Fast forward: Stanford
Will Stanford's reign of terror ever end? It was one thing when you could count on cutting down the Tree's football team every year. Then it didn't matter that the fans in Palo Alto drove the nicest cars, had the best jobs, won nearly every Olympic sport and had a beautiful campus, to boot. Their football team sucked. John Elway never played in a bowl game.
But the Cardinal just played in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game, losing to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. Losing one of the NFL's best coaches, Jim Harbaugh, and one of its best young quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, barely registered.
Stanford is now one of the elite teams in college football, competes for a championship every season, and shows no signs of slowing down. Sure, they lost some notable players this offseason, including defensive stalwarts such as Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds. The offense took some hits, too, losing leading rusher Tyler Gaffney and All-American guard David Yankey.
But Stanford has proved it can handle losses in the past, and has enough sustained football success that it can use it can recruit against anyone in the country. And while its academic standards give it a limited pool of talent from which to choose, the players who can get into Stanford are the most likely to value its reputation.
Follow the jump for our 2014 Stanford preview.
Last Season: Despite finishing with an 11-3 record, Stanford left a lot on the table last season. One week after preserving its undefeated record with an intense, last-second win over Washington at home the Cardinal became Utah's first Pac-12 victim of the season. Stanford recovered to beat UCLA and Oregon, putting itself back in the national championship picture, but fell out of the race with a loss to USC and interim coach Ed Orgeron.
Stanford bagged all the big trophies it could in a late stretch, beating rival Cal by 50 points, knocking off Notre Dame in their annual game, and blowing out Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship game.
But the Cardinal had one more disappointing ending to endure. After trailing most of the game, Michigan State took a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Spartans defense held the Cardinal to just a field goal, and Stanford was shut down on 4th-and-1 on its final drive.
Players to watch:
— Kevin Hogan, QB, 6-4, 228: Hogan may not have professional scouts drooling like they do over Oregon's Marcus Mariota or UCLA's Brett Hundley, but this season the junior quarterback will be every bit as crucial to his team's success. If the Cardinal is going to win a third-straight Pac-12 title Hogan will have to play to the level of his highly-hyped peers.
— Andrus Peat, LT, 6-7, 312: Stanford had had an All-American offensive lineman every year since 2008. It's up to Peat to carry on the tradition.
— A.J. Tarpley, LB, 6-2, 238: Tarpley wasn't a household name last season like Skovy, Murphy and Reynolds, but he'll have a chance to be the man this year on what will likely be another good Stanford defense.
Strength: Wide Receivers. Hogan will have plenty of targets to choose from with senior Ty Montgomery leading the pack. Devon Cajuste is a big target and speedy sophomore Michael Rector averaged more than 30 yards per catch.
Weakness: Offensive line experience. The Cardinal has recruited well along the offensive line, and veterans such as David Yankey will be replaced by five-star prospects like Josh Garnett. Still, Stanford lost four starters from the unit that has provided much of the team's identity since Harbaugh took over.
Keep an eye on: The schedule. Stanford has a brutal road schedule this year, playing games at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA.