carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

Stanford building powerhouse football program the right way

Like moths flocking to florescent bulbs, the eyes of the sports world are locking in on the Bay Area again this week.

In the past two years, the region has hosted a World Series, two epic American League Division Series, an NFC Championship game, the U.S. Open, a pair of titillating NBA playoff series and the 34th America’s Cup.

With this all-you-can-eat buffet of top-tier sporting events, it isn’t shocking that the accomplishments of the Stanford football team, ranked fifth in the BCS standings, are often overlooked.

The Cardinal is the sixth or seventh ticket in an oversaturated sports market, which is why its game against the BCS’ third-ranked team, Oregon, at Stanford Stadium tonight is generating more buzz nationally than locally.

But it isn’t too late to get behind David Shaw’s club and support one of the most inspiring teams in the country.

The Stanford-Oregon rivalry is now among the best in college football. In the last three years, the contest has carried national title implications. The teams are a combined 86-10 with six BCS bowl appearances over that span and last week the clash landed a cover story in Sports Illustrated.

When this game is held in Eugene, Ore., the crowd is raucous and the state of Oregon is abuzz. It’s the biggest game of the year along with the Civil War, the Ducks’ annual showdown with Oregon State.

But here in the Bay Area, the contest is taking a back seat to Week 10 of the NFL season, the first week of free agency in baseball and the second week of the Warriors’ most-anticipated season in at least three decades.

It makes sense, this is a big-league market lacking a history of sustained success in college football. But the Cardinal is in the process of re-writing history.

Since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2007, the team has racked up three straight, 10-win seasons for the first time in school history, it won its first Orange Bowl in 2011 while nabbing its first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years in January.

But it isn’t just the Cardinal’s success that makes its bandwagon easy to jump on, it’s how they win.

In a sports news week dominated by disgusting revelations of Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito’s harassment of Stanford graduate Jonathan Martin, it will be refreshing to flip on the tube tonight and watch a squad that prioritizes integrity.

College football is becoming increasingly difficult to watch these days with its exploitation of players, its endless parade of recruiting scandals and its amnesia when it comes to the student-athlete mission. It’s easy to be cynical about the state of college sports in the 21st century.

But then you watch Stanford win the Rose Bowl while graduating 100 percent of its players, out-toughing opponents with an army of student-athletes who are as devoted to their classes as their sport, and it gives you hope.

Shaw says football can change the world and why shouldn’t we believe him?

It’s a message that’s worth backing.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.College Sports

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