With the new-found optimism that surrounds Stanford basketball, some students have started a Facebook group called “I Want to Co-Term Just for Stanford Basketball.” Someone who cares as much about Stanford football might actually need to get a PhD, because the football team looks like it is going to need THAT much time in order to make die-hard sports fans proud.
That said, the Athletic Department seems to have made a wise coaching change this winter that could have positive effects as early as next September, when the season starts again. New Stanford Football Head Coach Jim Harbaugh will bring a record of success that far surpasses that of our previous coach, Walt Harris. A Palo Alto High School Alum, Harbaugh knows Stanford football like it is the local family business: his Father was Defensive Coordinator of the Stanford Football team when Jim was a kid. He brings to the team a new-found enthusiasm for the game that is backed up by his impressive fifteen year career as an NFL Quarterback. As recently as 2001, Harbaugh was still on the roster for the Carolina Panthers. In just a few years, the 43-year-old has managed to acquire an impressive coaching resume. After serving as the Quarterbacks Coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2003, he was given the Head Coaching job for the University of San Diego. After a 7-4 season in 2004, he went 11-1 in both 2005 and 2006, winning the Pioneer League Championships both years.
While success in the Pioneer League two years in a row is very impressive for a young coach, competing and recruiting in the PAC-10 Conference will be a new challenge for him. Notably, football teams in the Pioneer League were not allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Harbaugh will need to be able to recruit on a national stage in order to find the few football skilled high school athletes that are also the right fit for Stanford University. Last year, Stanford finished 9th in the Pac-10 in recruiting, according to the premier college football portal Rivals.com. While he should get a free pass for his first recruiting season, in which he had limited time due to his December hiring , he will need to greatly improve our performance if he hopes to make Stanford competitive.
Harbaugh’s experience as an NFL Quarterback and Raiders Quarterbacks Coach should put a much-needed spark into the offense and specifically the passing game that struggled to make first downs (not to even mention Touchdowns) last year. Fifth-year Senior T.C Ostrander will return next year and will need to do better than his past completion rate of 45.6 % in 2006 last year for the team to generate enough offense to win games. Ostrander will probably get more support from his receivers, most notably from incoming Sophomore Richard Sherman, who led the Cardinal with 581 receiving yards last year as a Frosh. Also look for Seniors Mark Bradford, 6’7’’ Evan Moore, and Red-Shirt Freshman Stephen Carr to catch some passes and move the Cardinal down the field. .
The long-term problem with Harbaugh’s Stanford team will most likely be not on offense, as it was under Walt Harris’s 2006 Stanford team, but on the defensive side of the ball, where recruiting has been lacking. Out of the 19 high school athletes coming to the Stanford football program next fall, only 5 were listed as defensive players on Rivals.com. Defensive personnel will need to be addressed more heavily in order to compete against some tough PAC-10 offenses.
I will firmly predict that Stanford will not win the Pac-10 next year- and I would be pretty shocked if they even make it to a Bowl Game. Still, Coach Harbaugh will be able to top the 1-11 mark last season. With 8 home games next year, Stanford should be able to win at least 2, hopefully 3 or 4 games next season. While I expect the team to be significantly improved its tough schedule might make the team’s record worse than its actual performance. Stanford plays nine teams that made bowl games last year including USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Notre Dame. If you are a fair-weather fan that enjoys blowouts in your favor, next year might not be the right year for you, but Harbaugh and the Stanford football team will be sweating in the trenches in hopes of sunnier days to come.