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Stanford Football: Breaking Down If David Shaw Will Ever Win the Pac-12

Joe GoldmanCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2016

Stanford Football: Breaking Down If David Shaw Will Ever Win the Pac-12

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    Only six years ago, Stanford football was the laughing stock of the Pac-10 and fielded one of the worst teams of all time.

    The 1-11 Cardinal team was so bad that their players looked like a group of math and science geeks in football pads. In fact, they probably were.

    Nowadays, business is different in Palo Alto. 

    In his four years as coach, Jim Harbaugh transformed Stanford football from a perennial joke to a year-in and year-out contender. The turnaround was nothing short of miraculous, as the Cardinal went 12-1 in Harbaugh's final season. 

    After bolting to the NFL, Harbaugh was replaced by then-running backs coach David Shaw, who is about to start his second season as Stanford head coach.

    Although Shaw has inherited a good program with top-notch players, he undoubtedly has his work cut out for him. The Pac-12 is quickly becoming one of college football's elite conferences, and it's unlikely Shaw and the Cardinal will take home the Pac-12 title this year. 

    However, Shaw has an outstanding chance of winning the Pac-12 a few years down the road.

    The road will be tough, but these factors reveal why Stanford is on the verge of a Pac-12 title. 

Andrew Luck's Legacy

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    During his Stanford career, Andrew Luck won the Orange Bowl, was named Pac-12 offensive player of the year twice, finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting two years in a row, became Stanford's all-time winningest quarterback and shattered Pac-12 quarterback records. Yet his legacy is much more than all of this.

    Luck established Stanford as a football school. He proved to the world that the country's top players can come to Stanford, contend for a championship and be drafted in the first round.  

    He proclaimed to top recruits that if they dream of playing in the NFL, they don't need to play in the SEC, at Oregon, USC, Texas, Ohio St., or Florida. They can come to Stanford, which is now as good of a place to play football as anywhere else.

    Stanford, as always, offers great facilities, California weather and one of the best educations in the world. But thanks to Luck, Stanford is now a football school.

    For these reasons, top recruits will start choosing Stanford. In fact, they already are. 

Incoming Players

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    Stanford has a stellar group of incoming players, preparing Shaw and the Cardinal to contend for the Pac-12 title in the next few years.

    According to the Rivals 100, the Cardinal have signed six of the top-100 2012 recruits.

    The star-studded class, highlighted by 5-star recruits OL Kyle Murphy, OL Andrus Peat, and DE Aziz Shittu, is good enough for the fifth best in the nation and best in the Pac-12, according to Rivals' team rankings. Furthermore, Stanford has great signees at all different positions. 

    Most notably, Stanford has signed the nation's best offensive line. In fact, the offensive line is a wall. Murphy is an athletic and skilled 6'6" while Peat is a whopping 6'7" and 300 pounds.

    Stanford has also attempted to find a replacement for Andrew Luck. The Cardinal inked quarterback Ryan Burns, a 6'5" pro-style quarterback from Virginia. However, Burns is widely viewed as raw and a work in progress, meaning the Cardinal will likely seek another quarterback next recruiting season.

    This sets up the Cardinal to have one of the best offenses in the country...if they can find an heir to Andrew Luck's throne.

    With Stanford's monstrous future O-line, a great all-around recruiting class and David Shaw's pro-style offense, it's not unreasonable to expect a 5-star quarterback will commit to the Cardinal next year—even with Ryan Burns on the team. 

    This puts Stanford in a position to win the Pac-12 in two to three years, quarterback pending.

The Competition

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    Even if Stanford signs a "new" Andrew Luck, the fight for the Pac-12 title will be brutal.

    The USC Trojans boast elite recruiting classes for both 2012 and 2013—classes that are being described as "crazy." USC will be excellent for at least the next four years and is Shaw's greatest enemy.

    However, USC plays in the Pac-12 South. To get to the Pac-12 championship game, Stanford will only need to outplay Oregon during the regular season.

    Luckily for Shaw and the Cardinal, Oregon's 2013 class is weak. With most of the recruits off the board, Oregon has only managed to sign eight. Rivals ranks the class 43rd in the nation.

    This opens a huge window for David Shaw to win the Pac-12 North in around three years.

    However, beating USC in the championship game will, of course, be extremely difficult. Yet the Cardinal will have the talent and the right coach to pull out a win. 

What Will It Take?

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    There's no doubt that David Shaw has a lot of work to do before he can win the Pac-12. With big shoes to fill and intense competition in the conference, Shaw has one of the most difficult jobs in the nation. 

    But with outstanding signees, recruiting weakness in Oregon and a new tradition of football excellence, Shaw will have an excellent chance at the conference title in a few years.

    With a lot of pieces in place, whether or not Shaw wins the Pac-12 is now contingent on only two things: signing and developing a top quarterback and executing a brilliant coaching plan against USC.

    Stanford has the right man to accomplish both. Expect David Shaw to win the Pac-12 in two to three years.

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