Behind Enemy Lines: Stanford

In order to gain more insight into Maryland's opponent, Stanford, in the Foster Farms Bowl Dec. 30 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., we spoke to TheBootleg.com publisher, Mark DeVaughn.

In order to gain more insight into Maryland's opponent, Stanford, in the Foster Farms Bowl Dec. 30 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., we spoke to TheBootleg publisher, Mark DeVaughn. Here our question-and-answer session with him:

Terrapin Times: Stanford is now four years into the David Shaw era and he’s won 41 games and lost only 12. Are Cardinal fans satisfied with what he’s been able to do there, or did Jim Harbaugh set the bar so high with an 11-win season and a berth in a BCS championships that he’s taken some criticism – especially this year with Stanford finishing 7-5? Has Shaw stepped out of Harbaugh’s shadow and established his own MO or forte so to speak?

Mark DeVaughn: Most Cardinal fans see the big picture and give Shaw a pass for what transpired in 2014. The long view shows a list of incredible accomplishments achieved since Shaw, who already owns the fourth-most wins for a coach in Cardinal football history, arrived three years ago. I’ll elaborate on that later. But Shaw’s critics didn’t just appear. They’ve just gotten louder.

It became evident in 2011 Stanford’s head coach preferred a conservative offensive formula. More often than not, it’s worked. Those times where it hasn’t worked linger in fans’ minds. You heard voices blaming him for keeping the reins on Andrew Luck and allowing Robert Griffin III to claim the Heisman. As the victory totals grew, so too did the significance of the rare defeats.

The 2012 Fiesta Bowl, the 2012 regular season visits to Washington and Notre Dame and last season’s Rose Bowl all share a common ground: Maddeningly conservative play-calling, especially in crunchtime. Those instances manifested themselves into an entire season of misfortune in 2014. The same flaws – predictable game-plans, playing not to lose – proved to be the Cardinal’s undoing.

I think Harbaugh’s shadow remains for several reasons. One, he so dramatically changed the losing culture he inherited without a hint of a decline (win-totals increased in each of his four seasons.) Secondly, Shaw’s success has occurred with players Harbaugh recruited. But for his faults, David Shaw deserves much praise.

He’s the first successful coach here in decades willing to shun the NFL. He’s four wins away from sitting behind only John Ralston and Pop Warner in career victories at Stanford. His 2015 team will be his first without a single participant who played for Harbaugh. Next season and beyond stand as great chances to decisively distance Shaw from his mercurial, square-jawed predecessor.

TT: How do Cardinal fans feel about this bowl game? Are they excited that it’s close to home and many of them can attend the game? Or are they more apathetic about it because they’ve become used to playing more high-profile postseason bowls? Either way, do you feel like Stanford fans will pack Levi’s Stadium Dec. 30?

MD: I’m skeptical of a big turnout. Fans with bigger alumni bases are firemen. They’ll travel anywhere at a moment’s notice. Stanford fans are the fire. When the elements – a big game, a standout season, the end of a long bowl drought – come together, they emerge as a solid force.

They outdrew the Wisconsin crowd at the 2013 Rose Bowl and Virginia Tech’s fans at the Orange Bowl two years earlier. They helped the 2009 Sun Bowl set an attendance record. But when you throw obstacles in their path (bad weather, a midweek kickoff, a third-tier bowl game following four BCS tilts) they burn out and find reasons to stay home.

Too many Stanford fans haven’t mastered the art of planning around their team (“My kid’s soccer game is that morning”) and expect the other way around. I have a feeling instead of packing Levi’s Stadium, many will be packing their bags for their vacation homes.

TT:How is Maryland viewed on the West Coast and by the Cardinal? Do the fans out there take the Terps’ football program seriously, or do they view UMD as a basketball school that happens to have a football team? Has there been any talk about UMD’s move from the ACC to the Big Ten, and what’s been said about that? Finally, is there any excitement or curiosity about the Cardinal playing the Terps Dec. 30, or do the fans figure it could be a lopsided affair in Stanford’s favor?

