The only thing that could stand in the way of Stanford and a national title playoff invitation could be the Oregon Ducks. Oregon, loaded with Marcus Mariota, and other offensive weapons, will seek retribution this year, with the hope of doing the same thing to Stanford and dash their hopes of hoisting a trophy for the Cardinal faithful.

The Pac-12 appears to be a race to the top in a very pass-heavy conference. Can the Cardinal, who lost in the Rose Bowl to Michigan State, regroup and retool its defense to compete and win the conference? Or will they finish second and earn a trip to Pasadena? These men in cardinal red and white have David Shaw at the helm, possibly the most underrated coach in college football. Here are 10 things to know about this team this season.


From 1972 to 1981, the official nickname was the Cardinals, a reference to the color, not the bird. During the 1970s, a number of suggestions were put forth as possible nicknames: Robber Barons (a sly reference to Leland Stanford's history), Sequoias, Trees, Railroaders, Spikes, Huns and Griffins. The last suggestion gained enough momentum to prompt the university to place two griffin statues near the athletic facilities. On November 17, 1981, school president Donald Kennedy declared that the athletic teams be represented by the color cardinal in its singular form. Stanford has no official mascot, but the Stanford Tree, a member of the Stanford Band wearing a self-designed tree costume, appears at major Stanford sports events. The Tree is based upon El Palo Alto, a redwood tree in neighboring Palo Alto that appears in the Stanford seal and athletics logo.


Possibly the most memorable moment in college football is the “Stanford Band” game played between the Cardinal and the Cal Bears. The Play refers to a last-second kickoff return during a college football game between the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday, November 20, 1982. Given the circumstances and rivalry, the wild game that preceded it, the very unusual way in which The Play unfolded, and its lingering aftermath on players and fans, it is recognized as one of the most memorable plays in college football history and among the most memorable in American sports.

After Stanford had taken a 20–19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown and earn a disputed 25–20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore. There remains disagreement over the legality of two of the laterals, adding to the passion surrounding the traditional rivalry of the annual "Big Game."


John Elway (in football) may be the most popular and well known athlete to ever play at Stanford (remember Tiger Woods played Golf for the Cardinal). But Elway, the first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, would not play for the Colts at the time. Elway was the first of six quarterbacks selected in the 1983 NFL draft. He didn't want to play for the Colts—a team that hadn't had success for quite some time—and had warned the team not to select him with the first overall pick. Having played one summer of minor league baseball for the New York Yankees, Elway had a bit of leverage over owner Robert Irsay. The Denver Broncos worked out a trade with the Colts to acquire Elway, and the rest is history.


In the short side of the scale, the Stanford football team has produced 50 drafted players in the NFL since 2000. Andrew Luck, the current Indianapolis Colts quarterback, was chosen first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft and is the only player to be chosen first over in that time period. The other Stanford quarterback to be chosen first overall is John Elway in 1983.


Tommy Vardell was a star running back for the Stanford Cardinal. In 1990, Vardell was given the nickname "Touchdown Tommy" by then Stanford head coach Denny Green after scoring four touchdowns (all from the one yard line) against Notre Dame. For the Cardinal, Vardell rushed for 1,843 yards, scored 37 touchdowns, and never recorded a fumble in his college career. He ranks second in Stanford football history for most touchdowns and third for most rushing yards. Until his record was broken by Toby Gerhart in 2008, Vardell held the record for most rushing yards in a season by a Cardinal running back, with 1084 yards in 1991.


Before he was named head coach of the Cardinal, replacing John Harbaugh, Shaw was the defensive coordinator of the program. While he has shown plenty of success in the college ranks but more importantly, Shaw was a four-year letter winner playing as a wide receiver for the Cardinal from 1991 to 1994, where he was coached by Dennis Green and Bill Walsh. Prior to returning to Stanford as offensive coordinator, Shaw was Harbaugh's passing game coordinator at the University of San Diego and an assistant coach in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, and Baltimore Ravens. And they say you can never go home.


The sports publication like the team’s chances again this season in the Pac 12. It looks like another Rose Bowl is there for the taking. Once again, the Cardinal are likely to battle Oregon for Pac-12 supremacy, and if most experts are giving the edge of the Ducks, it may have less to do with the relative merits of each team than the fact that Stanford will be saddled with a ridiculously challenging schedule (see below). Kevin Hogan returns at quarterback, and though the offensive line needs to be rebuilt (no small issue, considering both the schedule and Stanford style of play), Hogan will be surrounded with enough talent to make one thing that the offense will be just fine.


Athlon said the team will suffer a bit defensively and how could it not, having to replace Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. The defense suffers some turnover but there’s plenty of talent returning and recent history tells us that, pretty much no matter what, the Cardinal are going to turn out a solid, dependable unit. Shaw’s defensive experience should be able to help this team push through.


According to, the Cardinal get back to the Rose Bowl. Yes, Oregon is a real obstacle. And yes, the schedule is borderline brutal. But one year after coming so close to winning the Rose Bowl, only to see it snatched away by Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans, you can bet that this team will be looking for redemption.

The Season Will be a Failure If ... (

That redemptions isn’t achieved. I’ve said this before, but I find it nothing short of remarkable that Stanford has gotten to this point—where it’s viewed as a legitimate West Coast power. I mean, the fact that we basically go into every season believing that Stanford—long mediocre Stanford—has every chance of winning the Rose Bowl just speaks volumes about the work that Harbaugh and Shaw have done there. We expect great things about Stanford. And you can bet Stanford expects great things out of itself. That’s why the bar is now set so high.