Radoff: Why Stanford football will be fine

April 21, 2015, 11:36 p.m.

“The reports of Stanford football’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

If Mark Twain were still around, he totally would have been a devout Cardinal football fan, just as I’m sure he never would have tired of re-appropriating a now-cliched quote. As long as I’m being delusional, he would have spent his time mercilessly bashing the modern state of young adult literature. (Who doesn’t want to see a Hunger Games/Huckleberry Finn crossover?) Still, it makes for a pretty good setup, right?

Fine, here’s a real one:

“I’m not sure if Stanford will enjoy the combination of player and coaching talent that Harbaugh brought with him ever again.”

That would be one of my colleagues here at The Daily, and he is certainly not alone in his sentiments. There was a feeling after last season that the ascendancy of Stanford football that began under Jim Harbaugh (or the Harbump) was coming to an end.

A fear born of 1-11 seasons and the void left by one American hero by the name of Andrew Luck pervaded the fanbase — a fear that the program would make a slow descent into a mediocrity that would not even merit ridicule, because at least a 1-11 record was entertaining in its own perverse way. Instead, we would be subjected to a middling team that was stuck in college football purgatory: good enough to make a decent bowl game every year, but never to make it into the playoffs. Good enough to merit hope, but never bad enough to precipitate a regime change.

I could go on about how you should be happy about an 8-5 season and how lucky we are to have escaped from under the rock at the bottom of the Pac-12, but I won’t.

First of all, because I may have already done that. But mostly because even I don’t really believe that anymore.

You, as fans, should expect more.

You don’t spend years building something just to tear it down again moments later, especially at Stanford. Sure, you may say: “Stanford is doing that as we speak; they throw up buildings just to tear them down like every year.”

To which my response is: “Good point; maybe the building analogy is a bad one.”

Still, though, it takes a lot to get to the top of college football, and I submit that Stanford’s ascension rivals that of the Ducks’ coming up on a decade now. If you want another parallel, look no further than Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M, which just endured its worst season in Sumlin’s three-year tenure. Its record? 8-5. I fully expect A&M to make a comeback, especially given its recent recruiting track record and its star quarterback in the making, Kyle Allen.

However, if I were betting on which team was going to be more successful over the course of the next decade, my choice would be Stanford.

This may be madness, but there is a method to it. (Mark Twain and Shakespeare!)

I will briefly cite the intangible allure of California, the Bay Area in particular and of the all-around classiness and beauty of Stanford’s campus. That has and will continue to be a constant draw for those considering Stanford.

Then, there are the matters of Stanford’s status as one of the three best learning institutions in the world and prospective athletes’ increasing awareness that making it in the NFL is almost an impossibility and perhaps not worth the risk.

The biggest reason of all, however, is the staff surrounding the program itself. David Shaw will never be Jim Harbaugh, and honestly, that would be pretty weird given the fact that they are nothing alike. He is not going to get in a fistfight with Pete Carroll, as much as I would love for that to happen. He is not concerned with what others have to say about him, nor is he concerned with putting himself on a pedestal. He is concerned with greatness, and surrounding him is a coaching staff that has NFL general managers hovering like buzzards. We as fans should be equally unconcerned with last year’s season.

For some reason, we continue to take shots at Coach Shaw and his incredible staff. And for some reason, we’re infuriated when he says he isn’t really concerned with the negativity.

One of the biggest criticisms of Coach Shaw is that he is so, well, even-keeled. He doesn’t react in the same way we would imagine Jim Harbaugh to react. Just look where that particular brand of insanity, which I love, by the way, landed him. Behind Coach Shaw there are brilliant minds like defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and legendary defensive backs coach Duane Akina.

As long as Coach Shaw is here, the names may change but the quality will remain the same.

If you are still not convinced, I turn your attention to the number one way that college futures are graded: recruiting. Stanford has one of the best starts to its recruiting in years. Already Stanford has picked five recruits and has the 18th rated recruiting class (scout.com), one that ranks ahead of the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Michigan. The class includes the best quarterback in California and the 55th rated player overall, K.J. Costello, the sixth best outside linebacker in the country (51 overall) Curtis Robinson, the 38th best corner in the country Nygel Edmonds, and the 45th best defensive tackle in the country Bo Peek. Oh, and the number one tight end in the nation (Kaden Smith). Again.

The complaints and worries are legitimate. The last Rose Bowl run, with all respect to Kevin Hogan, came on the back of Tyler Gaffney, the offensive line and the defense. Watching the offense run the exact same trap-power play to either side of the box against Michigan St. was one of the toughest games I’ve ever watched. Seriously, if you see two safeties in the box and you are already running against one of the best defenses in the country, you are doing something very, very wrong.

That does need to change. Good coaches make adjustments. Insane people do the same thing expecting different results. If that continues to be the case, you have my permission to panic.

Given the brief window into the new offense during the Cardinal and White Game and the promising personnel specific adjustments made towards the end of last year, I believe that offensive creativity will not be an issue in the future.

I am not saying that next year Stanford will be in the college football playoffs. There are far too many moving parts for that. I am saying there is a chance. Not a Tennessee chance, but a contender’s chance and that is all you can ask for. Perhaps the question that I should be asking is if Silicon Valley is deserving of Stanford football.

There are fan bases that would literally kill, not an exaggeration, to have a team of Stanford’s caliber. There are no bad games this coming year on Stanford’s schedule. Every single game is against an opponent capable of beating Stanford. Fans, to use the term loosely, should be clamoring for a chance to watch them play. Instead, the Cardinal are forced to play in front of half-empty bleachers. The student section, without any resistance, has annexed a third of the stadium and the rest seems to be filled with fans of the opposition.

For a point of reference, there were about 100,000 people at Ohio St.’s spring game. Ok, they just won the national title, maybe a bad example. Let’s take Nebraska instead: over 78,000.

That’s not even for competitive football.

Fans have the power to aid in a program’s success simply by showing up for games. It helps with recruiting, it creates homefield advantage. That is what is so fantastic about supporting a team, you actually get the chance to influence the game. So one last quote for the road, this time Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.

For more Wednesday morning philosophy, contact Nic Radoff at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nic Radoff '15 is now officially from Oakland and is a proud to be a history major and a Latin-American studies minor. Nic was a staff writer for women's soccer and follows football extensively, whether his editors let him write about it or not. He is a proud member of the men's club lacrosse team and invites you all to come watch most Saturdays, even though you might not see him on the field much. He enjoys spending time with his family, hiking with his husky Artoo, lamenting his A's and maintaining that things get better with age.

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