MD: It’s personal, a chance for fans here to score a few crumbs of revenge for the 2001 West Regional Final in Anaheim. While Gary Williams booked his first Final Four trip, the run ended for Stanford basketball’s best team ever. Mike Montgomery never led another team beyond the NCAA tournament’s second round. Stanford hoops commentator John Platz said the Foster Farms Bowl should feature Casey Jacobsen and Tahj Holden as honorary captains.

Most people don’t here “Fear the Turtle” when it comes to UMD football. They view Maryland as out of place – at first glance – in the Big 10. I think most Stanford fans would take Terrapin football more seriously if it didn’t fall off the grid after Randy Edsall took over, or suffer a 15-year bowl drought until Ralph Friedgen turned things around. I don’t fault Maryland for ditching the ACC for a more prestigious conference. The whole change was just hard to take seriously.

Conference realignment has defined college football this decade. No recent move made less sense than Maryland and Rutgers heading to the Big Ten. The merger of the Big House and “We Must Protect This House” seemed contrived, another example of tradition taking a backseat to expanded TV markets. Do College Park and New Brunswick have ANYTHING in common with East Lansing and Ann Arbor? Later, you enlightened me how the Terrapins felt like outcasts in the Carolina-centric ACC. Fair enough. But years later, I’m still saddened by your basketball team ditching Cole Fieldhouse.

The Foster Farms Bowl is a chance for Stanford to add some shine to what will be remembered as a disappointing season. Fans are curious to know if the Cardinal can continue its late-season momentum. A win would be a big deal, even without a Final Four at stake.

TT:I’m actually going to steal one of your questions here Mark. Can you inform Maryland fans a little about Stanford football history and what the highlights are? I know they claimed two championships in 1926 and 1940, but what is considered the “Golden Era” of Stanford football? Would it be the Pop Warner teams back in the 1920s-1940s? Or is it the more recent Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw led teams? And we know Jim Plunkett won a Heisman, John Elway starred there, Toby Gerhart finished second in the Heisman voting, and Andrew Luck did his thing as well. Who are the other famous football alumni, and who comes back often to support the program (I think Luck comes back to work out, correct?) Also, is it true that athletes tend to blend in there because there’s so many other renowned people on campus?

MD:Plunkett is a Stanford icon. Rarely has a more unassuming figure commanded such a presence. You’ll find him everywhere from tailgating before games to TV commercials for the university. When College Gameday came to town for the Oregon game three years ago, there he was, alongside ESPN’s panel of kingmarkers.

Plunkett’s been a fixture on campus since retiring from the NFL. Elway is a different story. Only in the last few years have you seen him around. He actively shunned Stanford for years, after his dad was fired as head coach back in the late-’80s. They finally got around to retiring his No. 7 jersey last year. Richard Sherman was on the sideline for the Cal game last year, and it was hilarious: Picture the stoic Shaw trying to coach while a dreadlocked madman taps his shoulder, waves his smartphone and announces updates of Oregon’s loss to Arizona (which clinched the Pac-12 North for Stanford.)

Darrin Nelson enjoyed a long NFL career after starring on The Farm. He became the first college player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 50 passes in the same season. James Lofton joins Elway and Ernie Nevers as the only Stanford alums enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other standout alums include Ed McCaffrey and Bob Whitfield. As you alluded, they were not huge celebrities on campus. “No one points fingers at you…There are so many other students who have accomplished more than you,” Michelle Wie said of her experience.

As talented as all those guys were, they could have never imagined what’s occurred over the last few years. A strong football tradition does go back generations. Stanford earned five Rose Bowls in the 1920s and ’30s, more than USC in that span. The 1940 team went 10-0 and finished No. 2. Plunkett’s Rose Bowl win to end his Stanford career in 1971, coupled with a victory over Michigan the following year in Pasadena, will live forever.

