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.
25. Jumping ahead
A 21-3 lead vanishes at Oregon in 2010
College Gameday was on the scene. Oregon was used to that hype; Stanford, a first-timer on the show, wasn't. A good reason to keep expectations in check.
A final reason for the down-to-earth expectations: no one knew what Stanford had. It was only week five of the season, and Stanford's only victory over a quality team had come the week previous, 37-14 at Notre Dame. Andrew Luck had all the hype and looked the part, but had yet to prove his stuff against the meat of the Pac-10. Plus, Stanford had to replace Toby Gerhart, arguably the most talented, and certainly the most impactful running back in program history.
So maybe the 85-plus players weren't surprised, maybe the coaches weren't surprised, maybe the guys who cut up tape, video and athletic, and make the hotel reservations and drive the busses weren't surprised. I'll believe that. But unless you were a part of the Stanford program, you're a liar if you say that the Card's early 21-3 lead against Oregon was anything close to expected.
It was turnovers – and the fact that Oregon seems to be most lethal after halftime – that gave the Cardinal the early 18-point edge. Rob Beard opened the game's scoring with a field goal four minutes in after the Ducks took the opening kick to Stanford's five. But Stanford would then score touchdowns on its next three possessions. In of itself, that fact is less remarkable than it sounds in a game that featured 83 total points and 1,144 total yards. What was remarkable was the quick sequencing of the touchdowns, thanks to the Oregon turnovers in between.
After a typical Stanford grind-it-out drive – 11 plays, 70 yards, with Luck finding Griff Whalen from 18 yards out for the score – Cliff Harris fumbled while returning the ensuing kickoff, and Delano Howell pounced on it at the Duck 12. Three plays later, it was a 10-yard Luck rush and now the Cardinal led 14-3 less than 11 minutes into the contest.
Oregon then marched as far as Stanford's 43, only for Darren Thomas to throw a third-and-long pick to Chase Thomas, who went down at the Oregon 44. The very next play from scrimmage saw Stepfan Taylor run to daylight, and just like that, it was 21-3 with 1:18 left in the first quarter, and the rout was on.
Only problem: the rout was in Oregon's favor. A 2:51 Oregon drive and a touchdown later, and the Quackers were down a more manageable 21-10 a minute into the second. Chip Kelly than called a gutsy onside kick, the first of three turning points in the game. The Cardinal appeared unprepared, Oregon recovered, and less than two minutes later, the Ducks had put another touchdown on the board.
Still, the squads would trade touchdowns and Stanford would add a last-second field goal before the half for a 31-24 lead. But the Ducks would then complete a 49-10 run with a 28-0 second half.
Out of the halftime, Stanford punted and Oregon scored. 31-all. Then came turning point No. 2. After moving the chains with a third-down reception at the Duck 46, Chris Owusu fumbled. It was hardly his fault, as he had been concussed (on a Javes Lewis hit Stanford fans contend was illegal), but no flag fell and Oregon returned the ball to the Cardinal three. One LaMichael James punched it in from there, and Oregon had a 38-31 lead, its first since 3-0.
Another Oregon touchdown, a 25-yard Darron Thomas pass to D.J. Davis, made it 45-31 seconds into the fourth quarter. Then came the final turning point. Stanford advanced it to Oregon's 1 and Oregon's 11 on its next two possessions, but came away with no points. First, the Cardinal fumbled at Oregon's 1 before Luck misfired on fourth down from the six, and the next time in the red zone, Andrew Luck threw it to Harris. As the cliché goes, you can't do that against a good team, and the Ducks would top off their victory with a 76-yard James touchdown.
Stanford finished the season otherwise unblemished, with the 37-35 thriller over USC and the 17-13 grind-it-out W at Arizona State (see No. 33 below) the only close calls. The BCS rewarded Stanford for its 11-1 season with a trip to the Orange Bowl, where the Card would make mincemeat of Virginia Tech en route to a No. 4 final ranking.
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, 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" - Cal jaws pregame, falls behind 45-0 in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52- yard dart while in free fall
33. Sit down - Burfict's head leads to go- ahead TD, Wilkerson's ices W at ASU
32. Injury bug - Despite multiple injuries, 2011 Card manage to rally
31. Whale watching - Stanford starts recruiting at an elite level
30. Suck for Luck - The media machine anoints the next football savior
29. Outta my way - Luck bounces off Cattouse for a 50-yard run
28. 0 for 3 - Card post three shutouts in 2010 campaign
27. Laying the wood - Luck lays out Wright
26. Concussed - Owusu is knocked out of four games
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