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.
17. Whitaker Beats USC
Stanford hands the Trojans another gut punch
To be sure, the men of Troy weren't their usual selves coming to Stanford Stadium. Perhaps that explained why the Cardinal were 10-point favorites entering the contest. (Side note: a Vegas book had Stanford as 41 point underdogs before their 2007 upset at USC. So, in just three years, the odds had swung 51 points in the Farm Boys' favor. Talk about a role reversal)
It turns out that the money had been pouring too aggressively toward Stanford's side, though. From the get-go, it was apparent that - though it was weakened - the USC mystique still packed some punch. Combine that with the fact that the Cardinal were still reeling from their deflating 55-31 second-half collapse at Oregon the week before, and it was immediately clear that there was no way this was going to be a double-digit Stanford win.
The Trojans struck first on a Dillon Baxter touchdown run. Stanford answered with an Andrew Luck to Doug Baldwin scoring connection. And so went the game that defense forgot. Matt Barkley (28-45-390-3 TD) and Luck (20-24-285-3 TD) delivered dueling virtuoso performances. The teams continuously traded touchdowns, but three Cardinal fumbles exposed Jim Harbaugh's club to grave danger. After one of those cough-ups, Luck famously flattened Trojan linebacker Shareece Wright to prevent any further damage.
A missed Nate Whitaker extra point and a Stepfan Taylor fumble, both in the fourth quarter, gave the Cardinal a severe sweat. Jim Harbaugh was never seen more nervous than during this contest under the lights. But a simple truth held: the team with the ball last was going to win this game. The Trojans made the mistake of scoring too early when Allen Bradford plunged into the end zone to give them a 35-34 lead with 1:08 left.
For Andrew Luck, 68 seconds was an eternity - especially given the help of a boneheaded personal foul penalty against USC linebacker Chris Galippo. The Cardinal knifed their way downfield with ease to set up Whitaker's shot at redemption. Unlike his previously shanked extra point, the senior's 30-yard kick split the uprights as time expired. Stanford 37, USC 35. The stadium shook. The Cardinal's BCS hopes were still alive. And as we all now know, the story ended happily ever after.
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 UW
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Ducks launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Sooners 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
25. Jumping ahead - A 21-3 lead vanishes in Autzen in 2010
24. So close, yet so far - Luck's worst game costs Card 2009 Big Game
23. Run, Toby, run - Gerhart takes over against the Irish
22. Xs and Os… and Ys and Zs - Stanford toys with defensive coordinators
21. "The perfect football player" - Marecic makes purists weep
20. Rumor Mill - Report: Harbaugh to take every NFL job
19. "What's Your Deal?" - Stanford hands USC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - David Shaw named Harbaugh's successor
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 TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!