into last season, but the 5-foot-11, 208-pound running back led a committee of runners who picked up the slack for Toby Gerhart. Taylor ran for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010 and will look to take the next step in 2011. The Cardinal averaged 213.8 yards a game on the ground this past season.
The inside linebacker led Stanford in tackles last year with 84 and tied for the team lead in sacks with 7½ despite missing two games. Skov has developed into one of the Cardinal’s leaders on defense and appears poised for his best season yet. His ferocious style of play should bode well against some of the high-flying offenses the Pac-12 Conference has to offer.
GAME TO WATCH
DUCKS FLY SOUTH: When Oregon comes to the Farm on Nov. 12, it could be the biggest college football game of the season. Both teams enter the season ranked in the Top 10 in the Associated Press poll (Stanford No. 7, Oregon No. 3), both are national title contenders and both boast Heisman Trophy candidates (Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James). The winner will also likely represent the Pac-12 North Division in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
Assuming coach David Shaw can pick up where Jim Harbaugh left off, all the pieces are in place for Stanford to duplicate, if not improve on last season’s 12-1 record. Quarterback Andrew Luck is the most talented passer in the country and the Cardinal’s physical play wears opponents down late in games. While a spot in the national title game will be tough, another trip to a BCS bowl appears to be in the cards.
BY THE NUMBERS
4 Stanford’s final 2010 ranking in AP poll after 12-1 season
32 TD passes by Andrew Luck last season (a school record)
2 Consecutive seasons a stanford player has been heisman trophy runner-up