It’s hard to believe, but we’ve reached the end of another regular season of Stanford football. Here’s Stat on the Back’s take on the Cardinal’s final game of 2011.
Number of the game: 11
What it means: For the second consecutive year, Stanford won 11 games in the regular season.
Why it matters: The Cardinal’s 11-1 record opens up great BCS possibilities, but we’ll get to that later. In the big picture, this season (like last season) will go down as one of the greatest in school history. From 1892 through 2009, Stanford football never won more than 10 games in a season. Now, the Cardinal has won at least 11 games in back-to-back years.
Some people may point out that teams play more games now than they used to. This is true, but it doesn’t make this season any less historic. Until last year, no Stanford team had lost fewer than two games since the 1940 team went 10-0. (You know, the 1940 season when the AP Poll ranked exactly 19 teams, including current powerhouses Santa Clara, Fordham, Georgetown, Penn, Cornell, Lafayette and, of course, Hardin-Simmons. Let’s just say the college football world has changed a little since then.)
Back-to-back 11-1 regular seasons are incredible for any team, but for Stanford they are downright unbelievable. Consider that in the not-so-distant past (as in a few years ago), the Cardinal went seven straight years without getting even halfway to an 11-win season. This team has a great deal of potential, but with the quality of talent leaving after this season, who knows when the program will ever ascend to these heights again? Alas, that is a question for a later day.
Other notable numbers:
4: This is the big number as far as this year’s team is concerned. In this week’s BCS standings, the Cardinal jumped over Virginia Tech to place in the all-important No. 4 slot. Per BCS rules, any team that finishes in the top four of the final BCS standings is guaranteed an at-large bid to a BCS bowl.
All indications are that Stanford would make a BCS bowl no matter what, but now it appears a certainty. The only way the Cardinal could be left out now is if a team passes Stanford next week, and the Cardinal’s lead over Virginia Tech is .0748, which is fairly large by BCS standards. In other words, expect to see Stanford playing in early January, likely against Oklahoma or Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
But enough of the big picture. Saturday night provided plenty of numbers of its own as the Cardinal beat Notre Dame 28-14.
80: Okay, so this is another somewhat big-picture number, but it came to fruition during Saturday’s game. Andrew Luck, in what was likely his final collegiate home game, threw four touchdown passes against the Fighting Irish. Apart from helping to win the game, the TD passes allowed Luck to break two school records. The four TDs gave Luck 35 for the season, breaking his own school record of 32 from last season.
More significantly, though, Luck broke John Elway’s school record of 77 career touchdown passes. In typical Luck fashion, he shattered the record, tallying his 80th touchdown pass with a 55-yard bomb to Coby Fleener. Whereas Elway played all four years on the Farm, Luck will leave after three, but he may still go down as the greatest quarterback in Stanford history. This says quite a lot considering the achievements of Elway and Jim Plunkett, who remains Stanford’s only Heisman winner. It’ll be up to voters to decide if that will still be the case two weeks from now.
10: The aforementioned 80th touchdown was fitting in another sense, because it went to a tight end. Three of the four touchdowns on Saturday went to tight ends, including a pair to Fleener. After starting the year as just one member of the outstanding trio of tight ends, Fleener has cemented himself as one of the best in the nation. Stanford fans got a glimpse of his talent in the Orange Bowl, when he hauled in three touchdowns, and he’s only grown from there. Fleener’s 10 touchdowns this season are the most for any tight end in the nation, and he has assumed the role of big-play threat in the Stanford offense.
1.8: The Stanford rush defense began the year on fire, but the second half of the year hasn’t treated the Cardinal run D well. On Saturday, though, the Fighting Irish were stymied on the ground, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry on 31 carries. The pass rush helped that number in a big way, as the Cardinal sacked Notre Dame’s quarterbacks five times.
23: Saturday was all about the Stanford seniors, and in the end, it really was all about them. David Shaw and the coaching staff elected to have all 23 fourth-year and fifth-year seniors honored during pre-game, and many of them had major contributions in the game, from Luck to Fleener to Chase Thomas to Michael Thomas to Matt Masifilo to Corey Gatewood…the list goes on and on. These seniors helped the Cardinal escape the seven-year bowl drought to become one of the nation’s elite teams, and they have gone 23-2 in their past two years.
Thanks and congratulations to Stanford’s seniors. We’ll see you in January.
Jacob Jaffe is hoping to get an invitation to New York as a Heisman finalist after some outstanding play as a nose tackle and offensive guard in the Ink Bowl. If you’d like to voice your support for Jacob, email him at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.