Stanford Coach David Shaw talks to quarterback Andrew Luck (12) and his… (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )
In the short term, bet the Farm.
Coach Jim Harbaugh might be gone, but quarterback Andrew Luck came back.
Had it been the other way around, Stanford's preseason preview would have already been published, somewhere between No. 20 and No. 25.
The Cardinal's long-term prognosis, with Harbaugh coaching the San Francisco 49ers, is less certain. He took good coaches with him too. What Harbaugh did in Palo Alto was next to impossible because he made it possible to think that a school such as Stanford, which has never had a major NCAA violation, could compete for a national title.
He put to rest the long-held notion that high GPAs combined with high standards would torpedo efforts to reach the highest level.
Harbaugh took an 11-loss program and, four years later, turned it into 12 wins. That had never been done at this level.
With new Coach David Shaw, an inside hire who was privy to every meeting Harbaugh held, Stanford might be able to continue what was started.
We don't know.
Shaw, a Stanford man who played for Bill Walsh, is not Harbaugh.
He is, for one, far less caffeinated.
"I agree," Shaw said at Pac-12 media day. "Coach Harbaugh came in and fought a lot of battles that I don't have to fight. My job is to maintain a competitive spirit. … We're going to fight. We have different personalities, but at the same time you can ask the guys when somebody crosses the line, I'll be nose to nose with them. I might not be yelling, but I'll be dead serious."
Stanford didn't win last year's championship but might have had there been a playoff.
Auburn and Texas Christian ended up the only undefeated teams, but no one was playing better than Stanford in January.
Auburn and Oregon, probably because of the long layoff, played a close title game but not a great one. The combination of Auburn's defensive front and an inexplicably slippery field discombobulated Oregon's offense.
TCU held off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but Stanford finished 12-1 after winning its last three games against California, Oregon State and Virginia Tech (Orange Bowl) by the cumulative score of 126-26.
Stanford shut out three Pac-10 teams last year: UCLA (35-0), Washington (41-0) and Oregon State (38-0).
The Cardinal might have grabbed everything if not for a bad second half at Oregon on Oct. 2. The final score, 52-31, did not tell all. Stanford led 21-3 and 31-24. It was 31-31 in the third when two Stanford turnovers — Chris Owusu's fumble and Luck's pass interception — fatally flipped the switch to green.
Stanford winning the national title in the Year of the NCAA Investigation would have given college sports a positive shot of adrenaline.
Luck's return gives Stanford a second shot.
The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian; 12. South Carolina; 11. Notre Dame; 10. Louisiana State; 9. Oklahoma State; 8. Wisconsin; 7. Nebraska.