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One for the Books

For Luck and the team, records and honors abound.

Jerry Lai/US Presswire

HEISMAN REDUX: Luck (top, second from right with fellow finalists and Griffin, far right).

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In sports, it's OK to want everything. So the Stanford football team went after everything this season and almost got it. Even where there was disappointment, there was a measure of unprecedented success.

Start with the Heisman Trophy. Quarterback Andrew Luck finished as the runner-up (behind Baylor QB Robert Griffin III) for the second year in a row, and that follows a second-place finish by running back Toby Gerhart, '10, two years ago. It's the first time any school has had the runner-up for three straight seasons.

Frustrating? Sure, because it's a so-close-yet-so-far scenario. But it also denotes an elite level of achievement within a program that's in sync in the most important way: Individual accomplishment has gone handoff in handoff with team results. For the second season in a row, the Cardinal powered its way to an 11-1 regular-season record while qualifying for a top-tier bowl—a match-up against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona on January 2.

Just a few years ago, that kind of performance would have prompted unqualified jubilation. Now the goal is nothing less than a national championship. Heading into the Fiesta Bowl, Stanford was ranked fourth in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls (behind Louisiana State, Alabama and Oklahoma State). But short of a No. 1 ranking, the Cardinal has moved into a lofty orbit. This is the second straight season culminating with a postseason game that's part of the Bowl Championship Series, and last year's game was a tour de force—a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

This season, marred only by a loss to Pac-12 champion Oregon, represents both a conclusion and transition. First-year head coach David Shaw, '94, may lose a number of top-flight players who are ready to move on to pro careers, including Luck, who still has a year of eligibility left but is graduating with his class in June and entering the NFL draft. Though Shaw's thinking has begun to turn toward the lineup changes and recruiting efforts that will shape the next few seasons, he first took note of what's worth basking in, at least for a little while.

"It's got to be the best class in school history," he said after the regular-season finale, a 28-14 triumph at home against Notre Dame. "We recruited guys that had the vision, that were going to come here and do what is unheard of in today's football, which is to [get] a top-5 education in the nation and [be] a top-5 football team in back-to-back years."

Luck made a similar point repeatedly, talking about his commitment to the players he was recruited with and finishing the task of reshaping the football program into a national contender. His contribution to that didn't produce the Heisman, but he'll need his expertise as an architectural design major to plan the space for the other awards coming his way. Among them are the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Foundation Award honoring Luck as college football's player of the year.

The team's next most prominent honoree is offensive lineman David DeCastro, a redshirt junior considered more than ready for the NFL. By early December, he had been named as a first-team selection to every All-America team picked by media and coaches at that point. Offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, another redshirt junior with first-round draft prospects, was a first-team choice on two of them, second-team on another.

Not to be forgotten: Stanford's internal awards. The highlights included Luck receiving the Irving S. Zeimer Memorial Award for most valuable player, as well as the Tommy Vardell Award for excellence in academics and athletics. Safety Michael Thomas, '12, received the Al Masters Award for the highest degree of leadership and respect from teammates. Receiver Chris Owusu, '12, was given the Jim Reynolds Award for courage and devotion to the game, and safety Delano Howell, '12, took the Jack Huston Award for aggressiveness, excellence and unheralded effort.

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