No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent graduation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.
On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.
We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.
33. Sit down
Burfict's head leads go-ahead TD, Wilkerson's head ices the W at ASU
The 17-13 escape out of Tempe was the most tension-filled game of Stanford's 2010 season, save for breaking USC's heart at the final second, which has become a nifty annual trick as of late. Without the win against Arizona State, Stanford would not have played in a BCS bowl, without that demolition of Virginia Tech, Stanford would not have signed the recruits it did the subsequent February, and without those players, who knows, maybe Stanford doesn't make a BCS bowl this past year, or go on to ink a recruiting class for the ages that, in turn, should lead to more memories for the ages in the years to come. Success begets success, and so without this win in the desert, a butterfly effect may have prevented our upward cycle from reaching the heights that it has.
In retrospect, three players most stand out for their contributions to Stanford's victory: Vontaze Burfict, Andrew Luck and Anthony Wilkerson. Burfict, mind you, plays for Arizona State, but he is the textbook classic case of an NFL talent with a junior varsity head, and that noggin helped will Stanford to victory. (To be fair, we have all made dumb decisions at 21, and I hope Burfict can turn it around.) Burfict had 10 tackles on the day, more than anyone in the Cardinal and white, but another stat would matter more: Stanford finished with 20 penalty yards to ASU's 67.
The game turned when Stanford faced a second and five at the Devils' 35. The good guys trailed 13- 10 midway through the fourth and, as the score suggests, had struggled all day against a Desert Storm defense that was strong, fast and physical. On the play, Luck found Baldwin for a six-yard pass and a first down. Meanwhile, off the ball, Burfict was whistled for a personal foul. The next snap, Burfict was whistled again – this time for unsportsmanlike conduct – and Stanford found itself no longer at the Devils' 29, but with a first and goal on the 7. Stepfan Taylor advanced the ball to the one, and then, on second and goal, Owen Marecic ran the last 36 inches for the game winner.
Like Burfict, Anthony Wilkerson affected the game's outcome with a split-second decision. In marked contrast to Burfict's choice, however, Wilkerson's was downright heady. Fast-forward 20 minutes in real time: there is 1:38 remaining with the Card at the Devils' 23, trying to run out the clock on a 17-13 lead. Wilkerson finds a crease and runs down the left sideline toward daylight, but then he slows up and falls down at the Devils' four.
Instead of Arizona State receiving the ball down 24-13 with 90 seconds left, Wilkerson took away the Devils' 1-in-200 chance at victory, as Stanford had a new set of downs, Arizona State didn't have enough time outs, and the Cardinal kneeled out the ballgame. Perhaps a 24-13 margin would have looked better in the polls and Wilkerson certainly would have appreciated his third touchdown of the season, but Luck and Harbaugh were instructing players during the drive to sit down if they found themselves breaking free, and the team came first. Here is the play.
Finally, Luck ran a possession-based West Coast offense to perfection. Stanford's defense played a great game, holding the Devils to 268 yards, 12 first downs and one measly third down conversion in 10 attempts. However, aiding the defense greatly was the fact that Stanford possessed the ball for an incredible 42:25. Running was tough – the Card needed 42 carries to get 128 yards. So it would be Luck who would deserve co-defensive MVP honors after completing 33 of 41 passes for 292 yards. With one short throw after another, Luck helped Stanford convert 10 of 18 third downs and keep the Devils off the field.
Ten minutes in, however, you wouldn't have guessed that the contest was shaping up to be a defensive struggle. On Stanford's first possession, Marecic notched the first of his two one-yard touchdown runs. Two minutes later, Steven Threet, a much maligned Michigan quarterback who went on to have a respectable run at Arizona State, scrambled in from four yards out.
Only then did both defenses clamped down. The teams traded a slew of three- and four-play drives and punts back and forth. The Devils upped the ante when Threet fumbled at the Stanford 1, but Luck would return the favor the very next possession with a fumble of his own in the Devils' red zone. Finally, with the first half running out, Nate Whitaker put a 34-yard field goal over the right upright. The officials ruled it no good, but Stanford fans thought otherwise, and Jim Harbaugh wasn't shy in expressing that belief as the first 30 minutes drew to a close.
In the third quarter, Whitaker unambiguously made a field goal from 44 yards out, but Threet responded with an eight-yard touchdown pass. The Devils would miss the extra point, however, and so the score stood 13-10. The punters worked out their legs some more as the third quarter turned into the fourth. Then, with 10:36 left in the game, Stanford started the fateful drive that Burfict would cap with his meltdowns.
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, a lot of Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of Washington
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Oregon launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Oklahoma doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - After pregame jawing, Cal finds itself in a 45-0 hole in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52-yard dart while in free fall
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