Red Zone Report: Looking back, moving forward

Stanford looks to be making the shift from Harris to Harbaugh that Cal made from Holmoe to Tedford: a complete 180-degree turn. Stanford student Jack Salisbury describes how the mood on campus has changed in the first of many "Red Zone Reports." Plus, thoughts from around the Pac-10 -- and how UCLA is trying to engineer a turnaround, much like Stanford.

Memories from freshman year…
I vividly remember my first Stanford football experience.

The first week of New Student Orientation had just come to a close, and our freshman dorm was brimming with enthusiasm — the stubborn and naïve type of enthusiasm that goes along with the first few weeks of dorm life at most any university. Kids who had never probably been to football games were painting their chests. Forget that we had lost to the Naval Academy by four touchdowns the weekend before, at home. The sun was out and we were ready to beat down the Cougars.

That is, until the first quarter ended. We were already down two touchdowns against a mediocre Washington State team. It wasn't just the scoreboard, though. There seemed to be something deep-rooted about this team that just wasn't right. There was a certain lifelessness to them — it felt like we didn't have a chance. Needless to say, it was the beginning of a long year for the Cardinal in 2006, one that I'm sure you remember though you try and try to forget.

But it's amazing how changing the coach has changed the culture.

Two years later, it seems like Stanford has pulled a 180-degree turn, that I and the rest of the Class of 2010 suffered so that our successors could enjoy a better, brighter future. Either way, I'm just glad that I'll at least be able to catch the beginning of the development of the Stanford program under Coach Harbaugh.

Aside from moving the student section to the opposite side of the field (and in the shade), not too much seems to be different in the stands from last year. But there's a palpable enthusiasm going around — not the naïve or blind kind, but the kind built up from past success and a genuinely positive outlook. 

Gridiron Guarantee
I gotta give kudos to the Stanford Athletic Department for putting down its "money back" guarantee. Aside from being a pretty cool PR move, it establishes the kind of attitude that is going to be very conducive to building a consistent program here. It shows that whether or not Harbaugh is the man for the job (and he certainly appears to be so far), he has full support from the Stanford community.

Up Next…
It's good that Stanford is playing a team like Arizona State this early on in the season. It's the kind of game that will make the team better down the road, win or lose. And plus, it'll give us an opportunity to stretch our first-place lead in the Pac-10.

The secondary's definitely going to be tested, though. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter has been at Arizona State for what seems like an eternity (he led the nation in passing efficiency as a true freshman) and it's likely that he'll have a field day against the Cardinal, which allowed the Beavers' Lyle Moevao to throw for more than 400 yards.

Some Pac-10 Thoughts
So far, so good. We've got to fight for football respect out here on the West Coast, and this Saturday was a good start for the Pac-10 in that regard. USC looked as dominant as they have in awhile, Cal took care of business against Michigan State and UCLA won the game of the week in an ugly one over the Volunteers. Speaking of which…

I was actually at that UCLA-Tennessee game on Monday. (L.A.'s a place I'll always call home.) Westwood is host to the same kind of buzz going around the Stanford program, mainly due to immeasurable improvements made to a coaching staff that now features Slick Rick (you can't doubt his ability as a coach, he just has to keep his hands clean), Norm Chow and DeWayne Walker.

That made me think: as a whole, it's pretty remarkable how much the conference has improved in terms of coaching in recent years. Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson, Mike Stoops (his last name is Stoops after all, isn't it?), Jeff Tedford, Mike Belotti, Pete Carroll, and even good ol' Ty. There really isn't a mediocre coaching staff anywhere you look in the Pac-10. Hopefully the conference will keep getting better, and at some point in the near future we'll be able to establish ourselves as a clear-cut second to the otherworldly SEC.

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