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Stanford's future? Unknown

1/4/2011

MIAMI -- What to make of the future at Stanford?

As everyone anxiously awaits the twin decisions of coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck, an appropriate question to ask is this one:

If both leave, is this program in position to continue on its upward path?

“There’s a core group of young guys in this program that know how to work and know how to get the job done,” said fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic. “Coach Harbaugh -- that’s not taking anything away from him, he’s the reason we’ve had so much success -- but these guys are so grounded that they’ll be successful in whatever they pursue.”

Stanford players believe their 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl is a momentum-shifting event for a program that has seen its fair share of down times.

Linebacker Shayne Skov said there was no question it was a “statement win.”

“People that doubted this program four years ago, doubted the recruiting classes coming in, the motive for coming here -- this is what we’ve always dreamed of,” Skov said. “This is what we always wanted, and we weren’t going to let it slip away from us.”

The Cardinal had never won 12 games in a season before, and are going to finish ranked in the top 5 for the first time since 1940. They went from 1-11 in 2006 to 12-1 in 2010, an astonishing feat in such a short period of time.

As Marecic said, Harbaugh is the biggest reason. Therefore, he is also the biggest reason he's the hottest coach in America right now.

Of course, Luck has meant much to the team’s success as well. The Heisman runner-up had an incredible performance against Virginia Tech that left observers believing he is the most NFL-ready quarterback they had seen in years.

His second half was astounding: 9-of-10 for 201 yards with three touchdowns. His pinpoint passes were so accurate, only his receivers could catch them. The pass he threw on a rope to Coby Fleener on the sideline was perhaps his highlight of the night.

Of course, Stanford overcame the loss of Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart this season to make it to a BCS bowl game. But quarterbacks are the heart of a team, and replacing Luck would be no easy task, should he decide to head to the NFL draft.

Predictably, both Harbaugh and Luck deflected any talk about their future. So did the players, who insisted they had not thought about a future without Harbaugh or Luck.

So what does the future look like? Well, Stanford returns terrific young talent in leading rusher Stepfan Taylor and Skov, who led the team in tackles. Chris Owusu and Fleener return as well, along with Chase Thomas and Delano Howell.

But there are some big losses, including center Chase Beeler, leading receiver Doug Baldwin, Marecic, Taylor Skaufel, Richard Sherman and Sione Fua.

Then there is Luck, of course. But no matter what decisions are made, players truly believe the only place for Stanford to go is up.

“It’s been a heck of a turnaround and a championship season is special no matter how you do it,” Marecic said. “There’s still that national championship out there that this team is definitely capable of getting to. That’s going to motivate offseason workouts. These guys really have it in them. They realize that now.”