Stanford Cardinal: The Plunkett Days(1968-1971)
David Shaw's time from 2011 to 2022 was extremely successful. It included three trips to the Rose Bowl, an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, three top-10 finished in the AP Poll, and a #6 ranking in the final CFP poll in 2015. However, for me I didn't pick this run because of three losing records in the finaly four years if Shaw's tenure. Also, when people think Stanford football, the first image that gets played is Jim Plunket in a Cardinal uniform.
Jim Plunkett's days at Stanford began in 1968. Under head coach John Ralston, the Cardinal won their first three games, which got them ranked for the first time since 1957. Ranking 18th, Stanford suffered a close 27-24 loss to #2 USC. However, a close defeat was enough for the voters to move them up to #14 but a 21-21 tie to Washington State knocked them out of the polls for the reminder of the year. Stanford finished that year 6-3-1.
In the 1969 season, Plunkett threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Cardinal started that year ranked at #16. This was the first time that the school started a football season ranked since 1956. To open that season, Stanford secured two easy wins over San Jose State and Oregon. Despite losing the next two games to #8 Purdue and #4 USC, Stanford never found themselves outside the AP polls.
From that moment on, the Cardinal went undefeated in their last six games, winning five of them. They did end up tying #6 UCLA 20-20 in late October. Fortunately for them, Stanford would end 1969 with a 7-2-1 mark and ended their year ranked 19th, their first post AP poll ranking since 1955. 1970 would end up being the school's break-through moment. Jim Plunkett would become the first Stanford player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Plunkett still remains the only Stanford player to have won college football's most prestigious individual award. Stanford would win their first three games by a combined score of 101-41, which included a season-opneing road upset over #4 Arkansas. Stanford would rank as high as 6th in the regular season. However, an embarrassing 31-14 upset loss to #13 Air Force, prevented a chance for them to get close enough to play for a National Championship.
Still, the Cardinal would finish the regular season with an 8-3 record and would take home the PAC-8 Conference title which was their first since1951. In the Rose Bowl against against #2 Ohio State, Stanford found themselves as heavy underdogs. They would end up winning 27-17, their first bowl game win since the 1940 Rose Bowl. Although Plunkett would enter the NFL in 1971, Stanford would keep up the success for another year. They finished in the top-10 for the first time since 1951.
In 1971, with Don Bunce starting at quarterback, the school would finish with another 8-3 regular season record. A second straight PAC-8 Conference title was clinched. Stanford would start that year ranked #19 and work themselves to the #10 ranking. However, a crushing home loss to Washington State in late October diminished their chances of earing a higher ranking. However, thanks to winning the Pac-8 Conference, the Cardinal found themselves in their second straight Rose Bowl appearance. They would upset #4 Michigan.