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It's not just that Stanford is 35-5 over the past three seasons and just won its first Rose Bowl in 41 years. It's that the campus that has embraced the hashtag #NerdNation has a lot of company among the academic/athletic elite.
Notre Dame matched Stanford's 12-1 record last season and played for the BCS National Championship. Northwestern went 10-3 and won its first bowl game since the Truman administration. Vanderbilt, from an ancient Southern dialect meaning "last place," went 9-4. The Commodores won their last seven games, the longest winning streak in a Southeastern Conference that includes BCS champion Alabama and four other top-10 teams.
Even Duke (6-7) went to its first bowl game in 18 years. Duke has won the most awards for the highest graduation rate, as given by the American Football Coaches Association. Notre Dame is second. Northwestern, in third place, shared the 2012 award with Stanford. Think about that. The two programs with the highest graduation rates went a combined 22-4.
Brand would have a smile that stretched from Palo Alto to Durham, at least until he tried to explain the success. It could be as random as five schools whose numbers came up. "I have to say I think it's probably like a Powerball ticket," Stanford provost John Etchemendy said.
There is nothing systemic, nothing in the NCAA manual that tilted the football field toward the sideline with the highest GPA. But there are some similarities among the schools in how they have approached football.