Stanford will be playing in its fourth consecutive BCS game when it takes on Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game on Wednesday at 2:10 p.m.
Stanford is one of just five schools since the BCS started in 1999 to appear in one of the BCS games for four straight seasons. The only other programs to accomplish the feat are USC (7, 2003-09), Ohio State (6, 2006-11), Miami (4, 2001-04) and Oregon (4, 2010-13).
The streak of four straight BCS bowls is an impressive streak for this season's senior class and the fifth-year seniors, who have helped Stanford establish itself as one of the nation's elite programs. The streak looks even better when you look at where the program was leading up to the streak. Prior to Jim Harbaugh taking over as head coach in 2007, the Cardinal recorded a 1-11 record in 2006. In Harbaugh's first two seasons, the team improved to 4-8 in 2007 and then 5-7 in 2008.
"Coach Harbaugh told all of us that we would recruit talented guys, work hard and be a good football program," said senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy. "I was a little naive then but thought we could be as good as this or even better."
Those talented football players make up the current roster and the seniors are the epitome of what Harbaugh told Murphy is program was going to be made of. The first year Murphy's class was at Stanford, was the first winning season for the Cardinal since 2001, a span of eight years, as they finished 8-5 after a loss in the Sun Bowl.
"I knew the program was on the rise," said senior offensive guard Kevin Danser. "Coach Harbaugh was doing great things at Stanford, but at the time there was no way I would imagine that we would be going to four straight BCS bowls."
Stanford continued to grow after that first winning season under Harbaugh. The next year the team exploded, matching a school record with 12 wins, losing just once, and making the school's first BCS game since the Rose Bowl in 2000. The Cardinal would earn its first ever BCS bowl victory, trouncing Virginia Tech, 40-12, behind four touchdown passes from Andrew Luck in the Orange Bowl.
"The work ethic was there way before we were here," said senior free safety Ed Reynolds. "When I was a young guy it was those older guys who instilled that work ethic in us. When we got a little more athletic and coupled that with our work ethic, it created the level we were able to achieve."
The 12-win season in 2010 led to a NFL coaching job for Harbaugh as he departed to lead the San Francisco 49ers. Stanford stayed in-house, hiring David Shaw, and the success has continued from there.
In his first season, Shaw guided the Cardinal to an 11-2 record and trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2012. However, the season ended with a 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State. Stanford rebounded to win its first BCS game under Shaw last season as a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl capped a 12-2 campaign. Now the team is back in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year.
"We talked about wanting to get to a BCS bowl game when we started," said Yankey. "We made it to the Orange Bowl when most of us were redshirt freshmen. Then after we went to the Fiesta Bowl it became expected for the program. We were working towards that every year."
In Shaw's three seasons, the Cardinal has posted a 34-6 (.850) record and 23-4 mark in conference play. The four straight seasons with 10 or more wins is the most in school history. Prior to the current streak, Stanford had only reached double digit win totals in consecutive seasons in 1914 and 1915 with 10 victories each year. Stanford is currently the only FBS team with 11 or more wins in four straight seasons, although Oregon could join them with a win in the Alamo Bowl. Only Stanford, Alabama and Oregon have won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons.
"We anticipated that we would be good, but I would be lying if we thought we would be going to four straight BCS bowls," said fifth-year senior defensive end Ben Gardner. "It is hard to get to one and it is hard to win 11 games, but it speaks to the toughness and unity that we have had as a class and as a team as a whole. I couldn't be more proud of our guys and what we have been able to accomplish."
Add in two straight Pac-12 Championships for the Cardinal and what this senior class and the rest of the players in the Stanford football program have been able to accomplish is remarkable. It is something that has never been done in the school's history.
"Later on down the road we will be able to look back on our run of success," said Reynolds. "It was really put into perspective for us during a team meeting when Coach (David) Shaw talked to us about being one of only a handful of teams who have been able to accomplish four straight BCS bowls. It is a testament to our coaching staff and the work ethic of our guys to go out every week and prepare as hard as they can for one team."
The time for reflection will come for this group of guys who have made their mark on Stanford history but for right now all they can think about is beating Michigan State.
"This is our fourth BCS game in four years, but this team is as hungry as ever," said fifth-year senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
It was that hunger and desire that has fueled this historic run of success for the Stanford football program.