This fall, Stanford will get the new football stadium it has long needed. But will it have a team to match the stadium? Probably not.
The new stadium, which will be inaugurated with a Sept. 16 game against Navy, will be a 50,000-capacity facility that will have seats so close that the marketing campaign billboards say, “You may need knee pads.”
That’s in marked contrast to the cavernous old stadium, whose seats were separated from the field by a running track. “At night games, with the lights the way they were, we
couldn’t even see the fans,” coach Walt Harris said this week. “And it was so quiet — mostly because of the way we were playing.”
Harris had to give his team pep talks before home games, to tell them they were not going to have a typical football atmosphere. With 36,000 season tickets sold already, that won’t be a problem this year. “Now, we have to put a team in there,” Harris said.
Ah, that’s the rub. There is some talent on this team, with quarterback Trent Edwards a worthy successor to the great Cardinal quarterbacks of the past, but as Harris admits, “We don’t have much quality depth.”
Stanford’s admissions standards, always much higher than other Pac-10 Conference schools, are even higher now. When I talked to Bill Walsh, then the interim athletic director, in April, he said, “We have so many more qualified applicants that it’s raised the standard for everybody, including athletes.”
There are many star athletes from the past who wouldn’t be admitted today.
That’s put tremendous pressure on the coaches.”
That’s especially true in football, which requires so many bodies. Harris did not have a particularly good recruiting year, which he admits. “With a whole new staff, we had a hard time adjusting to Stanford-type recruiting,” he said. “There’s a big learning curve here.”
Harris has been a successful coach, with bowl appearances in each of his last five years at Pittsburgh. He’ll have a much more experienced offensive unit than last year, when he started a fullback (Nick Frank) who had been converted from defensive line, and a running back (Anthony Kimble) who had been converted from wide receiver. “You don’t get any greener than that,” said Harris.
Now, Harris thinks Frank can be a star, but he’s using him sparingly in practice, because of the lack of depth.
“You want to give players enough practice time to get them ready to play a game,” Harris said, “but we just can’t take a chance on Frank getting hurt, because there’s a big falloff behind him.”
The big hope is that Edwards will get the offense going, primarily with wide receiver Evan Moore, who missed almost all of last season after being injured in the opener.
“Last year was a learning experience for me, because the offense was so different than before [under Buddy Teevens],” said Edwards, who is expected to be a high draft pick in next spring’s NFL draft.
“I’m very comfortable with it now.”
Historically, Stanford has done well with a good pitch-and-catch combination, but it no longer has that edge because other conference teams now have good passing offenses.
So, enjoy the stadium. There may not be a lot of thrills on the field.