Stanford University is undeniably one of the best educational institutions in the world. That point is not opinion but fact. President Herbert Hoover went to Stanford. Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court graduated from Stanford. Heck, even Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two people that you will probably Google while reading this went to Stanford; they created Google. I could go on and on about what Stanford has done from an academic standpoint and most people would agree.
So why then, does a school so renowned for its academics get tossed aside when athletics come into the equation? Stanford is one of the best places for academics AND athletics in America. Stanford's 107 Division 1 National Titles ranks second only to UCLA (112). In fact, the last season that Stanford didn't hold at least 1 national title in a calendar year was 1975, which is also a record for longest streak during which a school won at least one national title per year. So again, why does Stanford get the treatment they do from an athletic point of view, especially in the most marketable sport in college which is football? Now don't get me wrong, Stanford football is nowhere near the upper-echelons of the football world with schools like Alabama and Ohio State or even Notre Dame but again, they shouldn't be tossed aside. They should actually be revered as a new-age college football program that can win on the national stage with its hands tied behind its back.
Stanford football has had its shares of ups and downs but this new-age Stanford football program actually looks like the program from 1924-1940. It wasn't always pretty as Stanford had a 3-year span where they went 3-12-3 but that doesn't explain that era. Stanford went 116-42-15 in those 16 years with a .636 winning percentage in conference. 7 of those seasons, Stanford had won the conference. Stanford had 7 Rose Bowl appearances and went 3-3-1 in those games. In 1926 and 1940, Stanford was crowned a National Champion. It has been a long time but Stanford has been the cream of the crop before; it's just been almost 100 years.
After the 1940 season, Stanford and the "Wow Boys" would forever be immortalized as one of the best teams to ever play but that historical team would not be enough to keep Stanford a football powerhouse. From 1941-2001, Stanford would go on to win the conference only 5 times and appear in the Rose Bowl 4 times with a 2-2 record. From 1924-1940, Stanford won 8 or more games nine times. In the next 60 years, Stanford accomplished that total TEN times. Stanford turned into a program where it would be nice to win but the mentality became "let's try our best and see what happens." From 2002-2006, Stanford would endure one of the worst stretches in school history that made Stanford contemplate removing itself as a Division 1 program.
In 2007, as Stanford was getting made fun of all over the country, one man decided to make Stanford football his personal introduction to the coaching world. That man was Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh instilled a mentality in the players that had not been seen in a long time and the way that Stanford played had not been seen since that sixteen-year stretch from 1924-1940. Harbaugh may have only guided Stanford to 9 victories in his first two seasons but everyone associated with the program felt he had done so much more. As 2009 rolled around, Stanford actually came into the season with hopes. Those hopes didn't include national title aspirations like Alabama or Ohio State but hopes of winning again. 8 or 9 wins would be something new and it was great for a program that just was a few years removed from winning 1 game and possibly leaving Division 1 altogether.
Enter the dawn of the new and improved Stanford football program that currently ranks among the upper-echelons this decade with Alabama and Ohio State. Alabama has 58 wins and Ohio State has 44 (12 vacated) while Stanford has 54. Stanford is doing that while maintaining its academic standards. Last year, Stanford only accepted 5% of its applicants and only 1% of those students had lower than a 3.7 GPA. That is the ENTIRE SCHOOL, not just football. Stanford doesn't have a national championship nor have they had a chance to play for one like Alabama or Ohio State but they have 2 conference championships in that 5-year stretch with 4 consecutive BCS appearances; only four programs across all of FBS have achieved four consecutive BCS bowls: Stanford, Ohio State, USC, and Miami. That may sound like a normal stretch or should I say "expected" for a "big-time" school but for Stanford, it is a huge deal. It's time to start respecting Stanford as a football program. During this run from 2007-2014, Stanford has gone 71-33 with a .680 winning percentage in conference.
Stanford came into 2015 trying to prove 2014 was a fluke and they lost. Stanford was written off well before Alabama or Ohio State even played their first game. Fast forward and Stanford sits in the same spot they were in the preseason with their 3 biggest games to end the season at home with a chance to clinch the conference and a potential playoff berth. Stanford plays Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame. None of those teams have love for Stanford and you can bet Stanford has no love for them. While Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame sit in the top 4 of the current rankings, Stanford has to once again prove that this run they are on isn't a fluke. Stanford won't get the recognition they deserve by sweeping those teams along with a potential conference championship but putting Stanford into the College Football Playoff with a 12-1 record would be a start. Stanford needed a wake-up call in 1925 and 1939 before their eventual national championship runs a year later. Maybe 2014 and the Northwestern game was the wake-up call that Stanford needed as a program to prove that in the 21st century, Stanford isn't just home to the best students in the world but home to a football powerhouse. So why not Stanford?