But this is the golden era of Stanford football. In an incredible turn of events, the second worst five-year run in Stanford history (40 losses in 56 games from 2002 to 2006) gave way to the greatest.

The Cardinal is 53-12 (.815) since 2010. Prior to this decade, Stanford had only three seasons (1926, 1940) of double-digit victories, ever. It had four straight years of at least 11 wins coming this season. To put the turnaround Harbaugh and (former athletic director-turned Big XII commissioner) Bob Bowlsby authored and Shaw maintains in context, you need to back a few decades.

College football began to resemble the game we know today in the 1980s: The influence of television, the rise of corporate sponsorship in bowl games, the game-changer of scholarship limitations and the sophistication of passing offenses. It was at this pivotal time when school administrators elevated the athletic department at football’s expense. Football languished while non-revenue sports enjoyed title-aspirations, first-rate facilities and standout coaches. Stanford athletics was politically correct before the term existed.

Excuses took the place of high standards. Never was this attitude more evident than in 2003, after Buddy Teevens replaced Ty Willingham and went 6-16 his first two seasons. Many called for his ouster. Instead, then-athletic director Ted Leland proclaimed, “We’re not Nebraska” and retained Teevens for another miserable season. It all added up to 20 losing campaigns between John Elway’s junior year (1981) and Jim Harbaugh’s second as head coach (2008).

These are rare days for Stanford football. That a 7-5 season is now a disappointment says something about the accomplishments.

TT: Are there any quirky traditions that Stanford has, either the team itself or its fans? Like at Maryland, fans like to rub the nose of the Terrapin statue outside the stadium, and the student-section during basketball games is famous for humming the “Rock and Roll Part II” chorus before shouting an expletive at the opposition. Anything like that at Stanford?

MD: Nothing says quirky more than the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB), which doesn’t actually march. A “scatter band” is the technical term to describe them. They perform on-field skits while “scattering” into formations between songs. Their humor is a little out there, but they do enjoy some generally funny moments. They are also trendsetters. They were the first band marching band to play rock music. Their persona – Tyrolean hats, red blazers, tennis shoes, scattering in place of marching – dates back to the mid-’60s. A tradition the band maintains is playing the William Tell Overture as the team returns to the field for the second half. In 1994, they played the same song as lawyers entered the courthouse for O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Legend has it tailgating began at Stanford’s campus in the 1920s, in the groves of eucalyptus trees that still surround the stadium. In a tradition Harbaugh began, players now lock arms and sing the alma mater in front of the student section after games. Students punctuate each first down with this cheer. I can’t say enough how this recent run of success has increased the energy at games, especially in the student section.

TT: Terps fans probably want to know about Kevin Hogan since he’s from here. Can you talk about what Stanford thinks of Hogan, how he's developed and how he's dealt with being Andrew Luck's successor?

MD: Yes, Hogan is a Beltway product, a graduate of Gonzaga College High in Washington, D.C. He emerged two years ago, leading Stanford to its second Rose Bowl since the Vietnam War. Hogan entered that 2012 season as the No. 3 quarterback and didn’t start until November, but immediately helped jumpstart a stagnant offense. By avoiding mistakes and making big throws in the clutch, he owned a 10-1 record against ranked opponents coming into 2014.

Unfortunately for Stanford, his collective performance fell short of what was asked of him this year. That’s not to say he hasn’t enjoyed highlight-worthy efforts. Against UCLA, Hogan completed 16-of-19 throws for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He owns a unique skill-set. He completes long passes downfield and serves as a running threat.

Unlike the previous two seasons, Stanford’s offense lacked a dominant offensive line and a workhorse tailback. People expected Hogan to fill those voids, but his campaign featured too many peaks and valleys.

Entering the UCLA game, he had thrown only one touchdown pass away from home. Only recently did we learn his father, who passed away earlier this month, had been battling cancer all season. No one expects him to be Andew Luck, a once-in-a-generation talent. They just expect more consistency.

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