Friday, November 20, 2009

Cardinal Star Rising

The Stanford football bandwagon is picking up speed. After notching two consecutive wins over top-ten opponents Oregon and USC, Stanford is a two-touchdown favorite in tomorrow’s Big Game. Its leading rusher, Toby Gerhart, is on the short list of Heisman contenders. Cardinal freshman quarterback, Andrew Luck, is being compared to Peyton Manning and John Elway. And coach Jim Harbaugh has been the subject of flattering coverage by the national media.

When he took over the reins in 2007, expectations were low. But in his first year Jim Harbaugh’s team pulled off what is perhaps the most colossal upset in college football history, Stanford’s victory, 24-23, over then-number-one ranked USC on USC’s home turf. USC had been favored by 40 points against a Cardinal team that had been blown out by average squads, and that loss ruined USC’s hopes for a national championship.

Last Saturday Stanford visited the LA Coliseum as a slight underdog and scored the most points ever recorded against the Trojans. This year’s win wasn’t as improbable as the 2007 upset, but the one-sidedness of the score, 55-21, over perennial preseason national-champion pick USC was almost as surprising. Fans on the Farm are now aspiring to the Rose Bowl, as well as future years of contention for the Pac-10 title.

But we have seen this act before. In 1998 Stanford’s men’s basketball team played above their heads and made it to the Final Four. Despite excellent recruiting classes and holding the number-one ranking during ensuing regular seasons, the Stanford basketball team never made it back to the show. The current football squad displays similar promise, but Stanford major sports teams often disappoint in the favorite’s role.

It is premature to count on the Axe being returned. Anything can happen, as it did 27 years ago. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

[Update - 11/23: It was an exciting but not surprising contest, as Cal "upset" Stanford, 34-28, on Saturday. Coach Jim Harbaugh's star dimmed a little, and his mettle will be tested next year when Stanford won't catch anyone by surprise.]

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