Gut Reaction: Contradictions

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." If so, Stanford football 2011 is turning us into veritable geniuses.

The team is 6-0, and they lead the NCAA with 14 straight wins. If there were official records for consecutive wins by 25-plus points – or against the spread – Stanford would be making history there too.

This juggernaut squad led Washington State 10-7 at halftime.

The defense loses arguably its best player for the season. The best player in college football over the last [pick a number] years leads the offense.

Right now, the defense might be the more consistent unit.

After finishing last year as one of, if not the, best teams in the country, Stanford may be en route to a better season yet.

Stanford is all of No. 8 in the BCS rankings. If it wins out, the odds are better than not that the Cardinal won't be playing for a national title anyways.

Jim Harbaugh, Vic Fangio and Greg Roman are 5-1 with the San Francisco 49ers, a team that last made the playoffs nine seasons ago. Meanwhile, Stanford's new coordinators and head coach have a cumulative one year of experience in their current positions: Derek Mason was the co-defensive coordinator at St. Mary's in 2003.

If anything, the coaching looks better this season. Stanford's ability to adjust at halftime – a traditional measuring stick for the strength of a coaching staff – may be the best in the country. The team has seemingly retained its strengths and identity from last season, all while adding new wrinkles to the fold.

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What's gone unsaid, however, is that college football national champions over the last decade all exhibit these same contradictions. The sport is too deep now for teams to steamroll their way over every opponent like 1995 Nebraska. Instead, the profile of a modern-day college football champion looks more like this:

2004-'05 USC ended up winning the national title game by 36 points in one of the most dominant seasons in modern-era college football history.

The Trojans, however, had to preserve its undefeated season by rallying from a double-digit deficit against then-lowly Stanford, as folks around here remember well. Imagine how Stanford fans would feel about our national title prospects if we had just eked out a three-point, come-from-behind thriller over Wazzu.

Ohio State won it all in 2002, beating a Miami team stacked with NFL talent in one of the greatest national championship games ever.

However, the Buckeyes won seven of their last 11 games by a touchdown or less, including a most dramatic 10-6 victory against middling Purdue.

Perhaps the best comparison to Stanford comes from last year, as eventual national champion Auburn had a similarly backloaded schedule: the Tigers faced just one top-20 opponent before October 16. In fact, the Tigers were just No. 7 in the country after their first six games, as they hadn't yet proven themselves against quality opponents.

As we all know, despite the soft schedule, Auburn would go onto win the national title. What people forget, however, is that the Tigers won seven of their 14 games by a touchdown or less. Fans do remember the Alabama and Oregon games – contests in which winning close is more than acceptable – but, in the first half of the season, Auburn beat Mississippi State by three, Clemson in overtime, and Kentucky by all of 37-34. Stanford has looked way better than that thus far.

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There are a lot of great arguments as to why Stanford is not a national-championship caliber team. There are also a lot of factors out of our control that will determine whether we even get the shot to prove that statement wrong.

However, Stanford has a chance to be one of those teams that may appear underwhelming for a few weeks (or, in our case, for a few halves), but when it's all said and done, ends up taking the country by storm.

I do know this though: despite all the hand wringing, this season's squad may be the best Stanford football team I'll see my entire life, and I'm all of 25. We all have to remind ourselves of this constantly – but the best idea may be to just sit back and enjoy the ride.


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