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.
14. Blown Away
Stanford takes Virginia Tech to the woodshed and administers an Orange Bowl beatdown
Some 3,000 miles away in the fairy tale party land of Miami, the Stanford family congregated en masse in front of a surreal backdrop. This was no longer the Seattle or Sun Bowl. This was the Orange Bowl. This was the BCS. This was the only football contest at any level being played in the United States on January 3, 2011.
I felt bad for Stanford's opponent, Virginia Tech, even before kickoff at SunLife Stadium. Apparently, though, Vegas did not: Frank Beamer's boys were only three point underdogs when the game began. After an electric tailgate featuring Jon Bon Jovi and a raging Cardinal parking lot party under the Miami sunset, Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal would rectify that error in perception.
Virginia Tech hung close for a half, thanks only to a sensational Houdini act-turned-touchdown pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Hokies actually went into the locker room trailing only 13-12. Beamer Ball - do nothing, yet somehow stay close - was doing just that.
Then came the second half. That's when Jim Harbaugh's brain and brawns approach took over. Mind-numbing pre snap motion. Beautifully crafted play-action execution. Mandhandling in the trenches. Missile-like closing speed from Shayne Skov. Pristine touchdown spirals from Andrew Luck.
All of the above gave ESPN's Jaws and Gruden a good kick - particularly the "routine" four Stanford pre-snap shifts that baffled a hopeless Virginia Tech defense. The Hokies also couldn't figure out the Cardinal's genetically-engineered tight ends. Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Konrad Reuland combined for 10 catches, 226 yards, and four touchdowns.
Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12. The ACC Champion Hokies looked like a JV team once the Cardinal were through with them. Under the brightest BCS lights, the Farm Boys had fully flexed their muscles in that perfect 27-0 second half. Even burly offensive lineman James McGillicuddy rushed for seven yards late. The pristine effort wrapped up a school-best 12-1 season that peaked at its conclusion: the final three wins over Cal, Oregon State, and Virginia Tech were all thorough whippings.
Stanford was playing better than any team in the country at the end of that 2010-2011 season. But a four-team playoff system was still four years away. There would be no second shot at Oregon that year. Instead, Harbaugh rode off to San Francisco after attaining Orange Bowl glory, leaving a newly-dominant program behind him.
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 %%MATCH_17%% worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - David Shaw named Harbaugh's successor
17. Whitaker Beats USC - Cardinal hand the Trojans another soul-crusher
16. We've Got the Axe - Stanford wins first Big Game in six years
15. Return of the Red Zone - Cardinal students populate the stadium in force
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