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Chris Dufresne’s preseason college football top 25: No. 19 Stanford

The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 19 Stanford

It was the best unscripted televised moment of 2009.

“What’s your deal?” Pete Carroll barked at Jim Harbaugh on the field after Stanford walloped USC, 55-21, at the Coliseum.

“What’s your deal?” Harbaugh barked back.

Now we know at least the half of it.

Carroll’s deal turned out to be five years with the Seattle Seahawks worth at least $6 million annually.

We still don’t know what Harbaugh’s deal is at Stanford. He may milk the Farm for another year or two, or soon join Carroll in the NFL. Or, maybe Harbaugh waits to see how many more missteps Rich Rodriguez can survive at Michigan.

Harbaugh is at Stanford for now — and the league is better for it. His 17-20 record in three years doesn’t begin to take measure of the man. Harbaugh has turned out to be a very good coach and honest to a fault. Unlike Nick Saban at Alabama, Harbaugh doesn’t say one thing in Miami one week and another thing in Alabama the next.

If Stanford turns out to be a stepping stone, Stanford should be glad Harbaugh stepped there considering the order he restored to the program. No one should begrudge him a fatter paycheck or a secure horizon.

Tyrone Willingham is the coach who should have never left Stanford, not Harbaugh.

His boots are rooted in the NFL and he’s brought a professional mentality to a program that historically was represented — and often misrepresented — as cushy intellectual.

If Stanford follows last year’s 8-5 record and tie for second in the Pacific 10 Conference with a similar season, Harbaugh might be gone.

“I answer questions as they come,” Harbaugh said at Pac-10 media day at the Rose Bowl. “Can I say that I will be the head coach of Stanford for life? I cannot say that. If the creek don’t rise, I will be. But you never know.”

Stanford should be good for as long as Harbaugh stays around. The Cardinal’s preseason ranking, one spot ahead of USC, is not offered as an attention-grabber.

New rule: Stanford should be ranked ahead of USC most times the Cardinal defeats the Trojans two times in any three-year period.

Does Stanford have issues?

Sure. It lost a Goliath in Toby Gerhart, last year’s runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Losing a wrecking-ball player of his caliber is like losing a leg off a stool.

Stanford returns nine players on offense, though, including quarterback Andrew Luck, a future top-10 NFL pick who figures to pick up more of the workload.

The Cardinal also boasts one of all-time retro players in Owen Marecic, who is going to play fullback — and middle linebacker.

Other teams just don’t do that.

“But other teams don’t have a guy like Owen Marecic,” Harbaugh said.

The schedule?

It all starts Sept. 4 at home against Sacramento State.

OK, it really starts the next week at UCLA.

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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