The Times’ college football countdown: No. 18 Stanford


Let’s dive right in: Is Stanford a program or a period piece?

The team’s remarkable success in recent years could be attributable to two men: Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh arrived unannounced in 2007 after the Walt Harris/Buddy Teevens coaching fiascoes and stuck it in thePac-10 Conference’s ear hole.

Stanford took on Harbaugh’s square-jawed combativeness, and the Cardinal turned into something it had never before been: feared.

Harbaugh’s first year yielded an all-time haymaker when, as a 41-point underdog, Stanford shocked USC at the Coliseum — with somebody named Tavita Pritchard at quarterback.

Stanford improved from 4-8 in 2007 to 5-7 in 2008 and flipped the switch in 2009, when Luck took over at quarterback. Two years later, Stanford stood at the brink of a national title and Harbaugh took his NFL heart to San Francisco.

David Shaw was promoted from within, but last year it was really Luck running things on autopilot in leading Stanford to the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck then became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. So it’s “good luck” from here on out.

Stanford has been left to fend against USC and Oregon without the best quarterback of his generation, two top-notch linemen and safeties.

Stanford is still Stanford, though, with this year’s novelty of distributing playbooks digitally via iPad. But it’s going to take more than brains to stay on top.

What we know: This year’s quarterback will be either Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes, neither of whom is Andrew Luck.

However, all the post-Luck indicators suggest Stanford has sustainability.

The first sign came in February, when the Cardinal scored a top-10 recruiting class. Phil Steele’s Magazine ranked Stanford’s haul behind only Florida State, USC, Alabama, Texas, and Ohio State.

Stanford, according to Steele, scored the Nos. 4 and 7 offensive linemen, Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett; the No. 8 tight end, Luke Kaumatule; the No. 8 running back, Barry Sanders Jr.; the No. 5 linebacker, Noor Davis; and the No. 10 defensive back, Alex Carter.

Stanford will remain a power team on offense and defense, which will welcome back linebacker Shayne Skov from a serious knee injury after he serves a one-game suspension for a very un-Stanford-like DUI.

The offense will hand more of a load to tailback Stepfan Taylor, whom Shaw calls “the most underrated running back in the nation.”

Stanford will continue to pound with its pro-style attack featuring fullbacks and tight ends. The Cardinal lost star tight end Coby Fleener, who joined Luck in Indianapolis, but returns Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.

Issues at receiver and on the offensive line need to be resolved. Stanford also lost its top two safeties, Michael Thomas and Delano Howell.

Stanford has two home games, San Jose State and Duke, to get its rotations set before USC comes to Palo Alto on Sept. 15.

USC, which did not lose its Heisman-contending quarterback, has lost four of its last five to Stanford and will be eager to avenge last year’s gut-wrenching defeat at the Coliseum.

The countdown so far: The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford.