This is the best Stanford Cardinal team in over five years. Unlike the Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck-led teams, this iteration of the Cardinal is just plain better. They can win the big games and compete with anyone in the FBS.
Despite not having the same 11-win record of previous years yet, this team has proved that it can hang with anyone. They have proved that they could beat anyone as well.
Despite an early-season upset by Washington, Stanford is just one game away from possibly playing in its first-ever Pac-12 Championship game. They would have to beat their eventual opponent to guarantee a spot in it.
However, the even-more-unusual thing is how this team has been able to win the big games against great opponents. The past two weeks, Stanford has played Top 15 opponents and not just won, but beat the giants it hasn't been able to beat in past years.
They went into Oregon and, despite it being an away game against a team that people were arguing was the No. 1 team in the country, they held their own. Not just that, they won the game in overtime after forcing one of the best offenses in the country to go three-and-out and miss a field goal after scoring just 14 points.
If this Stanford team can turn in a great performance like that in back-to-back weeks, it will not only earn a spot in the Pac-12 title game, but it will put itself into a BCS bowl game for a third season in a row.
This season, the Cardinal has beaten a No. 2 USC team, a No. 2 Oregon team, a No. 11 Oregon State team and lost in overtime to a No. 7 Notre Dame team. Over the previous four seasons, the Cardinal went 2-4 versus Top 11 teams.
Those were also the years that the teams were led by former head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck. Now, Luck and Harbaugh are excellent professionals. But there was something lacking in their games at the college level that turned the tide against those Stanford teams and never allowed them to get over the hump.
Running back Stepfan Taylor and current head coach David Shaw seem to have finally found the mix that works against Pac-12 teams. And the defense led by Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov has finally matured into one of the best in the country.
This should be the first Stanford team to win the Pac-12. And completing that accomplishment will give them a team that has accomplished more than anything Harbaugh or Luck ever did at Stanford.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.