The No. 8 Stanford Cardinal withstood a furiously competitive challenge from a revenge-seeking UCLA Bruins team hell-bent on clinching a Rose Bowl berth. Ultimately, the Cardinal emerged with a 27-24 victory in the Pac-12 championship game. With the win and the outstanding 2012 season the Cardinal have had, David Shaw's team has shown that they are officially building an elite program.
Bleacher Report was on the ball to capture the jubilation of the Cardinal faithful:
Stanford fans love roses! twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 1, 2012
The whole equation of the Stanford program changed over the past five years. A school traditionally renowned for its academic excellence can give thanks in very large part to one man—Jim Harbaugh—and one extraordinary quarterback in Andrew Luck.
But the success hasn't stopped there.
With Harbaugh departing to turn the San Francisco 49ers around 180 degrees in his first year at the helm, and Luck emerging as the No. 1 overall pick in this past NFL draft, Stanford's prominence has endured.
In a variety of ways, the Cardinal have managed to come out on top in some very key games, despite spotty quarterback play and a brute of a schedule. Only a mid-late season stretch with California, Washington State and Colorado provided some relief for the Cardinal in the midst of their arduous road through the 2012 college football landscape.
But considering the Bears nearly upset the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, and that the Cougars beat in-state rival Washington by scoring the last 21 points of the game, even that part of the slate wasn't so easy.
Otherwise, every team the Cardinal faced is bowl eligible. Signature wins over USC—the preseason No. 1 team—Oregon State, then second-ranked Oregon and these past two over UCLA have shown that Stanford can indeed compete with the best in the country on a consistent basis.
It's also nice to see that the No. 17 Bruins haven't dropped in the latest AP rankings (h/t SI.com), but it's somewhat surprising the Cardinal haven't budged from eighth position, considering their track record.
The first of the only two blemishes on the Cardinal's record came on the road against Washington, after an emotional victory over the Trojans. Weeks later, an overtime loss on the road to current-No. 1 Notre Dame occurred.
Since the implementation of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan in favor of inconsistent senior Josh Nunes, Stanford has not lost—and probably wishes they had made the switch earlier.
The Cardinal blew out UCLA on the road 35-17 just a week ago, but had to grind out a narrow victory at home with an outstanding display of fortitude. Hogan fired a 3rd-and-15 fourth quarter pass to David Terrell for a 26-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24, and the Cardinal defense did just enough to hold off the Bruins in the end.
Entering the game with the country's top-ranked rush defense, Johnathan Franklin gashed Stanford for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
But great teams find a way to win those games, and that's what Stanford has continued to do despite the recent graduation of two particularly strong classes. Now, a deceptively tough opponent in Wisconsin awaits in Pasadena after lighting up Nebraska for 70 points in the Big Ten title game.
Another game, another severe challenge for the Cardinal, as the Badgers play a similarly physical style of football that should make for a better game than most think.
Another marquee triumph in the Rose Bowl would only further fortify the notion that Stanford is rising to national prominence and will be there to stay for years to come.
That's not luck; that's elite.
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