The departure of former star quarterback Andrew Luck was supposed to be the death nail to the Stanford Cardinal football program. Instead, they've taken his legacy and departure in stride and turned in yet another top 10-worthy season and are now on the brink of participating in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000 if they can beat the UCLA Bruins on Saturday in the Pac-12 title game.
"People don't get it," senior linebacker Chase Thomas told the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not going away."
The Cardinal never won a conference title during Luck's tenure and are now on the brink of doing just that without him. The team is young, stock full of productive underclassmen as they lay the foundation for continued success. Even those they face are recognizing the type of program the Cardinal are building.
"It's a program that can sustain itself," former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told the Mercury News. "It's not like it's hard for them to find people who want to go to Stanford. Every mom and dad wants to put that bumper sticker on their car."
Top-flight education, top-flight football program, turns into all-around, scholar athletes ready to succeed in both arenas. It's the best of both worlds and the Cardinal are taking advantage of the perks of their current standing in the country.
They are powered on the field by a dominant defense that has bailed them out of a litany of close games. But they've survived and now sit one game away from a Rose Bowl berth, while Luck can do nothing but smile and watch from his perch as the Indianapolis Colts' franchise quarterback.