Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  By CRAIG MORGAN  |  Last updated 7/28/13
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Two seasons ago, analysts wondered how the Stanford football program would handle the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFLs San Francisco 49ers. Last season, those same analysts wondered if the Cardinal could recover from the graduation of quarterback Andrew Luck, the top pick in the draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Following a gut-wrenching Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, those questions no longer dog Stanford. About the only big-picture theme that interested reporters at Pac-12 media day Friday at the Sony Picture Studios was whether its time to consider Stanford a perennial power; one of the nations consistently elite programs. Thats obviously the goal, but we dont worry about those things, because the focus has to be on the here and now, linebacker Shayne Skov said. I know that sounds clichd, but we really dont think in those terms. That kind of analysis comes from you guys after weve proven were worthy of it. The Pac-12 media werent ready to hand a second straight conference title to the Cardinal, tabbing Oregon as the favorite to win the North Division in the preseason poll. But being picked behind the Ducks is no slight, and certainly no indication that media do not view Stanford as a power. The Cardinal still garnered the second-most votes in the conference and finished just six votes behind Oregon (145-139). Theres a certain amount of respect thats given, coach David Shaw said. At the same time, as far as conference games go, outside of Colorado, every single game (last season) came down to the fourth quarter or overtime. Every single team that played us knows that if three or four plays change, those games change. Its not like were running away with this. Theres no way you can say this is not a hotly contested conference. Nonetheless, big things are expected of Stanford again, and now that the program has showed that it can succeed without big names like Luck, there is a deeper appreciation for the renaissance that has occurred in Palo Alto. "Ill never forget Andrew saying, 'Are you watching the offensive line? You see how much time I have?'" Shaw said of questions Luck continually fielded about his importance to the teams success. For me, it helped alleviate some of the coachspeak that you see (when he graduated). Were not a one-player team. This really is a team sport. Stanfords success didnt happen overnight. In Walt Harris final season as coach (2006), Stanford went 1-11. Harbaugh went 4-8, 5-7 and 8-5 in his first three seasons, and Shaw has set new goals for his team and his assistants each of his three seasons. For us, its been a constant pushing of the envelope -- its been a continual effort as far as getting better and taking the next step in the program, Shaw said. At Stanford, that can be a greater challenge than most programs face, given the schools rigorous academic standards that automatically rule out a sizable portion of the high school football recruiting pool. I dont want to diminish anything that other programs accomplish, because there are all kinds of challenges every program faces when trying to be successful, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. But what Stanford has done under those restrictions -- its a huge credit to David and everyone in that program. Now that the Cardinal have arrived among the nations elite, Skov understands that there is additional pressure on the program to measure up. But he insists Stanford is not the slightest bit daunted by the lofty expectations -- and for good reason. Everything we do is about being elite, Skov said. I dont mean that to sound arrogant in any way, but its Stanford. Lets be honest. There are expectations that go along with that name. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
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