Three years ago, mentioning the Stanford Cardinals and a bowl game in the same breath would have been blasphemy.
The 2006 campaign concluded with the Cardinals finishing 1-11 and rock bottom in the Pac-10.
Fast forward three years and the landscape has completely changed. Jim Harbaugh led Stanford to four wins in 2007, and five wins in 2008. Two losses last season came with less then a minute to play in the game.
It is safe to say that a new attitude has swept over the squad and the university in Palo Alto.
The stadium has seen new life with more and more fans filling the seats each Saturday.
With a bowl berth seeming more and more realistic, here is a look at the 2009 Stanford Cardinals.
For Harbaugh, the quarterback position has been one plagued by inconsistency over the last few.
With that in mind, spring practice provided an open competition. In the end, red-shirt freshman Andrew Luck beat out previous starter Tavita Pritchard.
Luck was a top recruit two years ago and a 6-foot-4 and 241 lbs, has great size. He also has the tools to lead the offense.
With senior running back Toby Gerhart returning, downhill running will, once again, be the focal point of this offense.
Gerhart was a load to bring down last season but also showed flashes of speed. He rushed for over 1,100 yards and averaged nearly 5.5 yards a carry in '08. Add 15 touchdowns to that resume and you can see that the offense will undoubtedly run through Toby again this fall.
The receivers at Luck's disposal are unproven at best. Junior Ryan Whalen, who caught 41 balls last year, will be the leading returning receiver.
He will be teamed with another junior, Doug Baldwin. Combined, the two receivers brought in 64 passes for less then 1,000 yards.
Up front, the line brings back some familiar faces, but they will be moved around to fill the voids left by two graduated seniors.
Fortunately, four of the five starters are upperclassmen. This will provide some stability and cohesiveness to a group that must be clicking for the running game to function.
If there is a group to lean on defensively, it will be the four guys up front. Both of the defensive ends return following productive campaigns in '08.
True sophomore Tom Keiser will provide the largest threat off the end. He totaled six sacks as a freshman last season.
There is solid depth at the tackle positions. Stanford will be able to rotate three or fourt tackles on a regular basis.
Sophomore Matthew Masifilo and senior Ekom Udofia will anchor the two starting spots. Keeping them fresh should allow for a lot more one-on-one opportunities for both of the talented ends.
Veterans will man the linebacking corp as Will Powers and Clinton Snyder return for their senior seasons.
The large question mark looming over thedefense is the secondary. One bright spot in that area is free safety Bo McNally, who returns to the Cardinal defense as the leading tackler over the last two seasons.
The rest of the secondary combined for a dismal seven interceptions last year.
During summer practices, coaches hope to find a group that works well together.
If they lack production like last season, expect offenses to go over the top of the Stanford defense time and time again.
Handling the kicking duties will be sophomore Travis Golia.
The punter for Stanford will be David Green. As the full-time punter last season, Green averaged nearly 40 yards per attempt.
Doug Baldwin saw very limited time at punt returner last season, but will take over the position full-time to start off the year.
If you're a Stanford fan, there is a lot to be excited about. The talent may be lacking across the board, but coach Harbaugh has instilled a belief of winning in his players and the school.
The schedule should play out rather favorably for Stanford this fall.
Of the first five opponents, only Wake Forest made it to a bowl game last season.
The five game stretch to end the season will be the true test. Among the teams on the schedule are USC, Cal, and Oregon.
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