I’m an optimist. Don’t be believe me? Before the season began, I was fantasizing about a National Championship. I also said that with the talent we have, 7-5 would be a terrible year. Now I’m starting to believe that the only way we make it to 7-5 is if every team on Stanford’s remaining schedule fails to show up. Yes, Stanford has gone 2-1 in its last three games with an upset over #15 Washington. But I’m feeling even worse about the team now than I did after our loss to Oregon.
The football program is in shambles. Before the season, I worried that a bad season would signal the end of Stanford’s reign over college football. Now I know the reign is over. Stanford football is an average program at best, and we’re trending toward rock bottom.
During the off-season, Shannon Turley was mysteriously fired by Stanford—even after keeping our players healthy and hungry year after year. Without Turley, Stanford is becoming increasingly depleted, without the depth to replace our injured talent. Against UCLA, we had our third-string quarterback and six total offensive linemen available. Some might excuse this as a “down year,” but if we remained consistently healthy for the past decade—and suddenly aren’t now—maybe we should find somebody who can keep the team healthy?
The worst part, though, is the part I never saw coming. I never thought David Shaw would be part of Stanford football’s downfall. I once was worried that Stanford’s downfall would come after Shaw left for the NFL—leaving us to look back on how we lost the best football coach in Stanford history. Never in a million years did I imagine that Shaw would be at the helm as things fell apart.
Between Shaw and Tavita Pritchard, I don’t know who the real offensive play caller is. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Either way, the offense isn’t getting its job done—and it’s not just because of injuries; the offense hasn’t gotten its job done in quite some time. It’s becoming clearer than ever before that we need a new offensive coordinator who can bring fresh ideas to the Stanford offense.
Our player development has continued to fall off the deep end. As we’ve gone deeper into Stanford’s depth chart, it’s becoming more apparent that our talent isn’t developing. Jack West came to Stanford ranked nationally in the top ten of pro-style quarterbacks. Last night, he looked thoroughly unprepared—even scared—to play a college football game. He now joins Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns as Stanford quarterbacks who haven’t developed.
Looking ahead, Stanford’s recruiting pipeline seems to be drying up. The 2020 recruiting class has only one player in the ESPN top 200 (16th-ranked 5-star OT Myles Minton). I wonder if Stanford’s inability to develop its players is affecting whether top talent even wants to come to Stanford anymore?
After the most recent game, Stanford’s odds look bleak for the remainder of the season. UCLA had only one more college football win than I do—and I never played college football! Against a hapless UCLA team, outside of garbage time Stanford only scored 3 offensive points. Stanford only got 198 total yards against a UCLA team whose best defensive performance prior to facing Stanford was when it gave up “only” 373 yards. Meanwhile, the Stanford defense completely broke down.
Stanford may not be Alabama or Ohio State, but that doesn’t mean that the team shouldn’t strive for greatness. The time has come not to blindly support Shaw and his coaching staff, but to question why our offensive game plan is falling flat and why our recruits aren’t developing. We can’t keep looking at Stanford’s past achievements under Shaw; we have to look to where we’re trending.
Bill Connelly commented in his preseason analysis that ever since Shaw took over from Harbaugh, Stanford “acted like a house settling into its foundation — on average, it sinks slightly each year.” But Stanford football is now sinking faster than we ever could’ve imagined—it’s as though Shaw built his foundation on top of quicksand. And the excuses are running out quickly. Maybe it’s a bad season—maybe we’ve had bad luck with recent recruits—maybe it was just a bad game against UCLA. But all of these excuses ignore the trends that were forming around this coaching staff for quite some time. The Stanford Empire has come to an end. And unless the coaching staff takes a hard look at itself, it’s not coming back.