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.
Stanford wins 10 straight games by 25+ points; longest winning streak in FBS (17)
Two of the most devastating defeats in Stanford football history
bookended the program's most impressive rampage ever. After the
52-31 loss to Oregon in 2010 and before the Ducks' 53-30 rematch
beatdown in 2011, the Cardinal ripped off 17 straight wins. Theirs
was the longest active streak in college football, and it was no
fluke: 10 of those victories came by 25 points or more. Stanford
became the only team in college football history to win so many
games in a row so convincingly.
So here is this all-time streak of character and cruelty,
Stanford 37, USC 35
The assault on college football history began with Stanford on a low. The Cardinal were coming off a demoralizing 53-30 gut-punch at Autzen Stadium, and they were a bit sloppy at home against the Trojans. But Andrew Luck delivered in the final 68 seconds to set up Nate Whitaker's game-winning field goal. The crowd stormed the field. The win streak had started.
Stanford 38, Washington State 28
The Cardinal weathered a post-Oregon, post-USC letdown performance by managing to beat the hapless Cougars at Stanford Stadium. True dominance, though, would have to wait one more week.
Stanford 41, Washington 0
This is when "Character and Cruelty" started showing up on the scoreboard. There was some concern about the Cardinal's match-up at tough, rainy Husky Stadium. But a long Luck touchdown run primed the pump for a 41-0 slaughter in Seattle.
Stanford 42, Arizona 17
This was a highly anticipated match-up that Stanford turned into a mismatch in front of the home faithful. An early Luck-to-Chris Owusu bomb put the Cardinal in blowout mode. The Wildcats entered this game 7-1. But the beatdown sent them into an 0-5 season-ending tailspin. It was the beginning of the end for Wildcats coach Mike Stoops, who was fired the following year.
Stanford 17, Arizona State 13
Each season presents at least one trap game against a decidedly inferior opponent, and this was the 2010 Stanford version. Harbaugh's sluggish squad just couldn't pull away from the Sun Devils, but they secured victory thanks to some no-leg Luck heroics. I'm sure that all bettors remember that the Cardinal failed to cover the spread only because Anthony Wilkerson purposely fell down to drain the clock with his team up four.
Stanford 48, Cal 14
With the narrow Arizona State escape behind them, the Cardinal began their unprecedented streak of dominance. Chapter One happened in Berkeley in one of the most extreme Big Game humiliations of all time. Jamal Rashad-Patterson was ejected for punching a Cal player before kickoff; that simply ended up being foreshadowing for what Stanford would do to the Bears as a team during the game. Luck barreled over Sean Cattouse early and Harbaugh called off the dogs at 45-0 in what was the most lopsided affair between the two schools in 80 years.
Stanford 38, Oregon State 0
Perfection continued with yet another abusive effort against a disinterested Oregon State team. This win sealed Stanford's BCS status and set off alumni celebrations all over the country.
Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12 (Orange
This was quite possibly the most impressive butchering of them all. The Cardinal sputtered to 13-12 halftime lead before pillaging the Hokies in the second half. Fittingly, this effort was highlighted in the countdown post immediately preceding this one.
Stanford 57, San Jose State 3
The 2011 season and David Shaw era began auspiciously when Stanford put the hurt on the Spartans on a warm Farm afternoon.
Stanford 44, Duke 14
For a brief second, the Blue Devils put a scare in Stanford on the East Coast. But that's when the Cardinal's propensity to floor the gas pedal in the second half really ramped up. After 34 unanswered points and a memorable Geoff Meinken stiff arm, the 25-plus point blowout win streak had reached five.
Stanford 37, Arizona 10
Again, the Cardinal got out of the gate slow. But yet again, it was only a matter of time before they devoured the Wildcats and wore them down in the second half. Leading only 16-10 at halftime, Luck and Levine Toilolo spearheaded a 21-0 second frame for laugher number six in a row. The win came with a grave cost, though: Shayne Skov's knee was torn apart in this game.
Stanford 45, UCLA 19
In the contest that will forever be known as the Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener one-handed catch game, Stanford outclassed the Bruins at home. A game-opening goal line stand set the tone for the Cardinal's seventh straight win by 25-plus.
Stanford 48, Colorado 7
Max Bergen's field goal block and return for a touchdown sparked this spanking, which became of a showcase of offensive perfection. Luck's final line: 26 for 33, 370 yards, three touchdowns. Eight beatdowns in a row, one shy of the all-time record.
Stanford 44, Washington State 14
This one in the Palouse started hairy, but ended up following a familiar tune once the Cougars were worn down in the second half. Leading only 10-7 at the break, Luck orchestrated a 34-point second half highlighted by tight ends Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo, and Zach Ertz. All three were absolutely uncoverable. Stanford had tied a college football record with nine straight 25-plus point victories.
Stanford 65, Washington 21
David Shaw's squad saved its most astounding performance for the record-breaker. The Cardinal humiliated the Huskies in the trenches by amassing a Pac-12 record 446 yards on the ground. David DeCastro and Co. paved the way for an attack that averaged over 10 yards per carry. Shaw almost apologized for the lopsided score afterwards, saying "you can't tell a runner not to run."
Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)
The dominant win streak ended in the Coliseum, but Stanford was thrilled to leave Los Angeles with a victory after one of the greatest games in college football history. Luck led the escape in triple overtime in a game that I'm sure you'll hear about later in this Top 40 countdown.
Stanford 38, Oregon State 13
The Cardinal's 17th consecutive win came over the Beavers in gloomy Corvallis with the Ducks looming. Stanford stomped the Beavers with another dominant second-half performance, but they were jarred by Chris Owusu's season-ending neck injury.
Oregon 53, Stanford 30
I guess all great runs must end.
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
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
14. Blown Away - Stanford takes Virginia Tech to the woodshed in Orange Bowl
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