Taylor: Fearing a Stanford football letdown

May 27, 2013, 7:43 p.m.

I have to admit it’s been a good week. I also have to hold up my hands and be honest that sports hasn’t really been on my radar for the last few days, so I hope you’ll forgive me for straying a little bit from the subject.

On Friday I faced one of the hardest challenges of my time here at Stanford, something that would decide whether or not I’d leave this place with another handful of letters to my name — my Ph.D. defense.

Logically, I should have walked into that room calm as can be. My academic advisor wouldn’t have even let me think about defending if I wasn’t guaranteed to walk out victorious. But faced with a panel of six professors about to unleash all manner of hellishly technical questions, I defy anyone not to feel at least a little bit anxious.

Fortunately, though, it all went more or less to plan. A couple of hours later, after being temporarily ushered out of the room while a decision was made, my advisor happily informed me that I’d passed.

I should have been elated, ecstatic, running crazily around campus in celebration, but my overriding emotion was just relief. I was happy, sure, but mostly just relieved.

Because the expectation of success was so high, passing didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary — though failure, of course, would have been catastrophic. That is not to say that I was guaranteed to pass — people do fail — but the deck was heavily stacked in my favor. Not only did I get to schedule the defense only once I felt ready, but I also got to pick the panel that would judge me.

Turning my attention back to sports, all reports so far seem to suggest that next year Stanford football could be similarly favored. Ranked perhaps as highly as No. 2 in the preseason, the Cardinal could be in a position to make a serious run for the national title, while a worst-case-scenario consolation Rose Bowl trophy should be guaranteed. Right?

I can’t be the only ex-student — or soon-to-be ex-student — who has already thought about this, who has at least tentatively ensured that they have no major conflicts scheduled for early next January and perhaps has mentioned to friends who will still be students to keep them in mind for any spare tickets.

How quickly we’ve moved on. Just a few short years ago, even the thought of BCS bowl defeat would have been a dream. Now, at or near the height of its powers, we fans demand far more of Stanford football. Anything less than an appearance in Pasadena next January — the site of both the Rose Bowl Game and BCS National Championship Game next year — would be a gut-wrenching failure.

The expectation for success is now so high, not just because the football program in general has raised its stature and ability to recruit new talent, but because it is also returning so many key players from last year’s defensive line. It also faces an impressive end-of-season run-in that, should the Cardinal go undefeated, will guarantee the sort of national respect usually reserved exclusively for SEC teams. Perhaps rising junior Kevin Hogan isn’t Andrew Luck ’12, perhaps head coach David Shaw isn’t Jim Harbaugh; perhaps none of that matters. The deck is stacked, or at least as stacked as it’s ever going to be for this little non-football school.

But knowing all of that, how on earth are we expected to enjoy next year?

One day soon — probably far sooner than we’d like — the tables will be turned. Our nemesis from across the Bay will get some payback, those schools down in SoCal will eventually break their curse, and then there is that burning yellow-on-green Eye of Sauron glaring menacingly down at us from the North.

The aim for next year isn’t to go out and surprise people by winning contests. Stanford isn’t expected to win but to find some way not to lose a single one — the Cardinal is expected to win them all, at least until the end of the regular season. It will be a game of survival as all the many Davids try and take down this Goliath.

And if it escapes to the National Championship Game unscathed, my overriding emotion will be relief.

Stanford football has survived the loss of Toby Gerhart, Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck, but can it survive the departure of Tom Taylor? Try to convince Tom to stay at tom.taylor ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.

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