Looking away from 2019 and forward to 2020
Two streaks fell on Saturday: Stanford football was on a 10-year run of bowl game appearances and collected the Axe in the Big Game the past nine consecutive seasons.
The 2019 debacle feels like the year from hell if you invest emotionally in Stanford Cardinal football, but anything more than looking ahead to next year is an overreaction.
The Cardinal will end the season with what is likely to be a shellacking from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and bottom out at 4-8. Stanford will sit at the bottom of the PAC-12 North and fight the Arizona Wildcats for the bottom of the conference (Arizona is 2-6 in the conference, Stanford’s is 3-6).
But these things happen, and before the “Fire David Shaw,” articles hit the internet, let us take stock of the history of perennially good teams with good coaches, and why the Stanford faithful should anticipate a bounce-back season.
Plenty of consistently good schools have kept coaches after bad seasons, seasons which prove to be outliers rather than the new normal. A quick peek at some successful coaches shows that even studs take a dip around the middle of their tenures with a given program.
A few great examples: Brian Kelly seemed cooked back in 2016 after a 4-8 run. He has since lead the Irish to a 31-6 record over the past three seasons.
Mark Richt stumbled in 2010, scraping by with a 6-7 record before winning double-digit games three more seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Oregon Ducks steered into the teeth of a 5-6 record back in 2004 under Mike Bellotti. Bellotti followed that with a pair of 10-win seasons before leaving the Ducks.
Everyone has a season marred with setbacks, but an honest look inward and this season was foreseeable back in August. An insane run of great to historic running backs finally came to a close. A veteran group of receivers (JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, Kaden Smith) departed in the offseason, which took the wind out of the Stanford passing game that had compensated for the running game last season.
To compound the issues in the aerial attack, KJ Costello has missed over half the season due to injury, forcing the Cardinal into rolling with several backups.
All these offense problems are more glaring without any defense to mask the obvious struggles. This unit is amid a three-year tailspin (ranked 92nd in total defense this year, 78th in 2018, 76th in 2017), finds itself starved for talent. The biggest problem is the lack of a pass rush, failing to reload with a fresh quarterback killer since the departure of Solomon Thomas back in the 2017 NFL draft.
The 2019 season can not end soon enough, and there will need to be a lot of changes and a lot of upgrades at multiple positions.
It was also a season we all probably should have seen coming (even without injuries, this was going to get dicy). A boomerang back, however, will not take an act of God. Stanford has a considerable amount of recruiting power, and injecting a defensive playmaker on the line and a dynamic running back in the backfield will make a world of difference. And an entire season behind just one quarterback would make for a massive improvement on its own. The route is there, and the coaching staff is more than able to jump into 2020.
Before the words are even written, let’s stop any talk of a coaching change.