Heart of the City: Stanford

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
10:30
AM ET
We are taking a look at FBS programs located in major cities alongside NFL franchises.

School: Stanford
Location: Stanford, Calif.
Enrollment: 15,000
Bowl appearances: 15
NFL first-round picks: 13
Losing seasons: 33
10-win seasons: 3
Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: College numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: Stanford is the most elite academic institution in the nation playing football at the FBS level. It's located in an area of the country where the median home price is $1.4 million. Its provost is a former Secretary of State. And word is Condoleezza Rice is a huge football fan.

So if elite is a good thing, Stanford has plenty of it.

The football history is probably better than you think. Stanford won the 1926 national championship. It's won or shared 12 conference titles in six different decades, the most recent coming in 1999. Quarterback Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.

The present is pretty darn good, too. Stanford, after a 2006 renovation, plays in one of the best stadiums in the conference. It is the only Pac-12 team to win a BCS bowl game over the past two seasons. It finished ranked fourth in the nation after whipping Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. It's produced two Heisman Trophy finalists over the past two years, running back Toby Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck. And Luck is the preseason Heisman favorite this fall after he opted to finish his degree instead of becoming the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick this spring.

The bad: The big present question about Stanford is how the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh to the nearby San Francisco 49ers is going to affect the program he rebuilt. There's plenty of pressure on David Shaw to maintain the Cardinal's 2010 breakthrough, particularly with Luck back.

While it's difficult to call it a "bad," Stanford has far more rigorous academic requirements for athletes than just about every other program in the nation (even if there have been some recent admittance accommodations). The football coaches can look at only a small handful of truly elite athletes a year, and that makes consistent winning more difficult.

But winning inside a beautiful stadium hasn't been an absolute panacea, either. The Cardinal averaged only 40,042 in attendance last year, which ranked 11th among Pac-12 teams. Also, that was 80.1 percent of capacity, which ranked ninth in the conference. The biggest reason cited for this muted response is that Stanford is a national university with a small -- 6,887 -- undergraduate population. But Stanford did regularly attract 70,000-80,000 fans in the 1970s and 1980s.

It's possible that many in the area -- alumni and local fans -- turned away when the product went into a slide during the Buddy Teevens-Walt Harris eras from 2002 to 2006 and have been slow to return during the rapid rise. If Stanford becomes a consistent winner under Shaw, the fans might start showing up.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?