Stanford believes it’s primed to stay on top

David Shaw gets the same question in a variety of forms: Can

Stanford remain a top-tier team once projected No. 1 pick Andrew

Luck is long gone for the NFL?

Shaw is optimistic he can keep a good thing going when many

figure the Cardinal will be down on their Luck.

But the ever-positive Luck doesn’t foresee a drop-off for the

No. 4 Cardinal (11-1).

Shaw considers Monday’s Fiesta Bowl date with third-ranked

Oklahoma State (11-1) not as the program’s last hurrah but rather

just another great opportunity to build the Stanford name.

”I like to think in terms of eras, and hopefully our era

doesn’t come to an end with Andrew leaving,” Shaw said last week

before the team headed to the desert to prepare. ”I kind of like

the high expectations, because it shows us that we’ve earned the

right to be where we are. Then you’ve got to play up to it.”

Shaw, one of two first-time coaches in BCS bowl games along with

West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, believes the top players now want

to play on The Farm. Heisman Trophy runner-up Luck helped establish

that reputation for the school.

”I’ve searched, and I can’t find another team that’s ended

back-to-back years in the top five in football and the top five in

education,” Shaw said. ”It doesn’t happen very often

anymore.”

He points to when do-everything running back Toby Gerhart

departed for the pros two years ago and the chatter then about how

could the Cardinal possibly succeed without him.

”Good teams always handle that,” Shaw said. ”Everybody

wondered how good we’d be after we lost Toby Gerhart. Everybody

wondered how it’d be with three new starters this year on the

offensive line. And everybody’s going to wonder how good we’re

going to be without Andrew next year. And that’s good.”

Having played at Stanford – where his father also worked as an

assistant – Shaw gets what it takes to thrive, the demands of

balancing the academic standards and football. Athletic director

Bob Bowlsby promoted Shaw from offensive coordinator to replace Jim

Harbaugh last January.

Bowlsby is optimistic, while also realistic about losing Luck,

about the direction of the program looking ahead to 2012 and

beyond.

”There is no question that it is very difficult to improve at

the same time a team is losing a great player like Andrew Luck,”

Bowlsby said. ”Additionally, Andrew would be the first to assert

that he plays with many other special players, some of whom will be

graduating and moving on to the NFL. Our staff has done a very good

job recruiting, and we have the best depth in many years with a

very strong recruiting class coming in. When all of that is

combined with excellent sport performance, sports medicine

programs, and a proven coaching staff, we have every reason to be

excited about the future.”

When Shaw arrived in Arizona on Monday, he referenced his dad,

Willie, and his experiences at the Fiesta Bowl.

”It means a lot,” he said. ”I had so many memories as soon as

I heard that we were going to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. My dad

coached in the 1982-83 seasons. Those were big games and exciting

games, and hopefully we can do the same here. The good thing is he

won that game also, and hopefully we get a chance to win this

one.”

Shaw earned his first big victory the moment Luck decided to

stay for one more college season – despite Harbaugh bolting to

coach the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw’s first year running the show

received an instant adrenaline shot.

He believes it could happen again, not necessarily with a player

of Luck’s magnitude but by finding a core of new stars to start

fresh in 2012.

”For us, it’s retooling,” Shaw said. ”We’re recruiting very

well. I think we’re going to have some great speed coming in this

year. … We might look a little different, but we expect to be

competitive from here on out.”

Stanford will turn to QB-in-waiting Brett Nottingham, running

back Stepfan Taylor, its talented tight ends and – the Cardinal

hope – a healthy Shayne Skov at linebacker to carry on.

Although their national title hopes were dashed weeks ago,

leaving one last mark with another monumental win would mean so

much. Stanford could match its 12-1 record from a year ago, capped

by a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. That

helped the Cardinal finish fourth in the final AP poll, the

school’s best ranking since the unbeaten 1940 team finished No.

2.

By the end of the week after last season’s bowl win, Harbaugh

was gone. Soon, it will be Luck walking away from campus to begin

his NFL preparations.

He can leave with the comfort of knowing his teammates are in

good hands.

”I think we’ve had very good recruiting classes come in,

probably better than us,” Luck said. ”I guess we’ll see. I know

they’ve had higher ratings and grades and all those things.

Hopefully we’ve been able to bring in good guys, and hopefully the

legacy will continue long after we’re gone.”