It has finally happened. I’ve gone off the deep end. Someone should lock me up and throw away the key. I’ve been thinking about this 2011 Stanford Cardinal football team, and I’ve realized something terrifying: this Stanford team reminds me of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Yes, I’m well aware that the 2001 Hurricanes are widely recognized as the greatest team in college football history. Yes, I’m also aware that “The U” was essentially an unstoppable force in the early 2000s. But hear me out.
In the process of sifting through a million different Pac-12 season previews this summer, it appeared to me that college football experts had developed a consensus on the Cardinal. Almost everyone thought Stanford would be good (but not great) and that the departure of Jim Harbaugh would take away that extra edge that helped push Stanford to its first BCS bowl win last year. But that didn’t seem quite right to me. And then it dawned on me: this Stanford squad bears a strong resemblance to the best team in college football history. Just how did I come to that conclusion? Let’s list off the reasons.
First, let’s start with the coaches. After the 2000 season, Hurricanes head coach Butch Davis left to take over the Cleveland Browns. This paved the way for his mild-mannered offensive coordinator, Larry Coker, to take the reins. When Harbaugh left to take over the 49ers this summer, the Cardinal thought about making a big splash, but eventually hired David Shaw, the cool and collected offensive coordinator. There’s an obvious parallel here, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. So why else would the 2011 Card evoke the 2001 Canes?
Next, let’s look at the previous season. In 2000, Miami lost to Washington in Seattle in week 2, then crushed every single opponent left on their its schedule, with the only close game coming in a 27-24 win over Florida State. The Canes got an invite to the Sugar Bowl–their first BCS bowl since 1995–and beat Florida 37-20. In 2010, Stanford had an early loss to Oregon in Eugene, and then dominated every single opponent left on the schedule except for a last-second win over USC and a 17-14 win over Arizona State. Stanford was invited to the Orange Bowl and handily defeated Virginia Tech, 40-12. Okay, sure, both teams were good, but just because the 2001 Hurricanes won the national title doesn’t mean that Stanford will do the same. So what else?
Look at the talent both teams have as returning starters. The Hurricanes had the most talented team in college football history, period. They had 10–10!–first-round picks from that one team. But don’t just look at who was on that team–look at what positions they played. The Canes brought back their quarterback, wide receiver, top two running backs, left tackle, tight end, top two safeties and top two linebackers. In order, that’s Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams. The level of talent is mind-blowing.
But take a step back and you’ll notice that the 2011 Cardinal returns starters at all of the same positions. In order, the list goes: Andrew Luck, Chris Owusu, Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson, Jonathan Martin, Coby Fleener, Delano Howell, Michael Thomas, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov. I understand that it’s ridiculous to compare these guys to future NFL Hall of Famers like Ed Reed and Andre Johnson. But the fact that the Cardinal has returning starters from a 12-1 team at these critical positions must mean something–particularly if the best college football team ever returned players in all the same places.
So there you have it. I’ve laid my sanity out on the line. If Stanford flops and loses every single game from here on out, I’ll look like a fool for writing this column. But it’s okay–I know I can handle the criticism. Just like former Hurricane Kellen Winslow, I’m a freaking soldier.
Jack Blanchat wrote to us from his bed at St. Mungo’s Hospital, where he has been ever since he lost his mind last January at the Orange Bowl. If you’d like to send him an electronic card to lift his spirits, hit him up at blanchat”at”stanford.edu or follow his twitter handle, jmblanchat.