When predictions fail

Did I hear that right? Comcast Sports Net's Damon Andrews, before presenting highlights of Stanford intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday night, said the Cardinal has "national title hopes." As I mentioned around this time last year, the program owns a love-hate relationship with preseason expectations.

Quite often when the critics love Stanford in August, the team embarks on a season Stanford fans wind up hating. Conversely, some of the best years ever enjoyed by the Cardinal have occurred once the club exceeds what the pundits thought possible.

Here are a few more seasons – love them or hate them – that stand out in such fashion.

Year: 1956
Preseason hype: The preseason AP poll put Stanford at No. 14.
Actual finish: 4-6 (3-4 Pacific Coast Conference)
Sample prediction: "Unscathed Stanford looks like the best bet to win the Pacific Coast title and go to the Rose Bowl. The pass-minded Indians, with John Brodie doing the pitching and a large line spearheaded by Paul Wiggin, may even be a candidate for top national honors." – Sports Illustrated
In hindsight: The formula sounds familiar. Overseen by an alumnus head coach, and led by an All-American offensive lineman protecting the country's best quarterback – who wears No. 12 on his jersey – Stanford aims for national glory.
Yet after starting the year 4-2, the Indians suffered one-point losses to UCLA and Oregon State – and never won again. Missed extra points were the difference in each game. Brodie stayed unfazed, even after the Bruins blocked one of his punts and returned it for a touchdown. "I still think we'll go to the Rose Bowl," he declared. That had to wait 14 years.

Year: 1971
Preseason predictions: Unranked in Sports Illustrated's poll, which instead heaped high praise on both USC (No. 4) and Washington (No. 15).
Actual finish: 9-3 (6-1 Pac-8), good enough for a second straight Rose Bowl crown.
Sample prediction: "Should John Winesberry and Bill Scott work out well as replacements for receivers Randy Vataha and Bob Moore, Stanford could win again." – Sports Illustrated
Elements of surprise: After falling at home to Duke, road games at the Huskies and Trojans loomed. Stanford later lost to Washington State, and then San Jose State. Don Bunce's interceptions (16) dwarfed his touchdown throws (11). Was this really the last year Stanford won the Rose Bowl?
The Thunderchicken defense made sure of it, embarrassing opponents and allowing a paltry 11 points per-game. They shut out Cal. With Michigan on top in the second half, the Wolverines were stuffed on fourth-and-goal in Pasadena. And poor Sonny Sixkiller never stood a chance. In the Tribe's runaway victory, the Washington QB completed just 12 of 46 attempts and threw four interceptions – three by Benny Barnes.

Year: 1979
Preseason hype: No. 13 in the AP, 17th in Sports Illustrated. Even with Darrin Nelson out for the season injured, a host of regulars returned.
Actual finish: 5-5-1 (3-3-1 Pac-10)
Sample prediction: "All that talent should make things easier for new coach Rod Dowhower," said one national magazine.
In hindsight: Bill Walsh went to the pros; the team he left behind needed Prozac. This despite boasting the nation's leading passer (Turk Schonert) and a schedule featuring seven home games.
Stanford tied USC – the lone blemish on the Trojans' 11-0-1 resume. The likes of Chuck Evans, Andre Hines, Ken Margerum still rank among the Cardinal's all-time greats. All that couldn't save a team rife with conflict between young players and upperclassmen. Defeats to Tulane and Army derailed any early-season momentum. Oregon State's only win came at Stanford's expense. These bipolar ways sent the team to its lone non-winning season of the decade.

Year: 1990
Preseason Predictions: The experts had Stanford sitting in the bottom third of the Pac-10 standings. Going 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference sounded generous.
Actual finish: 5-6, (4-4 Pac-10, tied for sixth)
Sample prediction: "The Cardinal is playing Notre Dame, Colorado, USC…but what, no Miami? And you call this a schedule?" – San Jose Mercury News
Elements of surprise: This season had everything: Last-second losses UCLA and national champ Colorado, an upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in South Bend, the emergence of Oklahoma-transfer Glyn Milburn, the monumental takedown of Cal on John Hopkins' field goal, and even a Beach Boys concert at Stanford Stadium (after the San Jose State game).
Despite a murderous schedule, Denny Green showed his renovation plan was ahead of a schedule. Milburn led the country in all-purpose yardage. Jason Palumbis – less than a year removed from surgery on his throwing shoulder – led the conference in passing efficiency. It all marked a return to relevance for a team that, coming into the year, hadn't won a road game in three years.

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