The common college football fan should start to consider Stanford a west coast juggernaut because they’re not going anywhere.
The formerly embattled program has plowed its way into BCS commonplace and will earn its third consecutive invitation to one of college football's most prestigious bowl games with a win over UCLA in the PAC-12 Championship Game at Stanford Stadium on Friday.
It will be the biggest game Stanford has ever hosted and should prove to be a red-carpet affair for the Cardinal in their pursuit for conference championship glory, and a birth in the 2013 Rose Bowl Game.
The Cardinal pummeled UCLA 35-17 in Pasadena on November 24th, showcasing their definitive style of game play while ending the Bruins' six game winning streak.
The conference title game shouldn't be much different.
Stanford has become solidified as a college football powerhouse in a season where expectations were in extreme decline.
This season is a signature imprint for Stanford in the SEC-dominated landscape of college football.
The Cardinal’s rise to success should be attributed to a stellar coaching effort and an underrated senior class.
Head coach David Shaw was appropriately named the PAC-12 Coach of the Year for the second time in his only two seasons at the helm earlier this week.
He's proved to be a worthy successor to Harbaugh, registering a cumulative record of 21-4 en route to winning the PAC-12 North over Oregon, who most assumed would earn a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
Shaw's version of the Cardinal is brutal and tenacious, much like the teams that Harbaugh fielded over the course of four seasons.
The difference between both coaching regimes is establishment, though.
Harbaugh established an old-school, Michigan-style of football at one of the best academic universities in the nation.
Shaw has embraced the style of physical, smash-mouth football and has molded it into his own. Harbaugh set the precedent for Stanford football. Shaw is advancing it.
Stanford isn't just the smartest team on the field; they're also the meanest.
The Cardinal's brute style of game play was perfectly executed in its win over the Ducks in a hostile Autzen Stadium on November 17th.
Stanford was a solid three touchdown underdog in a game where their opponent couldn’t even find the end-zone three times, outlasting a speed-oriented offense 17-14 in overtime.
That win put a stamp on Stanford's placement in the college football ranks and catapulted the Cardinal into position to earn its third consecutive BCS birth, a feat the school has never accomplished.
Who will win the PAC-12 Championship Game?
The most impressive aspect of this Cardinal team is their relentless fortitude. It's not that Stanford didn't withstand that collective characteristic before, but they were led by super athletes in national spotlight.
Toby Gerhart started a string of three consecutive seasons where a Cardinal player finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. Andrew Luck finished runner-up in consecutive Heisman races and was magnified under the scope, constantly being compared to the likes of Peyton Manning before he ever declared for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Even though Stanford boasts a line-backing core that is arguably the best in the nation and despite Stepfan Taylor's rise to the upper echelon of running backs in college football, Stanford is void of a superstar in the forefront.
This season's version of the Stanford Cardinal is all about the concept of team character.
It was demonstrated when Shaw opted to let redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan takeover the reigns at quarterback for Josh Nunes, who had struggled to complete just 52 percent of his passes in 235 attempts.
The team stood behind the leadership of their head coach, fully believing that the decision to start Hogan after a summer-long quarterback battle between Nunes and Brett Nottingham was the right call.
Hogan has won his first three games as a starter at the collegiate level, beating three opponents ranked in the top 20 (Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA).
He has a 73 percent completion percentage and 8 touchdown passes in 111 attempts behind center and he wasn’t even on the map as a potential starting quarterback in August.
David Shaw has made all the right calls in a season where 8-4 seemed like a realistic objective.
Stanford doesn't need the Alamo to become battle tested—they're already clicking on all cylinders. They're on a mission to win the PAC-12 and earn a birth in the 99th annual Rose Bowl Game.
The Cardinal won't be denied.