So, let's get one thing clear. There's been a fair amount of chatter -- here's Matt Hinton's effort in Grantland for the well-written version (the not-so-well-written version is in a comment thread near you) -- informing you, the reader, that Stanford's time is over and done with and you can safely return to a world in which [perennial power here] is [perennial powering].
That may be so. What you, dear reader, and I both know is that we aren't soothsayers. But! Let me tell you something: the evidence is not so clear that Stanford is going to be done [powering]. Indeed, you can build a pretty reasonable case that Stanford, in fact, was just unlucky this year.
This was probably Stanford's worst injury season in a while, to get one thing out of the way. Dents to the defensive line were the place the team could least afford it, but losing Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery sure as heck didn't help either. (Among other things.)
But the case for poor luck is mostly statistical. My favorite simple stat is yards per play, and the differential between yours (on offense) and your opponent's. Stanford had a meh-but-not-terrible 5.89 yards per play on offense, and an excellent 4.21 surrendered on defense. That nets out to a +1.68 differential. That's basically in line with past years: +1.49 in 2013; +.8 in 2012; +1.35 in 2011; and +1.65 in 2010.
Even Stanford's 9.7 point differential isn't the worst in the world; the 2012 team was only +10.7. Teams with that kind of point differential don't usually go 10-2 and win their conference, like the 2012 team... but then again, they don't usually go 7-5 and frustrate the hell out of their fans, like the 2014 team either.
So what happened? Close-game prowess, to begin with. Stanford's 2012 performance -- 7-2 in one-score games -- sets the standard for unsustainable close-game prowess. By contrast, Stanford's 1-3 performance in 2014 was, well, mildly unlucky.
The numbers look less fortunate the deeper you go. Stanford was 123rd in the country in fumble recovery percentage, at 27.27%. It's hard to sustain performances that far out of the ordinary; we should expect a 50% recovery rate in a normal season.
No wonder the stat ranking systems like the team better than its fans do: Sagarin's predictor thinks Stanford's the 19th best team in the country. ESPN's FPI has the Cardinal as the 16th best team. F/+ thinks the team's 23rd in the country. The Power Rank has the team 23rd.
That's not to suggest the team and the coaches don't have major things to figure out. If we're being charitable, the offensive output has been inconsistent -- one elite year, one solid year, two blehhhh years. Original suggestion: what if that improved? I know, right.
But the foundation doesn't appear to be rotting or sinking. The structure is sound, but in need of some rehabilitation.