When Andrew Luck took over as Stanford's starting quarterback back in 2009, the Cardinal weren't just bad. They were horrendous. Abominable. So pathetic, they made Dave Flemming openly weep on multiple occasions (okay, that only happened once or twice ... allegedly). They were coming off seven straight losing seasons -- a first for Stanford -- spanning three coaches: Buddy Teevens, Walt Harris and, at that point, Jim Harbaugh (who followed Harris' 1-11 squad with two seasons where the Cardinal went 4-8 and 5-7).
Now, Luck's Cardinal are currently riding a 3-year wave of dominance that has seen Stanford go 27-6 since the beginning of 2009, and that includes the 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the 2009 Sun Bowl that Luck missed due to injury. In the past two years Stanford is 19-1, scoring 864 points and allowing 315.
Stanford is way more than Luck, and that was evident last Saturday against the Washington Huskies, a game I attended with my wife and several friends for her birthday. My wife, a UW alum, didn't leave happy, but even the biggest Huskies fans in Palo Alto had to admit -- Stanford's defense and rushing attack were beyond impressive in their 65-21 victory. They dictated the entire game.
Stanford has gone from a pleasant surprise led by Toby Gerhart in '09 to a top-5 team over the past couple years, and while Harbaugh and David Shaw deserve a lot of the credit, Luck has been the constant.
Since World War I, only three eras compare with the Luck's reign.
1925-27 (Coach: Pop Warner): 25-4-2 record; 1-0-1 in the Rose Bowl; beat UCLA 82-0 in 1925.
1933-35 (Coach: Claude Thornhill) 25-4-2 record; 1-2 in the Rose Bowl; 20 shutouts, including seven straight in '34 and a 0-0 tie at Northwestern in '33.
1969-71 (Coach: John Ralston) 25-8-1 record; 2-0 in the Rose Bowl; Jim Plunkett won the Heisman in '70.
There's still a lot of season left, including a pesky road game against No. 20 USC this weekend and the home rematch against No. 7 Oregon a year after the Ducks spanked the Cardinal 52-31 in Eugene (a game Stanford led 31-24 at halftime after one of the most exciting first halves in college football history).
With how Stanford improved last season until throttling Virginia Tech, and how they've played so far in '11, it's difficult to picture the Cardinal losing another game this season. Three questions remain: the Heisman vote, if they can get revenge against Oregon, and if so, will the BCS allow them a chance to show what they can do against the SEC's best?
Luck's Cardinal haven't won a Rose Bowl, and they might not get the chance ... but they earned a trip to the school's first-ever Orange Bowl last year and won it with style. They haven't won a Heisman, but they've had players finish second in the voting in both '09 and '10. Luck's still a Heisman favorite, although his team's rushing offense (which amassed 446 yards on Saturday vs. UW, the most in school history) might keep Luck's statistics from making him a shoo-in.
Nitpicking aside, it's hard to imagine how this Stanford team won't cap the best 3-year run in school history, with perhaps the school's second stiff-arm trophy and, who knows, maybe even their first National Title.
After Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers and began winning immediately with Alex Smith, the Cardinal have only gotten better. It hasn't been all Luck, but his skill certainly has played a large part in this historic run.