In my last article, I mentioned how things have changed for Stanford Cardinal football in such a short amount of time and how one of the best things about sports is how you can go from flavor of the week to off the menu just like that.
Stanford starts their 2017 season in Australia playing a Rice Owls team that will probably be a really bad team again and with all due respect to Rice, the game could have been played on any continent and Stanford will probably win the game by at least 3 touchdowns. Now this is neither a knock against Rice nor a welcome mat for Stanford entering the national championship picture. This is just a look at how right now, Stanford is a team that is better than Rice and should play as such but it could change in the near future.
10 years ago, the college football landscape looked a little different than it does today and we will start with Stanford and Rice. Stanford was coming off a 1-11 year with talk that they could drop out of Division-I football. Rice was coming off of a bowl season and showed potential under 1st year head coach Todd Graham, now the head coach at Arizona State. Entering the 2007 season, both schools had new head coaches and while Rice was looking to add on from the previous season, Stanford was just hoping to look competitive nonetheless actually win games. See how crazy sports can be. If Stanford would have played Rice in 2006 or 2007, Rice may have been favored and to quote myself, “that game could have been played on any continent and Rice would have probably won.”
The 2007 season wasn’t just going to be a different year for those two programs but would go on to change the college football landscape as we know it. While it is still too early for the actual 2017 preseason AP Poll rankings, I will use the latest ESPN early rankings as a comparison to the 2007 preseason rankings. For starters, Alabama wasn’t ranked #1 nor ranked in the top-5. Alabama had 16 votes… Yes, 16 TOTAL votes. Alabama was coming off of a 6-7 year, now 0-7 in the record books and had hired some guy named Nick Saban to lead them into the 2007 season.
The pride of the SEC was down in Gainesville where Florida was coming into the 2007 season as the reigning national champions lead by now Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and game-changing, position changing quarterback Tim Tebow. Fast forward 10 years and Florida, who was once a title contender is now a decent program that would best be described as underachieving and Ohio State has taken over with Urban Meyer winning at least 11 games every year and has 1 National Championship in Columbus.
Speaking of Florida, let’s look at their rivals in Tallahassee. Bobby Bowden was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career and while he wouldn’t win another conference championship after 2005, he did something in 2007 that lingers in a big way today. He hired a coach out of LSU to take on the same role of offensive coordinator at FSU. That coach was Jimbo Fisher who was handpicked as Bowden’s replacement when he stepped down. Fisher would not only take over as head coach but won a National Championship in 2014.
We’ve mentioned numerous powerhouses in 2017 that were decent at best in 2007 but one of the only teams that were ranked in the preseason 2007 poll and the current ESPN early rankings is none other than the USC Trojans. USC enters the 2017 season the same way they did the 2007 season and that is a top-5 team coming off of a Rose Bowl victory. For everything that Alabama is in 2017, USC was 10 years ago as they won 59 games from 2002-2006.
2007 looked to be no different for USC. That was the truth up until October 6th, 2007 and for those who are still reading, you know what is about to happen next. Stanford came into the game as 41-point underdogs and some said it should have been higher. Stanford had lost 16 of their previous 19 games and hadn’t beaten a ranked team in 5 years nonetheless USC, who was the team of the decade.
Stanford was led by new head coach Jim Harbaugh who at the time, was tame by his standards but came into his Stanford coaching career with two famous remarks. The first was to bring “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” The second was challenging USC. At that time, it wasn’t even noteworthy as much as funny that someone would dare challenge USC publicly, especially from a school that was on the verge of playing a less competitive brand of football. Well, those words that Harbaugh said would be something that would play out as fact as Stanford went on to upset USC 24-23.
Stanford would only go on to win 8 more games total in the next two years but Stanford showed they were going to be a team to reckon with in the near future and for USC, it showed they were mortal. While Harbaugh would go on to leave Stanford after building something special, that 2007 offensive coordinator would eventually be promoted to head coach and his name was David Shaw. Since Shaw has taken over, Stanford has won 64 games and has gone to the Rose Bowl 3 times.
So I say to you, if you are not a good team, things will eventually get better. If you are a championship team, enjoy the ride. Stanford football is going through a football fantasy right now and it might change in the blink of an eye. Remember, in 2007, Cal was ranked #2 and would have moved up to #1 had they beaten Oregon State and Hawaii was ranked.