Stanford Football: Will David Shaw get Cardinal back to elite status in 2015?


David Shaw has maintained the winning ways at Stanford since taking over for Jim Harbaugh, but can that continue this year?

When Jim Harbaugh turned Stanford, the laughing stock of the PAC-12 conference, into a national power, it was the most surprising program turnaround on the west coast. You could even argue that Harbaugh’s Stanford metamorphosis was the most impressive in the history of college football. Harbaugh took over a program that went 1-11 in 2006, and four years later he reversed those numbers, finishing the season 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl.

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Harbaugh, though, is long gone having first stepped into the NFL and now serves as the head of the Michigan Wolverines. Shaw, meanwhile, has been at the helm of the Cardinal for the last four years. His early run was impressive, going 34-7 in his first three seasons. Last year, however, was a disaster. The team went 8-5, including a mediocre 5-4 in Pac=12 play. Worse than that, Shaw showed poor coaching acumen during a couple of those losses.

The worst game was a 13-10 abomination against the USC Trojans. A game that featured Shaw ordering a punt from the opponent’s 32-yard line and a missed field goal from the USC nine-yard line was perhaps the worst coached game in all of football last season. Perhaps even the worst all-time. No one watching that game believed the Trojans had a better team, yet when the final whistle blew, USC walked off the field as winners.

There was also the 17-14 loss to Notre Dame that featured four turnovers and a final drive where the team managed to run five plays and gain 10 yards in over a minute. Oh, and who can forget the 20-17, double overtime loss to Utah where Stanford had nine straight possessions end in either a punt or a fumble, including twice voluntarily giving up the ball in Utah territory.

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Shaw’s ultra-conservative tactics and sometimes erratic play-calling turned what was a top-10 team, talent wise, into an also-ran in the Pac-12 standings. In previous seasons, Shaw showed he can be the head coach of a top program, so what happened in 2014?

Was it just a snowball effect from the early season loss at USC, combined with a poor field goal kicking performance that caused Shaw to coach his team out of several wins? Is there reason to believe Shaw has learned from those disasters and is ready to lead this team back into college football’s elite?

Stanford’s schedule is not too difficult this season. There are eight games where the Cardinal should be easily favored(Northwestern, UCF, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Colorado, and Cal). Home games against Arizona and Notre Dame are also winnable games for the Cardinal.

The game at USC and the home game against Oregon are the two monsters lurking on the schedule, but even so, the Cardinal could easily finish the season 10-2. However, that depends entirely on Shaw leading this team and showing confidence in their ability to make plays. If he comes out of the gate with a timid game plan that involves lots of punting in opposition territory, this could be another long season for Stanford.

Stanford’s revival is a great story, and everyone loves watching a university known for academics march onto the football field and brutalize their opponents. Nevertheless, the clock has started ticking on Shaw and if he does not get this program back on track this season, there is no telling how far it might fall again.

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