Gut Reaction: Maxed Out

The most impressive aspect of Stanford football's renaissance over the last few years is our performance in games we're supposed to win. In short, we've won them all.

This season and last, Stanford's a combined 22-2. The two losses are to Oregon, a team that, in my opinion, is simply better than us right now. Meanwhile, nearly all of the wins have come by sizable margins. Of the 22 wins, the only results within a score were legit toughies -- the two USC games, last year's visit to Arizona State and, now, Cal 2011. Simply put, Stanford has taken care of business game after game after game.

To appreciate the rarity of such consistency, contrast Harbaugh and Shaw's Stanford to the Stanford of years past. Believe or not, Walt Harris, yes that Walt Harris, was in position for a seven- win season his first year, which would have been reflective of that team's surprisingly decent talent level, if he doesn't lose stupid games. Win against UC-Davis, and hang onto a mid-fourth quarter 21-point lead against UCLA, and who knows, maybe the guy's still the coach here. As it was, though, Harris would go on to lose to San Jose State by one point the next season, team dynamics became dysfunctional, and a 1-11 campaign later, he was out the door.

Under Buddy Teevens, it was much the same. In 2004, Stanford somehow led USC by 11 at the half. And it wasn't just USC, it was USC with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Steve Smith, a team which would beat Oklahoma 55-19 to complete a 13-0 national championship season, and one of the best college football seasons of all time. Hang on, and who knows how different the future might have been for both teams.

So, point is that, unlike in seasons past, Stanford is maximizing its talent right now, and that's all a fan could ask for. Against Oregon, for example, Stanford played well underneath it all. We had some key defensive stops early, that clutch touchdown drive before halftime, and were winning the battle in the trenches early. Then, Oregon was simply the better team and wore us down, and that's okay. Same logic if we're facing an Alabama or an Oklahoma in a BCS bowl, and we finish "only" 11-2 with a top-10 ranking. That would be a heck of a season, and one where we certainly maxed out our talent.

In that spirit then, this year's Big Game was perhaps the best example of what I love about Stanford football today. Cal is underperforming but talented, we are quite injured and were coming off a dream-shattering loss, and, like most rivalries, the Big Game has a history of craziness. This was an eminently losable game, and we showed it early: dropping balls, throwing picks, making Maynard look like an All-American, slipping and sliding across the field. Yet, come the final whistle, we had taken care of business yet again.

How 2011 Stanford does against Washington and Cal, now Notre Dame and maybe an overmatched bowl opponent – all games that we should win, yet are losable – is what makes or breaks our season to me. Thus far, we're batting 1.000.

That's our take. Here are takes from across the interwebs.

Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with (sign-up)!

The Bootleg Top Stories