Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh: the popular kids

A sign read “REVENGE OF THE NERDS” in the stands, with a Stanford symbol for the “S.” But this was more like Varsity Blues meets Van Wilder. Andrew Luck is the star quarterback, and Jim Harbaugh is prom king. And while the prom king brushed off ESPN employees on several occasions last night and called for at least five ridiculous line shifts before a play when Stanford had a 21-point lead, there was a sense we were watching something important, and not just the last game at Stanford for their two stars. We were watching the best college football team we’ll see around here for quite some time.

That is, unless Harbaugh and Luck return. But that hardly seems possible, let alone plausible. Unless Harbaugh can convince Luck to make the same honorable mistake Jake Locker did and return to school even though he’s a favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick (forget that — Luck’s an absolute lock to be chosen first, while Locker had Sam Bradford to contend with), there’s no way Harbaugh can possibly match what Stanford did this season. And in a year after they couldn’t break 40,000 fans for any of their games except the one against USC, it’s hard to imagine Stanford offering Harbaugh a raise large enough to keep him around — unless Harbaugh is different than every other red-hot college coach we’ve seen in the past 20 years.

Still, Harbaugh was right: last night’s Orange Bowl was about the players, not him. Even though his coaching staff put together a gameplan that made Frank “I’m going to keep making money off great special teams and running quarterbacks” Beamer’s face look Dennis Erickson’s in 2004.

While I’ve covered a lot of football games in the greater Bay Area (mostly high school, thankfully no Pop Warner), I’ve never really had a beat to cover. Three games can hardly be considered a beat, but it was enough to get to know this Stanford team. And damn, this team was good. It wasn’t that other conferences were that much better than the Pac-10 this year, it was just that Stanford and Oregon were that much better than the rest of the Pac-10.

Stephan Taylor and Jeremy Stewart seemed to break off 50-yard runs every game. They had somewhere between 6 and 20 guys who could catch passes at any time. Owen Marecic is going to play in the NFL (please don’t let it be for the Patriots, that would be such a cliche). Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas seemed to be everywhere the ball was all season, now everyone in Virginia would like to punch Skov in his ridiculously overpainted face. Partly due to his look, but mostly because the Hokies had no answer for Skov all night. It may have been hyperbole when Mike Tirico said he’d never called a defensive player’s name as often as Skov’s at any level, but it wasn’t that far off.

And that offensive line was rude. Big, sure, but not overgrown compared to other o-lines. These guys had skill, just like those Bobb McKittrick lines of the…

Sorry, got a little ahead of myself there. Was I the only one who envisioned Harbaugh wearing a similar color scheme on the sidelines of Candlestick Park? Perhaps leading an offense that includes hundreds of plays that force Anthony Davis to get out of his crouch and move to different areas of the line of scrimmage before the snap like he was playing musical chairs? And is Harbaugh enough to turn a below average NFL team around, or would whoever hires Harbaugh need to demand that David Shaw, Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator, comes with him?

Or will Harbaugh put on a maize and blue cap in some press conference room in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, making all this irrelevant? While Stanford’s dominance — especially compared to Michigan’s recent ineptitude — would lead one to believe that the only logical reason to leave what he’s built at Stanford would be if his ultimate goal is to coach in the NFL. But we don’t know how much Harbaugh likes money, and Michigan has a lot of that.

However, forget where their stars are going or their attendance woes. After watching what Stanford did on the field not just last night but all season, shouldn’t we take a little time to remember this team that on a neutral field might be able to compete with any team in the country, including Oregon, Auburn and TCU? Not saying they absolutely could, but after the season Stanford just finished, it wouldn’t be out of the realm.

So while Kanye West is toasting to the douchebags these days (THE Ohio State?), let’s toast to the best football team we’ve seen in a decade. Maybe not in terms of overall talent, since people who say the best college team could beat the worst NFL team are Kanyes themselves. But in terms of innovation (playcalling), dominance (both at the line of scrimmage and on the scoreboard) and uniqueness (Marecic), this was truly a special year. Before the popular kids cash in on it, hold a class of viognier up high and toast to the Cardinal.

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