Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 3, 2010

Stanford football will discover Sunday to where it's bowl bound

by Rick Eymer

Some time after 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, the Stanford football team will discover the bowl game to which they will travel. Much speculation has focused upon seemingly outside forces that could factor into the final decision.

Perhaps it would be proper to let the final weekend of the college season play out and remember that the fifth-ranked Cardinal (11-1) already has produced one of its finest years in school history.

A bowl game beckons. That should be enough for now. The possibilities that continually circulate can only lead to dangerous conspiracy theories or unwarranted bias.

Yes, there are millions of dollars at stake, with corporate sponsors vying for attention, and yes the line between amateur and professional has been blurred. But it is still a game and beautiful to watch when it is played with such precision and enthusiasm as it has been by Stanford this year.

"We're not done yet," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The players have done something remarkable and it has caught the attention of the world. They deserve all the credit."

Until this year, the BCS was nothing more than a bunch of letters that meant nothing to Stanford players and fans. It used to be humorous to watch Pac-10 teams get overlooked time and again in the past. The whole system, with a handful of people at the controls, can swing on a single vote.

Odd because, as Harbaugh suggested, it used to be the best teams were decided on the field of play, not where they are arbitrarily ranked by man and machine.

"I feel like I'm educated on the way it works," Harbaugh said. "It's disturbing to hear how Stanford 'travels.' I keep hearing that in the media, but I didn't notice that in any criteria. If that's the way it is, if the almighty dollar is at play here in determining the best teams, then count me in favor of playoffs."

Did it matter that last year's Stanford-Oklahoma matchup in the Sun Bowl set a record (53,713) for highest attendance? Each school took home the tidy sum of $1.9 million dollars for their appearance in the contest.

Argue that the Sooners 'travel' better and were the main attraction, but Stanford was involved with its Heisman Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart.

There are those who feel Stanford and Oklahoma could once again be paired in a major bowl game — say, for example, the Fiesta Bowl. With Texas-bred Andrew Luck at the helm of the Cardinal offense, it could get interesting.

Luck, one of three finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, has certainly drawn Heisman Trophy attention his way.

"I'm convinced Andrew is the best player in the country," Harbaugh said. "He's been the best football player I've been around and equally one of the finest young men I've been around."

Luck has completed 245 of his 349 passes for 3,051 yards, while throwing for a school single- season record 28 touchdowns this year. He led Stanford to its highest offensive output in school history.

"He'll deny it but he's got a photographic memory," said Harbaugh. "He has total command of the offense."

Luck is also in the running for the Manning Award, the O'Brien Award and the Maxwell Award.

"Andrew Luck is pure excellence out on the field and has the same excellence in the classroom," Harbaugh said. "He has the utmost integrity and extraordinary character. He has the ability with the game on the line to perform at an even higher level. It's the thing that separates great quarterbacks and good quarterbacks. He has a blend of confidence and focus; it's almost like a happy confidence. He's cold-blooded, calm and even more focused all the same time."

Or, as Stanford receiver Doug Baldwin said: "No one is perfect but Andrew is pretty close. His character is amazing both on and off the field. As a motivator or as a friend you can always go to him and talk about anything."

Stanford will practice lightly every other day through at least Dec. 10 as the school enters dead week and finals week. Harbaugh said it was to "stay limber and get some work for the young guys."

He also said quarterback Alex Loukas and receiver Chris Owusu have a chance to play in the bowl game.

Harbaugh also praised the seniors for their efforts through his tenure at Stanford.

"It's as good as I've seen in my 50 years," Harbaugh said. "I have to take time to thank the seniors. You can talk about a four-year span and what this group of seniors has done, it's remarkable."

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