Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Winning the Big Game, particularly after a five-year drought, is about the biggest thing a Stanford football player can do. But linebacker Clinton Snyder, with all due respect to a storied rivalry and the joy of repossessing the Axe, admits he'd never felt anything quite like walking off the field after participating in the Cardinal's monumental upset of USC.
"The Cal game was special obviously because it's the Big Game," he said. "But for me personally, the USC game was awesome because we just silenced the whole Coliseum. That has to be one of the coolest feelings. So I think that has to go on top of the list."
Snyder's grateful for the opportunity to argue the relative merits of various victories. The Cardinal couldn't do that after the 2006 season because they won only one game.
So winning four was a big step forward for a previously languishing program. The more Snyder gets asked about that victory over the 41-point favorite Trojans, however, the more he senses he and his teammates are getting a patronizing pat on the head from the college football nation.
Linebackers, as a group, do not like patronizing pats on the head, particularly one who recorded 96 tackles and eight sacks the previous season.
"That's one of the things that kind of gets under my skin," he said. "We need to do other stuff so people aren't just talking about that one win (over USC). We've got to show that game wasn't a fluke."
Of course, that's exactly what most folks think it was. That's why, despite welcoming back 16 starters -- tied for the most in Pac-10 with Arizona State -- Stanford is relegated to the bottom third of the conference in nearly every preseason prognostication.
Snyder respectfully believes the pundits are clueless.
"This is the season that we will break out -- I definitely believe that," said Snyder, a junior and one of nine starters back on defense.
"Just like you gain the most between the first and second game, I think we're going to gain the most between the first and second season with this coaching staff. What we showed last year is that we were capable of beating every team we played. I think this year we're actually going to do that."
Snyder is speaking of second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. In fact, when Snyder talks about what he likes about Harbaugh, he sounds a lot like players from a highly successful program in the southern part of the state.
"This guy is the most intense coach I've seen," Snyder said. "He just exudes so much energy that it's just contagious."
Carroll, er, Harbaugh also quietly made what could prove to be an inspired coaching hire after the 2007 season: He brought veteran NFL assistant Ron Lynn aboard to help Andy Buh -- the linebackers coach last season -- coordinate the defense.
While Lynn's not going to overhaul the defensive system, he will focus on technique and schemes, which is a move forward for a program that prioritized a culture shift rather than Xs and Os last preseason.
"We'd been losing for so long, people were kind of comfortable with that," Snyder admitted. "We had to get past that. That took time and took away a little bit from football, scheme-wise, because we were focused on changing the attitude. Now that we've already done that, we can focus on the football side and execution."
The correctness of Snyder's optimism or the pundits' pessimism will best tested early: The Cardinal opens against Oregon State at home on August 28.
That contest looks like a critical measuring stick for how far the Cardinal is around the curve toward contention, a suggestion that Snyder doesn't bother denying.
"That first game is going to be key for us," he said. "That's going to be our tone-setter for the rest of the season. We've got to show everyone that we weren't a fluke last year."