Stuck on 36

Stanford last went without a national title in the 1975-'76 academic year. Alas, with winter sports winding down, that steak is in jeopardy. We break it down and look across all 36 Stanford varsity sports to identify programs on the rise and on the fall.

There's no such thing as free lunch, and national titles are increasingly hard to come by, too.

UCLA, whose 108 NCAA crowns still best Stanford's 103, hasn't won a national title since December 2011. Stanford, meanwhile, last took home an NCAA title in May 2012, so their DiMaggio-esque streak of 36 straight years with a national title is in jeopardy.

No time for panic yet, with a handful of NCAA titles still up for grabs this year. Let's run down the sports, from most to least likely:

No. 1 women's water polo
The NCAA Championship is May 12 in Boston, and it should be a Stanford-USC rubber match. The Cardinal have three Olympians on the roster, including all-everything freshman Maggie Steffens, they are two-time defending national champions, and they should keep that streak going until the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Of course, Stanford (25-1) wasn't supposed to lose to USC the first time (before exacting 6-4 revenge this past weekend), so let's not assume this squad will carry on the 36-year streak just yet.

NCAA title odds: 70 percent

Gymnastics (No. 4 men, No. 9 women)
The men's and women's gymnastics finals are this weekend, and with a little luck, Stanford could bring home No. 104 at either event. The men, 2009 and 2011 champions, have the higher seed, but their NCAA Finals are in Happy Valley, and host Penn State is No. 1 in the country and also in Stanford's semifinal. (The top three teams in each six-team semifinal advance to the "Super Six" finale.) Conversely, the No. 9 women have the lower seed, but they are the only West Coast team in their semifinal at Pauley Pavilion – a gym they know well. We'll say the travel and the seedings cancel out and give each squad 1/12 odds.

NCAA title odds: 8% (men), 8% (women)

Golf (No. 9 men, No. 9 women)
Men's golf has one title in the last 18 years and women's golf has never captured the crown. So with top-10 rankings and some standout talent on display, both teams are on the upswing. Still, the teams are No. 9 and not, say, No. 2 for a reason. They have only won major tournaments in the Bay Area, coming in the top quarter, but never in the No. 1 slot, at their other events around the country. Obviously, that would have to change should golf hope to turn 36 into 37.

NCAA title odds: 4% (men), 4% (women)

Tennis (No. 12 women, men unranked)
So maybe I just remember the halcyon days, but I'm bullish on this women's squad. They're 16-3 this year and longtime coach Lele Forood has been around for the last six of their 17 national crowns. The best that can be said of this men's squad, on the other hand, is that it is young. The men have 18 national titles to their name, but none since 2000, and this .500 team is perhaps the furthest the team has ever been those glory days.

NCAA title odds: 4% (women), <1% (men)

Longshots
Rowing is eighth and did win it all in 2008-'09. Keep in mind that the NCAA doesn't award a "lightweight rowing" crown, so just the "rowing" squad.

Women's track is ninth and men's track is unranked. Either way, it's hard to build a program that competes for national titles when you can only count on points from your distance runners, as Stanford's has not consistently brought in elite sprinters and throwers. The women have never won it all; the men last did in 2000.

Softball is 16th nationally at 28-12 and baseball is 24th at 19-11. Baseball last won in 1988 and folks have been questioning for the last decade whether Mark Marquess has lost his fastball. Softball has never won a national title, and they're playing .500 ball in an absolutely stacked Pac-12.

Women's lacrosse is 15th and has made huge inroads in a traditionally East Coast sport, but we're talking about a program that recently earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, not a national title contender.

Risers
Men generally. Male sports account for just four of Stanford's last 16 NCAA crowns, dating back to 2003-'04 season.

It's too early to tell if it's just cyclical roster turnover or something more permanent, but the men's and women's cross-country programs won a combined nine national titles from 1996-2007. Since, they have plenty of close calls.

We've detailed the women's moderate and the men's more drastic tennis falloffs, but they are the two Stanford programs with the most NCAA titles, so a drought five years long and counting really hurts.

The next winningest program behind the tennises is men's water polo, with 11 NCAA titles. Alas, the men are now zero for the last decade, as USC is taking over that sport much like Stanford is on the other side of the gender divide.

Fallers
Bernard Muir needs to lobby to have synchronized swimming added as an NCAA sport. The Cardinal women have won that national championship seven times, with five crowns since 2005.

Women's water polo, football and women's soccer combined for one NCAA title through 2010. (Women's water polo captured the crown in 2002; football's glories predate the NCAA.) Since then, women's water polo has won two championships and counting, women's soccer has one crown that could easily be three, and while football is the most fiercely contested of all NCAA sports, the men are getting closer than they've ever been.

Finally, sand volleyball will not award an NCAA title this year, but will soon. Given their indoor success, the Stanford women should be competitive, and you'd think they'd have an edge over the Penn States, Nebraskas and Washingtons of this world, owing to geography.


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