In a way, the preseason is the most hopeful time of year for most college football fans. Call it optimism, call it willful ignorance, call it whatever you will — but for the time being, while every team in the country is still undefeated, it’s easy for fans to have confidence in their teams’ perceived strengths and to assume the best-case scenarios regarding their weaknesses.
But for most of those fans, it’s all downhill from here. After all, every week sees half of the teams in the country lose.
A lot of fan bases can reasonably expect to know where on the ladder their teams will realistically fall during the course of a season, but going into 2015, Stanford is shrouded in a lot of tantalizing mystery.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the inconsistency of the past continued and Stanford finished 8-5 again. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it all finally came together and Stanford ran the table and won the national title.
After last season, the nation was quick to preach Stanford’s downfall and assume that Jim Harbaugh’s success was finally starting to wear off — just a couple of years later than everyone expected. If the Cardinal have another down season, the naysayers’ voices will re-double and more Stanford fans will likely join the fray.
I’m here to tell you not to fall into that trap — whether or not Stanford has a successful 2015.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: The Stanford program isn’t fading away any time soon.
The foundation for Stanford’s continued success starts and ends with the coaching staff; even as players shuffle through in five-year cycles, the coaches are the constants that hold the program down. And luckily for Stanford, it has one of the most talented and proven staffs in the nation to lean on moving forward.
I firmly believe that David Shaw is committed to the Cardinal for the long term, and unlike many, I think that’s a huge blessing. Whereas programs like Oregon State, Washington and USC have had to adjust their systems and styles to match the whims of new coaching hires, there’s no question of what Stanford’s team will look like year after year after year.
Consistency in a system means that younger players will never have to trash everything that they’ve learned while on the bench waiting for their turn to match the style of a new hire. It means that for whoever Stanford loses, there will always be a man to step up that’s familiar with the system and the goals of the program.
That consistency also shows recruits that Stanford is a destination program for a proven coach like Shaw and not just another stop with higher aspirations in mind. It shows those recruits that these coaches and players all want to be on The Farm and part of a program that has established a winning culture with all of the pieces that are still in place.
It also helps that Shaw’s assistants all fully buy into Shaw’s style of football and have proven to be exceptional at developing collegiate talent, regardless of the pieces that they have to work with.
And those pieces are only getting better and better.
Stanford’s success over the last few seasons was built on the blood, sweat and tears of two-star and three-star recruits, with the occasional four-star guys that came along to headline a recruiting class.
That shows that Stanford’s success was predicated not on incredible physical talent or star performances, but on a fundamental system and smart play on the field. Stanford’s coaches have gotten incredibly good at squeezing every last ounce of potential from their players and fitting them into a plug-and-play system, particularly on defense, that’s stood the test of time (and hordes of frustrated Pac-12 offenses).
Now, those two-star and three-star recruits have been replaced by four-star and five-star recruits. Stanford’s 2015 class brought one of the most ridiculously loaded defensive back classes in school history, and the 2016 class is already shaping up to be, by far, the best in program history.
That’s not an anomaly. Success turns heads; sustained success starts a paradigm shift. Recruits don’t just come to Stanford because they “value their education” or “life after football” anymore — they also come because they can play for an elite football team and compete for a national title year after year.
And for those that come play their college ball on The Farm, the pro-style system that Stanford runs and the physical mentality that is ingrained in the players translates to the NFL perfectly. That’s a good reason why Stanford, despite its lofty admission and recruiting standards, is third in the Pac-12 and 14th in the nation in number of active NFL players.
If they don’t go to the NFL, players still get a friggin’ Stanford diploma as a consolation prize.
It’s not exactly a hard sell. And Stanford’s coaches are excellent salesmen.
Is it tough, as a coach, to say no to some talented players because they can’t meet admissions standards at a school like Stanford? Absolutely. That’s part of why Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL and why Gary Andersen got frustrated with the head coaching gig at Wisconsin. But as a Stanford man, Shaw has much more patience for that standard — he himself had to adhere to it when he played on The Farm, after all.
And while that standard may have been a problem before, for every player Stanford now has to turn away, there are two or three more to take his place.
Now that Stanford is firmly on the radar, for as long as it can maintain even a moderate level of success, there’s no reason Stanford won’t keep reloading its big, bad intellectual brutality juggernaut machine of doom.
Stanford could lose a few games in 2015. It probably will. Kevin Hogan could fail to live up to his potential in a few crucial games. He probably will. The defense could be a question mark and get gashed a few times. It… maybe will. David Shaw could punt from the opposing 35-yard line a handful of times. He definitely will.
It’s okay to get frustrated by those things at the time, but never lose sight of the big picture. Every failure that Stanford sees from here on, no matter how big it may seem at the time, is just a blip on the radar.
No matter what happens, the Cardinal’s big, bad intellectual brutality juggernaut machine of doom will keep chugging on.
After years of carrying The Daily as a former two-star recruit from Minnesota, Do-Hyoung Park must now fight for his job amidst the swarm of five-star recruits now taking over The Daily. To offer Do suggestions on how to keep his job, contact him at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu and bug him on Twitter @dohyoungpark.