Rose Bowl Victory Places Stanford Among Nation’s Elites

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David Shaw was so excited that he raised both arms into the air over on the sideline, a winner in Stanford’s bowl game. After shaking hands with Wisconsin’s legendary coach Barry Alvarez, he walked triumphantly on the field to meet his parents, he hugged his mother tightly and cried in her arms when she burst into tears.

stanford10-300x192In short, Shaw’s influence, along with his presence is felt. He is, without wasting one’s breath, a disciplinarian, a recruiter and an intriguer, with a new core of players and talent making noise in the Pac-12 because of old-school, physical and tough-minded football. The nation, as folks tuned in to watch the traditional Rose Bowl game, was awed by an awesome spectacle. In a bowl season when Stanford had a chance to convince the nation as to how exceptionally well it could seize national attention and impress viewers by putting on an incredible performance, the vast majority of national powerhouses were totally beaten. Yet here was Stanford after beating a few of those top-notched teams — USC comes to mind?

“It’s not always pretty, and it’s not always perfect, but we never stop, and we finish what we start,” said Shaw.

The Stanford red jerseys, fittingly, were as rosy as a rose, and by the end of the night, the players celebrated and soaked up a delightful sight in school history, a triumphant moment they will talk about for ages. The Stanford marching band played the school’s fight song from the stands, while the Stanford tree, the weirdest and wildest mascot in college sports, danced on the sideline as the cheerleading squad had suddenly awakened.

As a way to catch Shaw off guard, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov approached and surrounded him. His teammate’s came with a surprise — that surprise, of course, was the Gatorade cooler. By tradition, Shaw was drenched, and afterwards, laughed it off with his players. As the crowd roared and partied in the stands, as the celebration erupted while time dwindled down over the final seconds to mark Stanford’s first victory here in Pasadena since 1972, Shaw rejoiced along with his son Gavin and daughter Keegan.

Down another tunnel walked Alvarez, who was 3-0 in bowl games, with sadness in his eyes. It’s an all too familiar scene in Rose Bowl games, with or without Mr. Alvarez on the sideline, coming out of retirement for one last time. It was the third time in three straight Rose Bowl trips that the Wisconsin Badgers walked away empty handed and with broken hearts. Late Tuesday night, long after a bitter Rose Bowl loss haunted them for a year, the Badgers couldn’t get it done and watched Stanford celebrate. For the third straight year, the Badgers came up short, walked off with their heads down and left slowly into the tunnel.

As for Wisconsin’s opposition, as one can see, Stanford is far more dominant than any other Pac-12 school, finishing 11-2 — including a statement win over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship. With that in mind, Stanford earned a trip to Pasadena and played for roses, and surely, the Cardinal prevailed in the Granddaddy of them all. A football season that seemed promising all along, though you’d have expected USC, Oregon or UCLA to dominate, turned into reality for the Cardinal.

Shaw, a Stanford graduate and wide receiver from 1991-94, is building his own legacy as Jim Harbaugh’s successor at one of the storied FBS programs. It’s not a secret but is all so true that he fulfilled his father’s dream by becoming a head coach, clearly knowing it means a lot to his father, who smiled proudly at his son’s accomplishments on a night when Shaw climbed into elite coaching company. The tears rolled down Willie’s, David’s father, face on a night that David has proven to not only the school but the nation that he’s the face of the program and an ambassador for the illustrious university.

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A 20-14 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin is ultimately satisfying and places Stanford among the nation’s top programs. Maybe the Pac-12 isn’t such a weaker or softer conference than the recognized Southeastern Conference that football gods rave about persistently as if there are no other national powers in college football besides in the Deep South. It’s a program, Stanford to be precise, that populace all over excluded from conversations, while overly hyping the hell out of USC, Oregon and UCLA. For the players and rest of the coaching staff, it was a moment to truly relish and embrace.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment, because we got somewhere we hadn’t been yet,” said Skov, who made eight tackles. “If you looked at our goals at the beginning of the season, this was on top of the list, and we got it done. We’re extremely satisfied.”

And so now we must realize that Stanford, a team skeptics and disbelievers brushed aside for the entire season, is a national power and dominant enough to finish a season unbeaten with a core of relentless players, especially since these guys are exceptionally well coached by Shaw. It would be an understatement to dismiss Stanford from any national title conversations by the time next season rolls around. So, yes, particularly after what happened Tuesday night, the Cardinal will finish in the Top 5 in the AP poll next season, with freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, who led Stanford to four consecutive victories against ranked opponents.

It was an amazing game, with Wisconsin’s quarterback Curt Phillips throwing a game-ending interception that clinched the victory, and thus it was necessary for Stanford to convert on a first down to officially wrap it. Turns out, Hogan is on his way to something and could possibly put himself in the Heisman conversation if he plays like he has next season. He has not only been solid in one game, but multiple games this season, earning the starting nod and has carried the Cardinal in the last four games.

The thing that stands out the most now is that Hogan can win when it matters the most, when so much is on the line. He did just that on Tuesday, completing merely a dozen passes. When he took the field, Hogan hurled two downfield throws that set up the first two touchdown drives, and threw for only 123 yards. That’s when tight end Zach Ertz caught a few passes for 61 yards. That’s when wide receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson made his way down the field and made an amazing play on the ball, leaping over Wisconsin defensive back Shelton Johnson and reaching behind his head to corral the catch.

The good thing is, since Hogan is a duel-threat quarterback, he rushed and wore down the fatigued Badgers on defense. At the beginning of the season, Josh Nunes was starting at QB, but then Hogan looked more impressive and transformed the offense with his solid toughness and resilience. It’s not too often that a freshman quarterback, a redshirt especially, comes into a program and gets the starting job because of his mobility and efficiency in the red zone, which gives us a better description of Hogan and what he can bring to the game. This is what can happen when a team has a solid running game with gifted running back Stepfan Taylor, who accounted for 89 yards and an early touchdown.

This is Stanford’s third consecutive BCS bowl appearance, but earning a trip to the Rose Bowl just felt more special than the previous two. It felt the same way to Tiger Woods and Condoleezza Rice, too. They were both in attendance, and saw the emergence of a freshman phenom. They both saw a Cardinal defense give up no points in the second half when Stanford’s shutdown defense was just too quick and stronger than Wisconsin’s.

This was a victory Stanford will cherish for a very long time.

This was a victory that will have the Stanford tree dancing for a very long time.

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