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 prospects 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.
4. The Class of 2008
An 18-man group proves historically successful
Harbaugh would have to dig deep to stop the bleeding. Initially, national recruiting experts were not blown away by the spoils of his hunt. The class was but 18 men strong, consisted of only one five-star player (guess who), and three four-stars. At the time, it ranked a pedestrian 43rd overall and eighth in the Pac-10.
But with this group, recruiting rankings could be tossed out the window. Aside from slamming the brakes to stop Stanford's pathetic downward slide, Harbaugh's Class of 2008 would whirl the program's course a full 180 degrees and punch the gas toward back-to-back BCS glory.
Perhaps most notably, a bevy of the group's top players committed early in the summer of the 2007, before Jim Harbaugh had even coached his first Stanford game. Prized names David DeCastro (May 2007), Chris Owusu (June), Andrew Luck (June) and Delano Howell (July) all came aboard while the foul taste of the Cardinal's 1-11 season was still fresh. Harbaugh's enthusiasm in living rooms across the country overrode that. It was infectious.
Sam Schwartzstein (September), Harold Bernard (November), Michael Thomas (December), Chase Thomas (December), Jonathan Martin (January 2008), Quinn Evans (January), Alex Debniak (January), Daniel Zychlinski (January), Johnson Bademosi (February), and Konrad Reuland (February) would also all ultimately sign Stanford letters of intent and play integral minutes in the Cardinal's turnaround.
It didn't all materialize overnight; growing pains were evident during the class' 2008 freshman campaign. Harbaugh controversially decided to redshirt Luck that year as the Cardinal bumbled to another bowl-less 5-7 campaign. All guns came out in 2009, though, when DeCastro and Martin assumed major roles on the "Tunnel Workers Union" offensive line that paved the way for Toby Gerhart's record-breaking season of Heisman candidacy. Owusu sparked the winning year with three early electrifying kick returns into the end zone. The Cardinal finished Luck's inaugural season 8-5 (including the un-Luck-y loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl).
By 2010, the Stanford progam made the jump from good to elite. The fully matured 2008 class was primed to inflict serious damage on the college football landscape. Chase and Michael Thomas both became defensive stalwarts, while Delano Howell had settled into his safety role after a conversion from running back. DeCastro and Martin cemented themselves as future NFL stars, while Luck's campaign put him on pace to become of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history.
The result was a 12-1 season punctuated by a 40-12 Orange Bowl smashing of Virginia Tech, followed by an encore 11-2 Fiesta Bowl 2011. The Class of 2008 had brought success of epic proportions to the Farm, and it sent plenty of good fortune to the professional ranks as well: Luck was the No. 1 pick the NFL draft, while DeCastro and Martin also garnered elite-level selections.
Schwartzstein (C) and Chase Thomas (LB) will both maintain integral roles during their senior campaigns in the upcoming 2012 season, which will serve as the last hurrah of the Class of 2008.
More dominant recruiting classes have followed it, such as Harbaugh's enviable 2009 haul (featuring Coby Fleener and Shayne Skov) and David Shaw's eye-popping 2012 group, which boasted arguably the highest-rated offensive line recruiting class in college football history.
But the class of 2008 got it all started. To say the least, it's been a whirlwind. The struggles of 2007 are now a tiny speck in Stanford football's rearview mirror.
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 'SC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - 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 VT to the woodshed in Orange Bowl
13. Streaking - Stanford wins 10 straight games by 25+ points
12. Dance With Girl Who Brung Ya - Card settle for FG attempt, loses Fiesta Bowl
11. College Gameday to The Farm - Campus welcomes ESPN
10. Thanks, John - Card build new stadium, enter arms race
9. The Stanford-USC rivalry - Stanford takes four of five in thrilling fashion
8. Andrew Luck returns - QB shocks nation with decision
7. Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind - Harbaugh reignites program's fire
6. Dreams Deferred - Oregon 53, Stanford 30
5. Dream On - Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)
David Lombardi, a TV and radio (95.7 The Game SF) personality in the Bay Area, is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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