Leader of New, Stylish Pac-10? A Vote for Stanford
Get ready for a new, stylish Pac-10, with a fresh logo, a revved up marketing campaign and a loud movie trailer even Steven Spielberg would appreciate.
Commissioner Larry Scott, whose nickname should be “Slick,” had just taken his coaches and a few star players for a whirlwind visit to New York and Bristol, Conn., where they paused at the New York Times, NASDAQ, Times Square and ESPN, pushing a product 3,000 miles away.
Back home on Thursday, Scott hosted Pac-10 Media Day in a new venue, the Rose Bowl, where reporters sat on the field, baking in the hot Jully sun for four hours, listening to every coach in the conference say, as they always do, how excited they are about the upcoming season.
While media members perspired, Scott beamed. The new, hip Pac-10 is ready to roll, baby.
The more the coaches talked, the more wide open this 2010 conference race appears. Maybe that’s why I’m going against the flow and picking Stanford to win it all.
Of the 35 media members voting in the Pac-10 poll, only one agreed with me. Stanford received just that lone first place vote, finishing fourth overall in the balloting. Defending champ Oregon was picked first, barely, ahead of USC with Oregon State third.
So why do I like Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal? Well, Harbaugh is the first reason. He’s done a brilliant job turning the program around in Palo Alto, producing a disciplined toughness that hasn’t been seen on the Farm in decades.
“This is a strong man conference,” Harbaugh said at the Pac-10 Media Day. “We want to be the strongest. We embrace that.”
Then there is the offensive line that pushed USC and Oregon all over the place a year ago, allowing Stanford to roll up a combined 106 points in back-to-back games against the Trojans and Ducks. Four of the five blockers who led the way are back.
And, finally, there is sophomore Andrew Luck, only the finest quarterback the Cardinal has had since John Elway. “Andrew is the entire package,” Harbaugh said. “He’s as accurate as any quarterback I’ve ever seen, can throw it 70 yards taking one step and is quick and agile enough to run when necesssary.”
Washington’s Jake Locker is getting most of the conference’s early Heisman Trophy hype, but Luck, like Locker a projected first round NFL draft pick, is more polished and a better passer. He probably would be generating more interest if he hadn’t fractured a finger and missed the Sun Bowl game Stanford barely lost to Oklahoma without him.
Toby Gerhart, the tailback I voted No. 1 for the Heisman, is now with the Minnesota Vikings, and he will be sorely missed. But with Luck and that huge, muscular offensive line, plus one of the great special team players in America in Chris Owusu, Stanford will be formidable. The defense, led by two-way star Owen Marecic, who will start at both fullback and inside linebacker, isn’t the best in the Pac-10. But if the offense cooks the way it should, it won’t have to be.
Harbaugh faces a schedule that could allow him to get off to a 4-0 start if he beats Notre Dame in South Bend on Sept. 25, and he should. Then comes Oregon on the road and USC at home. If the Cardinal can split those two, it’s posssible they might not lose another.
If it sounds like I’m a believer, I am. This is one of the rising programs in the country, buoyed by a second consecutive Top 25 recruiting class at a school that never recruited this way beore.
They better enjoy Harbaugh while they can at Stanford.
Because after yet another successful season in what he calls the “strong man conference,” he will be strongly considered for lots of other jobs, both college and pro.
— Steve Bisheff