Posted 7:30 AM, November 28, 2015 - Last year was just the beginning. Five losses a year are the new paradigm for Stanford football.
While some along the Peninsula might remember the lean years before Harbaugh and Luck and be pleased with the fact that the Stanford Cardinal - yes, little Stanford - is going to a bowl game once again, from my perspective, it's a shame to see a program that reached so high just a few years ago settle into the morassy middle of college football.
That was the case again on Saturday, when Malik Zaire and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish zipped and zagged their way over and across the field, humiliating the Cardinal at home to the tune of a 38-13 defeat.
Zaire, the electric junior with a smile that comes only when you've got one arm wrapped around the Heisman and Notre Dame a lock for the College Football Playoff, couldn't stop grinning on Saturday when he outclassed Kevin Hogan in the redshirt senior's final home game.
Maybe he deserves praise for dragging a half-dead team across the finish line, but indeed, it's been a lost year for Hogan. The QB returned to the Farm with hopes of winning his 3rd conference title, but could never build off the success he had at the end of the 2014 season. Plagued by inaccuracy and struggling with nicks and bruises from an offensive line that couldn't keep him upright, it's safe to say that Hogan started every game this season only because he took program to two Rose Bowls as a freshman and sophomore. Perhaps the future of the quarterback position is brighter for the Cardinal - the fans have been calling for a swap for half the season now.
However, Hogan's all-too-frequent issues won't obscure what really went wrong for Stanford this year - a program built on defense inexplicably forgot how to play it. Lance Anderson realized when he lost 9 starters a year ago that he had a young defense - but I'm certain he didn't realize how outmatched they'd be by the Pac-12, batting a bevy of offenses that stressed them to the limit every single game.
The writing was on the wall in game three, when the defense was utterly unprepared for USC. Adoree Jackson might still be running loose. The band might still be playing the salute to Troy. I heard ringing it in my head for a week after the game, an uptick from the usual two days. The 17-point win wasn't as close as the score, and the Trojans appeared to draw their confidence from that game en route to winning the Pac-12 south.
It was much the same story against Arizona's Anu Solomon - and surprisingly, UCLA's Josh Rosen - in a pair of humiliating home losses that were the real death knell of the season. The triad of miserable home games continued when Oregon ran roughshod over the Cardinal again - how can a team in your own division be so much better than you? - and shouted to the world that the Ducks are definitively the class of the Pac-12 North. It must be nice to have an offensive system where anyone can come in and look like Bo Jackson.
The only reprieve (if you can call it that) was a two-point win over Cal at home. The Bears took the Cardinal to late in the 4th quarter, a positive sign for the boys in Berkeley, but it was an unenjoyable slog to a gross win for the young men wearing red. You don't have to be a Wall Street trader to see that the Bears arrow is trending up, while the Cardinal's is trending down. I'd set aside a few dollars to bet on Jared Goff returning to take back the Axe in Berkeley next season.
For Stanford now, it's on to 2016 - and the Foster Farms bowl again, perhaps - but even if Hogan is able to lead the team to a win, you have to wonder what it all means. "It means nothing" is too harsh an assessment. But from my perspective, it means that Stanford should get used to this line of living. The college football pecking order eventually comes to correct everything, and it appears Stanford is more Icarus than a 747.