College football top 25 countdown: No. 1 Stanford

Two-time defending BCS champion Alabama may be the obvious No. 1 pick, but a strong case can be made for Stanford. So, here it is.

Kevin Hogan

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan returns for the Cardinal after going 5-0 as a starter in 2012. (Jae Hong / Associated Press / December 29, 2012)

Stanford has been No. 1 in invention, research, sunsets, marching bands (most despised) and several sports that are played in a pool.

But come on, seriously, football?

Think about it: Less than six years ago, Stanford was a 41-point underdog at USC and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

How could Stanford get from there to here?

Maybe things happen for a reason. Those following this rankings countdown the last 25 days know Texas A&M was set to be No. 1 until it was revealed that quarterback Johnny Manziel allegedly signed the rights away in some hotel room in Miami.

The uncertainty of an ongoing NCAA investigation and Manziel's eligibility made the pick too risky.

It got me to thinking that maybe this was the year to elevate a team with the best chance of winning the national title without going before the Committee on Infractions.

Look at the rest of this season's top five:

No. 2 Alabama has cleaned up nicely under Coach Nick Saban but is still not too many years removed from the Mike Price hiring fiasco, head-coach infidelity (Mike DuBose) and major probation.

No. 3 Ohio State had a coach who lied to the NCAA and was ineligible to play in a bowl game as recently as last season.

No. 4 Oregon is on NCAA probation because its last coach was hit with a "failure to monitor" charge that chased him all the way to the Philadelphia Eagles. Oregon is lucky the NCAA was so busy with its own internal dysfunction that it let the Ducks off easy.

No. 5 Georgia under Coach Mark Richt has a rap sheet longer than Rapunzel's hair. The latest Bulldog to run afoul was kicker Marshall Morgan, arrested in July for BUI — boating under the influence. Morgan will sit out the opener against Clemson along with other suspended teammates.

Stanford isn't perfect — star linebacker Shayne Skov was arrested for DUI last year — but the Cardinal has had a grittier edge since former coach Jim Harbaugh took over in 2007.

The Cardinal's astounding rise is traceable to one man and his mind-set: Harbaugh.

It was somewhat lucky Harbaugh even got to the Farm. He was minding his own business coaching I-AA ball at the University of San Diego when Stanford fired Walt Harris.

Harris had followed the disastrous tenure of Buddy Teevens, and a Bay Area columnist called me for names of coaches he might float.

I had recently talked to Harbaugh for an advance story on the epic Ohio State-Michigan game of 2006. Harbaugh had no secretary. He picked up the phone after one ring.

He was hardly a hot commodity, and had been passed over for the San Diego State job in favor of Chuck Long.

"Harbaugh," I recall telling my colleague. "He's a Michigan man but went to Palo Alto High. Stanford could do worse."

My friend floated Harbaugh's name and the rest is history.